Have you ever received the bill after a meal at a fancy restaurant and realized you spent more on wine than you did on everything else? And I'm not necessarily talking about those nights when you just drank too much, I'm talking about those nights you wanted to treat yourself to a nice bottle. Maybe it's time to look into BYOW (Bring Your Own Wine), if it's available in your province.
There are a few avid wine drinkers in my circle of family and friends, and this topic has come up on more than one occasion. One friend enjoys fine dining multiple times a week and tells me that he noticed long ago that the cost of the wine was just adding up to too much. His solution is to drink the house wines or bottles on the cheaper end of the menu and save the "good stuff" for meals at home.
It's no secret that the markup on wines is steep. I don't begrudge restaurateurs for that; partly it's the cost of maintaining a unique and prized cellar. Supply and demand has set the equilibrium at these prices; of course, you don't have to buy the wine if you don't like the price.
I generally look on the wine list for bottles I buy at the liquor store to calculate exactly what the markups are. I have my favourite go-to wines that I enjoy with certain meals, but I often balk at ordering them at a restaurant and opt instead for an unknown, cheaper wine.
For example, I'm quite fond of Edge Wines Cabernet Sauvignon (2007), which sells at my local liquor store for $27.95. I might buy that for a special meal at home. One of my favourite local restaurants charges $72 for that same bottle.
Now, my philosophy has always been that so long as you spend less than you earn, it's fine to enjoy a few indulgences here and there, but extreme bottle markups is one I try to avoid. Luckily, there is a way around it: corkage fees.
A corkage fee is a charge levied by restaurants in exchange for the privilege of drinking liquor that was not bought on the premises. They tend to range from $10 to $40 per bottle, and there can be varying levels of service. Some restaurants charge a set price for simply uncorking and pouring your wine and charge slightly more for using a decanter. They may be happy to have you drop off your bottle ahead of time so that it can be served at the proper temperature and allowed to breathe.
So long as the markup is greater than the corkage fee, it makes sense to bring your own wine. Of course, you'll have to do your research to learn which restaurants offer this service; most do not. And only Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia offer forms of BYOW.
Your best bet is to call ahead to avoid surprises. You can't bring homemade or fortified wines. Some restaurants will not let you bring a bottle that is on their wine list. Others offer a "take home the rest" service, where they will re-cork your unfinished bottle, allowing you to legally transport it home. This is great in that you won't feel pressured to drink the entire bottle just to avoid wasting some of it.
Finally, of the few restaurants that do allow BYOW, some offer certain days of the week with drastically reduced (or eliminated) corkage fees. These tend to be days early in the week.
I think date night just got moved to Mondays for me.
Do the wine math
The wine: Edge Wines Cabernet Sauvignon (2007)
Wine list price: $72
Liquor store price: $27.95
Saving: $4.05-$44.05 ($0-$40 corkage fee)
The wine: J. Lohr Hilltop Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (2006)
Wine list price: $120
Liquor store price: $39.95
Preet Banerjee is the W Network's money expert and a senior vice-president with Pro-Financial Asset Management. His website is wheredoesallmymoneygo.com