What is a Corkage Fee?

Some restaurants allow customers to bring their bottles of wine to service. If the servers open the wine and pour it into restaurant stemware, then the restaurant charges a corkage fee. 

Restaurants considering charging corkage fees often wonder what the typical charge is and whether it is legal to charge it. 

uncorking bottle of wine in restaurant

Usually, when restaurants offer corkage service, customers understand what it is. However, if customers ask “what is a corkage fee?”, servers need to be prepared to explain how it works and why restaurants charge for it. 

A corkage fee covers the cost of supplying the stemware, opening and chilling the wine, and refilling it for customers. 

Selecting a Corkage Fee

Most restaurants with corkage fees charge between $10 and $40 per bottle, but some high-end establishments charge closer to $100 to serve BYOB wine to customers. 

Wine connoisseurs who bring their bottles tend to do it often, and they understand the rationale of a corkage fee. Servers should pour wine with care, and charging a corkage fee shows that diners expect quality service. 

Restaurateurs who are deciding to charge a corkage fee should base their prices on the least expensive bottle of wine in your bar. Some restaurants charge a per-bottle fee, while others decide to charge a per-stem fee. 

The Legality of Corkage Fees

Communities often have strict rules about consuming alcohol at restaurants, and some of those rules involve pricing. Before you set a corkage fee, check your liquor license to see if BYOB service is allowed in your area. 

When it comes to liquor license details, it is better to be safe than sorry. 

waiter pours red wine from bottle into glass at restaurant

Why Offer Corkage Service?

Not every restaurant is ideal for corkage fees. Before you decide whether to offer a corkage fee, take time to evaluate what you offer. 

Your Restaurant Cannot Serve Liquor, But Customers Can Drink it

Restaurants without liquor licenses often allow their customers to consume their bottles of wine on-site. Before you start investigating a corkage fee, check with your community’s rules regarding consuming alcohol in public places without a liquor license. 

If you find that local laws permit your customers to drink a personal bottle of wine with dinner, then you can start to talk about what is a corkage fee and what you can charge. 

You Have a Liquor License, But You Don’t Serve it

Many communities require restaurants to have liquor licenses if they want to serve beer, wine, and spirits. Sometimes restaurants have a liquor license, but they haven’t built their beverage menu. 

Then, diners can bring their wine to your establishment, and you can charge the corkage fee for the effort of serving their wine. 

When you let diners bring their wine and enjoy it with dinner, you are putting your liquor license to use and getting something out of the investment. 

Your Restaurant Specializes in Important Occasions

Some high-end restaurants offer corkage service for special occasions like wedding anniversaries and other celebrations. Customers often bring their beverages for these events, and your servers take time to create a special moment with their bottle of wine. 

Corkage service allows diners to imbibe their favorite wine with their meals. The fee allows restaurants to pay for the costs associated with serving the wine. 

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry. As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.