Corkage and beer are not two words you would normally put together. Most beers don’t come in corked bottles. Instead, they are in beer cans or sealed with a crown cap (There are some beers however which are sealed with a cork).
But we are not talking about how a beer has been packaged, rather we are looking at a fee charged by many dining establishments or other venues for the privilege of drinking your own alcoholic beverages at their place.
More associated with a bottle of wine, hence the name of corkage, does corkage fee apply to a bottle or can of beer? Do restaurants actually allow you to take your own beer in, and if so, what exactly are they gonna charge you for that privilege? Who controls corkage fee amounts?
Let’s take a quick look at the murky world of corkage fees for beer and see whether it’s really worth the hassle of taking your favorite IPA to the restaurant with you.
What Is a Corkage Fee?
A corkage fee is a charge levied by a restaurant or bar when a patron brings in their own alcoholic beverage (in this case, beer) to consume on the premises. The fee typically covers the cost of serving the beer, the cost of storing it properly, and the cost of cleaning up after the customer leaves.
Traditionally, a corkage fee would refer to the corkage for wines that a customer may have brought to the venue with them. Maybe it was a special occasion for which they had been saving a special type of wine, maybe it was a wine they felt would go with one of the restaurant’s select dishes, or maybe they were just trying to save money and avoid the restaurant markup on the wine with dinner.
As the popularity of bring-your-own (BYO) restaurants grew, customers started asking if they could bring other types of alcoholic beverages with them such as spirits and, more importantly, beer. Again, a fee would be charged for bringing your own spirits or beer and this was still referred to as the corkage fee.
A corkage fee is normally charged per bottle, although some more casual restaurants may charge a corkage fee per table or per guest.
Corkage fees may also be charged on cruise liners for alcohol that has been purchased elsewhere on the ship and then consumed in the restaurant. Some private venues which are rented out for social gatherings or private events may also add a corkage fee to their beer price list as they are employing the services of staff that wouldn’t normally be required (a bit cheeky, some would argue!).
How Do You Know if a Bar/restaurant Charges a Corkage Fee?
Not all restaurants and bars offer the option of a corkage fee for customers, some won’t tolerate the idea of guests bringing their own alcohol at all. I mean – you wouldn’t go to a Steak House with your own steak, would you (well, I hope not!). So why should you be able to go to a bar with your own beer?
It’s not a privilege or a legal obligation, it’s just a service that can be offered (or not offered) at the discretion of the venue. Some high-end restaurants would argue they have employed sommeliers who have spent considerable amounts of time and money trying to present you with a more comprehensive beer and wine selection – they’re not just losing the cost of the actual alcohol the customer isn’t buying from them, but also all that time and effort they spent developing their beverage program.
It’s safest to check with a venue whether you can bring your own beer, and if so how much they are going to charge, rather than just marching into the venue with bottles of wine or a bag full of beer under your arm.
The majority of restaurants or bars clearly advertise their corkage policies and may even make them an integral part of the business. Au Cheval and other restaurants in the Hogsalt restaurant group actually encourage people to bring their own booze, and corkage is waived if they share a glass with the table next to them.
Other venues may advertise nights like Wine Wednesday or Beer Saturday where corkage fees are dropped completely. Keep an eye out at your local bar/bistro or dining establishment for such offers – that lets you know they operate a BYOB policy.
Why Do Establishments Charge Corkage Fees for Beer?
One of the main reasons that establishments charge a corkage fee is to recoup some of the costs associated with serving beer. When a customer brings in their own beer, the restaurant or bar loses out on potential sales.
They also have to incur the cost of storing the beer properly and serving it at the right temperature. In addition, there’s the cost of cleaning up after the customer leaves, which can be considerable if the customer has brought in multiple bottles or cans of beer.
Another reason for corkage fees is to maintain control over the quality and selection of beer being served. Many establishments have carefully curated beer lists and want to ensure that their customers are experiencing the best possible selection. Allowing customers to bring in their own beer can potentially dilute the quality of the beer selection and detract from the overall experience.
The Advantages of a Corkage Fee for Business Owners
We’re not just talking casual neighborhood BYOB joints here, but all kinds of establishments have recognized the value of allowing customers to bring their own bottles of alcohol to the venue with them.
Some craft beer venues may offer socials for customers where guests can bring a selection of beers from their travels to share with like-minded beer lovers. Obviously, there will normally be a bottles-per-table maximum, after all, they want to sell their own beers too. And you don’t want too many intoxicated guests if they bring too many cheaper and stronger beers, so they charge customers a corkage per bottle and sometimes also base it on the strength of the beer.
