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BYOB - Six rules to remember

Brian Gurnham Chief Cork Officer

BYOB, or bring your own [beverage, bottle, booze, beer] is an acronym for the practice of allowing diners to bring their own bottle of wine to a restaurant.  The practice is common in some parts of the United States, and strictly forbidden in others.  Based on updating a 2011 survey done by the Wine Spectator, BYOB is permitted in 27 States, forbidden in 13, and regulated in some usually hard to understand manner in the remaining states.  Virginia in 2011 and Maryland in 2012 are the latest two states to adopt BYOB laws permitting the practice.

If you are fortunate enough to live in a location that allows the practice of BYOB (as I am in Pennsylvania) there are some important items to keep in mind that will hopefully foster the privilege (and it is a privilege as virtually any restaurant can choose not to embrace the practice even though it is legal) and keep it around.  Believe me, BYOB is a wonderful way to blend amazing food with your personal wine collection, and you should do everything in your power to make sure the practice continues!

Rule #1 – Check with the restaurant first.  This may seem obvious but do not under any circumstances simply show up assuming that you and your favorite bottle will be welcome.  Some states permit BYOB only in establishments without a liquor license, and even those with a liquor license may chose not to allow patrons to BYOB.  Also ask if the restaurant charges a "corkage fee" and if they do how much.  Corkage fees can range from zero to as much as $75 in major metropolitan areas.

Rule #2 - Be mindful of the rules and regulations regarding BYOB.  In some cases the restaurant owners themselves may be skirting the rules, or simply unaware.  Here in Pennsylvania for example, any wine that is brought into an establishment must be purchased in a State liquor store.  This dampens your ability to bring that one of a kind bottle but it is the rule.  Most restaurants look the other way or simply don't have the ability to compare wine to the approved state list, and consequently patrons bring wine from anywhere and everywhere, but rules are rules.

Rule #3 – Change your expectations.  BYOB practices vary by location but usually the most you should expect from the wait staff is for them to offer to open the wine.  Don't expect them to allow you to taste it, after all you brought the wine, and you can't send it back.  Similarly wait staff will usually assume that you are responsible for refilling the wine glasses as needed.

Rule #4 – Offer a taste of the wine to the sommelier.  If you are bringing a particularly noteworthy wine, consider offering a taste to the sommelier or restaurant manager.  After all, at some level you are shunning the efforts that the sommelier put into the selection of wines on the wine list and offering a taste of your special wine is generous offer that shows respect for the wine list and passion for sharing a fine wine with an equally fine gustatory masterpiece.

Rule #5 – Leave the cheap stuff at home.  Perhaps most important never, let me repeat never, bring an inexpensive wine to a restaurant that offers a thoughtful wine list.  This is simply disrespectful and done often enough will likely end the practice.  As a rule never bring a bottle that is less expensive than the least expensive wine on the wine list.  If the establishment is BYOB only, that is not offering the sale of wine then you are on safer ground.

Rule #6 - Don't forget the wait staff.   There is nothing ruder than forgoing the restaurants wine list, minimizing the bill and then pretending the wait staff doesn't deserve a gratuity on the value of the wine.  Mind you if you bring in a $200 Bordeaux and the most expensive bottle on the wine list is $75 you needn't feel obligated to tip on $200 but don't pretend the bottle isn't on the table either!

BYOB is a wonderful way to pair your favorite wine with the efforts of your favorite chef.  The practice has supporters and detractors and it is our collective job to respect the privilege and foster its continuance and growth!

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