One of the best white wines I’ve ever tasted was an off-dry Riesling from Germany. I don’t recall the producer’s name. I do remember that I paid $17 for it and I had it for dinner with my wife at a small local restaurant in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, several years ago.
But the main reason why I still remember that wine, besides it being so good, is the fact that it was a BYOB. We brought the wine with us because we knew the restaurant did not serve alcohol. The corkage fee was $0. We don’t go out much these days but I’ve thought about that dinner many times. If you want to learn more about BYOB, here is a quick read on its somewhat unofficial etiquette and some good reasons for bringing your own wine into a restaurant whenever possible.
I don’t understand why people don’t BYOB more often. I also don’t understand why restaurants don’t encourage it openly since they can cover any loss of revenue from wine sales with the corkage fee. Well... I didn't understand it until I decided to look into this.
I called a few restaurants around the area I live in and asked about their BYOB policy and what their corkage fee was. I tell you… I should have recorded some of these conversations. I got everything you can possibly imagine for an answer. <<Corkage? What’s that? Is it when you bring your own cake in?>> I’m not kidding you! My favorite Portuguese restaurant in the city of Fall River took the easiest approach for an answer... there was Fado playing in the background and then... “click”. Just hung up on me. The vast majority of those who knew what I was asking about said they don’t allow BYOB because <<we have our own wine list>>. Still most sounded uncertain about it and even uncomfortable answering.
I decided to take this a step further and called the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) in Boston. According to the ABCC person I spoke with, BYOB is NOT PERMITTED in restaurants that have an alcohol license in the state of Massachusetts. Restaurants which do not have a license may or may not allow BYOB, that decision is made at a town/city level. He then went on and gave me a 5 minute lecture on how and why he discourages BYOB. I’ll save you the pain and spare you with the details. Later I found further confirmation on the ABCC’s website:
Next I called up a few towns in my area. Every town I called complies with the ABCC and does not allow BYOB in establishments that are licensed to sell alcoholic beverages. As for establishment which do not have a license, the answer varies (quotes are from each town licensing commission person I spoke with):
New Bedford – BYOB is legal BUT the restaurant is <<not allowed to charge corkage>>.
Fairhaven – BYOB illegal. <<But it is the state’s responsibility to supervise>>.
Dartmouth – BYOB is legal. <<Not sure if charging corkage is legal>>.
Fall River – BYOB is legal. <<Let me check with the state ABCC regarding corkage fees>>.
And just for fun… Boston – BYOB outright illegal, license or no license. <<Restaurants that permit BYOB in the city of Boston are breaking the law>>.
Now, I know that Massachusetts is one of the most strict states when it comes to regulations of alcohol trade. A quick check with New York reveals that BYOB is allowed by the NY’s ABCC but only if the restaurant has an alcohol sales license – the complete opposite of Massachusetts! Another quick call to Chicago and I found that the state of Illinois leaves it completely up to each town/city... how many towns/cities are there in Illinois?.. you get my point.
Three states, three different approaches. Confusing? I’m beginning to think that the Portuguese restaurant was right just hanging up on me.
So what did I learn from spending about an hour of my lifetime on this little project?
THAT THE LAWS AND REGULATIONS CONCERNING B.Y.O.B. ARE ALMOST AS COMPLEX AND ARCHAIC AS THE LAWS REGARDING THE TRADE OF ALCOHOL WITHIN THE 3-TIER SYSTEM.
There could be thousands of restaurants in America who allow BYOB and are breaking the law while doing so. Can you tell how excited I am about this? There is an opportunity here… Who wants to be the Tom Wark of BYOB? Inertia people… any of you reading this? How about a BYOB compliance tool? A web-based tool that provides both BYOB compliance information services to food establishments along with listings of restaurants that permit it with corresponding corkage fees if applicable? I’m serious. If you think that it is better to leave this alone (don’t ask, don’t tell) then you are a fool. It is just a matter of time before BYOB becomes more prevalent and restaurants will begin their own a la wine.com sting operation and rat on their competitors who are illegally allowing BYOB.
Next time your are BYOB'ing watch your back... the ABCC may be coming for you.
I usually don’t ask for feedback to my posts. I know that most of you who read my blog are web-shy but this time I'm really intersted in getting some comments. Do you BYOB? How’s BYOB in your town/city?