The main benefits a BYOB status brings are:
- Additional revenue: Corkage fees can provide additional revenue for the establishment, which can help offset some of the costs associated with serving beer. This is especially important in today’s highly competitive bar and restaurant industry, where profit margins can be slim.
- Control over beer selection: As previously mentioned, corkage fees can help establishments maintain control over the quality and selection of beer being served. This can help them differentiate themselves from their competitors and provide a unique selling point to customers.
- Reduced risk of liability: By charging corkage fees, restaurants with liquor licenses can help mitigate the risk of liability that comes with serving alcohol. If a customer becomes intoxicated and causes damage or harm to others, the establishment can point to the fact that the customer brought in their own beer and that they were not responsible for overserving them.
How Much Is the Corkage Fee for Beer?
The corkage fee for beer can vary depending on the establishment and location. In some cases, the fee may be a flat rate, while in others, it may be based on the number of bottles or cans brought in. The fee may also be higher for certain types of beer, such as rare or expensive brews.
In general, corkage fees for beer tend to be lower than those for wine, which can range from $10 to $50 per bottle. A typical corkage fee for beer can range from $2 to $10 per bottle or can.
However, it’s important to note that some establishments may not allow customers to bring in their own beer at all, while others may waive the corkage fee for regular customers or for special occasions. Another rule tends to be – the more expensive the establishment, the more expensive the corkage fees will be.
Is Corkage Controlled by Law?
Corkage laws can vary from state to state. In Washington DC for example the corkage fee used to be capped at a maximum of $25 but that was scrapped over 10 years ago and nowadays most States don’t regulate the fees at all.
However, if a venue can offer BYO or corkage, the fees vary from state to state. One example is New Jersey, where unlicensed restaurants with a BYO permit cannot charge for corkage fees as it would be seen as making money from the sales of alcohol, something which they are not licensed for.
In some states like Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois, and Massachusetts it is illegal for customers to bring their own alcohol, beer included, into licensed premises. In some cases, the venue could actually lose its liquor license by offering BYOB or charging corkage fees.
Below we look at some of the major cities across the USA to check whether you can take your own beer to a restaurant and if they will charge corkage.
New York City – restaurants and other venues in New York City must hold a liquor license to allow patrons to bring in their own bottles of beer. There are none of those easygoing local neighborhood BYO joints in New York City. Corkage fees are not mandatory, however, it’s just something the individual venues can choose to charge if they want.
Philadelphia – BYO lovers will be happy in Philadelphia as restaurants and other venues don’t need to have a liquor license at all to offer bring-your-own beers to customers. Corkage fees are not regulated by either Philadelphia or the State of Pennsylvania, so some restaurants charge them while others don’t.
Boston – BYO is actually still prohibited in most neighborhoods of Boston. In the few areas where BYO is permitted, the restaurants/venues are prohibited from charging corkage fees – good news for BYO beer lovers.
Los Angeles – Similar to New York City, the state of California only allows BYO at restaurants and other venues that have a liquor license. There are, however, no regulations on the corkage fees a licensed restaurant can charge – I hope you have got deep pockets!
Corkage Fees for Beer – Last Call
Love them or loathe them, it seems corkage fees for beer are here to stay. There’s no arguing (in most cases anyhow) whether a restaurant can charge them or not, and unfortunately, they can charge whatever they like.
Corkage fees for beer can be a contentious issue for both establishments and customers. Some beer lovers would argue they have already paid for the beer once, so why should they pay again just for the privilege of drinking it?
The restaurant manager would probably argue that the cost of serving it, the loss of a sale of their own beers, and the cost of hosting you as a customer are causes enough. It’s basically just another form of service charge – after all, these people are in business to make money.
While they can provide additional revenue for the establishment and cost savings for the customer, they can also be a source of frustration and inconvenience. Ultimately, the decision to charge a corkage fee for beer will depend on a number of factors, including the establishment’s business model, its beer selection, and its target audience. As a customer, it’s important to be aware of the corkage fee policy and to be respectful of the establishment’s rules and regulations.
Personally, as long as the corkage fee per bottle isn’t more than a couple of bucks, I don’t really give a damn. I’d rather pay a couple of dollars more to be drinking a bottle of Pliny the Elder with my chateaubriand than a cheap domestic lager.