Corkage controversy

Is the BYO club bringing it to the table?

by: Lauren Mc Comb | 01 Jul 2010

There's an international controversy brewing and it may not be to everyone's tastes.

A corkage revolution is on the run with leading hitman the BYO (bring-your-own bottle) club and Michelin-starred restaurants joining the trend.

Worried by empty tables as a result of the economic slump, a group of Michelin-starred establishments are allowing customers to bring in their own favourite bottles at no extra charge, or for a modest corkage fee, instead of paying the huge mark-ups on the house wine list.

This new BYO movement is for people who are serious about their food and wine, but who resent that restaurants mark their wines up to such a degree that they can't afford a wine pairing to match the quality of the food they are eating.

Athough tentative commentary has been made on the subject matter, Rowley Leigh, the chef and proprietor of Le Café Anglais, London, stands his ground that this trend reverses a sacred tenet of restaurant finance. "We look down on it because we rely on beverage sales to turn an honest penny. If it is R286 (£25) on the menu it has probably cost me R91 (£8) , but people have to understand that is not all profit. We spend more on staff than we do on food or wine."

In saying this however, Leigh is among those who has felt the need to encourage BYO. He has quietly allowed customers to pay R171 (£15) corkage on their own wines, and is currently among the 50 restaurants in the British capital to have signed up to the BYO club, which allows customers to pay a R1,133 (£99) -a-year subscription, for free or cheap corkage at most times.

The BYO club has created a guide of sorts to ensure that the dignity of both customer and restaurant remain intact. It does not however remove the awkwardness around wine altogether.

BYO in top restaurants has its own etiquette and rule No 1 is not to bring a cheap bottle. " R57 (£4.99) would be a little bit insulting to the whole atmosphere," said Jennifer Cowan-Savio, head of dining experience at the London Fine Dining Group, who said any bottle costing less than R137 (£12) may risk a frosty response. They also provide members with a discrete case to carry their bottles in.

There's no elitist stampage on the fine dining BYO, albeit that fine diners are drinking premier cru wines at cost at some of Britain's best restaurants.

Do you think South African restaurants should embrace the BYO revolution?

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