Put a cork in it

Do you bring your own wine to restaurants and does the high mark up on wine infuriate you? Then Cathy Marston's got a cork to pick with you.

by: Cathy Marston | 16 Feb 2009

I am spoiling for a fight at the moment.

My bedroom ceiling is leaking – again, and in summer too, England have been totally humiliated by the Windies at cricket and to be frank, my diet is not going well. So I thought I would make sure I got my fight by discussing the hugely thorny topic of corkage. Ah-ha – bet the hackles are rising already!

In the UK, corkage is the sole preserve of dodgy Indian restaurants which open up overnight, clear the local neighbourhood of any stray dogs and cats and then close down before they ever get round to all the expense and hassle of applying for a liquor licence.

If you can bear to eat Fido Masala, then they are a great night out with plenty of change in your pocket for the taxi ride home. So, when we first came to SA, I was surprised at the number of people heading for restaurants, bottle in hand. And to be honest, it still surprises me today.

Charging 'foodage'
When I ask people why they BYO, the most common response is that mark-ups in restaurants are exorbitant. This always makes me laugh because I think it shows how we shop these days – everyone knows how much a bottle of wine costs in Pick n Pay, but how many of you know the price of a steak?

Bet you don't know the price per kilo of potatoes either, but the restaurant mark-up is the same on a steak and chips as it is on a bottle of wine, possibly even slightly more. Maybe this will start a flood of people turning up at restaurants with their own meat, sauce and a recipe for the chef to follow and restaurants can start charging 'foodage' too.

And then they will all go out of business and we shall be left with nowhere to run to when home gets too much for us and we can’t be bothered to cook another thing.

I think the problem people have with paying the mark-ups on wine stems partly from ignorance as to how a restaurant business works, but also from frustration with restaurateurs who treat wine worse than they treat their food.

I read an excellent review of a restaurant on this website which said that he doesn’t mind paying restaurant mark-ups as long as he can see some work going into keeping, storing and serving the wine. But when it is just dumped into boxes stacked on top of the hot fridge, then he understandably gets a little antsy about paying R180 a bottle.

It seems clear to me that you should take care of your stock. Whether it is a steak or a bottle of wine stored on a rack in a cool space. And if a restaurateur is doing that, serving it at the correct temperature with decent glasses (curse all Paris goblets!), poured by a waiter who knows what he is doing. To me, that is as worthwhile paying for, as it is to have my food cooked and served nicely.

So no corkage allowed in my restaurant folks – this can of worms is now officially open so let's see what you all think about that then!

Cathy Marston is the owner of The Nose Restaurant and Wine Bar and a fulltime, professional eater and drinker. Any food, any drink, anywhere, anytime...

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