Diner’s Ransom

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. 

Here are a few names of restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area that have great, eclectic wine lists at very reasonable markups: Plumpjack, A16, NOPA, and Park Chow.

Author: Gregg

Gregg Stephenson has been the Fine Wine Specialist/Collector Concierge at Wine.com since 2009. In total he has been in Fine Wine sales for over 5 years. Initially drawn to wine by his passion for food, cooking, and entertaining, Gregg parlayed his new hobby to a profession. He has his Sommelier Certification with The Court of Master Sommeliers and is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) with The Society of Wine Educators. An avid collector since the mid-nineties, his home cellar boasts 1,800+ bottles from wines around the world, of which roughly 75% are from the Old World (France, Italy, Spain, and Germany). Gregg tries to taste as often as possible and LOVES the open minded wine enthusiasts!!!

1 thought on “Diner’s Ransom”

  1. For San Francisco residents, Eureka in the Castro has no corkage on the first bottle and an awesome staff. One reason I love Paris, France is the option to simply buy the house white or red wine served in a carafe. This European style is rare in the U.S., I can only think of two places in SF that do this; Frances and Le Mediterranee. Any others out there?

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