How many times have you been out to dinner and not ordered from the wine list because the markups were outrageously high? How many times have you ordered wine by the glass and paid the same for that glass as the entire bottle would cost at retail? Well that happens to me more frequently than I would like. It’s not that I’m cheap or don’t have the money to afford the wine, or that I feel restaurants aren’t entitled to make money through their wine program, because they are – it’s that I don’t like the feeling of being gouged, and I assume you don’t either. I’m obviously not the only person with restaurant wine pricing on the mind, based on the 100+ responses to James Laube’s blog post “Help Wanted: What’s Fair with Restaurant Wine Pricing” on Wine Spectator online. Restaurants today routinely do themselves a huge disservice by charging too high of a margin per bottle, when they could easily make up the difference in volume with lower margins. They just don’t get it.
Luckily I live in California where there is the option to bring your own wine to restaurants and pay a corkage fee. Savvy wine people here can do their homework, look at the wine list and menu prior to dining out, and decide whether or not to bring their own wines to the restaurant. This isn’t a luxury that most states allow, so the typical diner is held hostage by the restaurant’s wine list and exorbitant markups. Neither alternative is optimal in my opinion. In most cases, if the wine list is interesting and varied, I would much prefer to sample the restaurant’s offerings, than to bring my own. Furthermore, I would be much more inclined to order a second bottle if the price was reasonable (not more the 2 to 2-1/2 times retail). Dining out is one of life’s great loves for me, and in most cases I prefer the accompanying beverage to be wine – not a beer or cocktail…but steep markups are taking that fun away from me.