It was June of 1985, and I was in Montreal on a business trip. After spending a day on the trade show floor, I was meeting close friends for supper, who suggested we go to the highly touted Biddle’s Jazz and Ribs (now called House of Jazz) for supper and to hear some great tunes.
Famed Montrealer Charlie Biddle was on bass, and the amazing Oliver Jones played piano, so I was in musical heaven. The talent was sensational, the food very good, and the wine ... well, this was, for me, the most interesting part of the evening.
We took our own. Wine, that is. And I marvelled, even all those years ago, that that was possible. How cool it was to be able to indulge in a great meal, a couple of splendid bottles of wine and have money left over to tip the band, which was more than deserving.
When I got back to Manitoba, I inquired if such a thing was possible here, but of course local establishments were prohibited from allowing folks to bring their own vino. I was really disappointed. And I’ve fumed inwardly, and sometimes not so inwardly, over the years when I’ve paid two-and-a-half to three times the Liquor Mart cost for wine in restaurants. I understand mark-up and the need for people to make a profit — I don’t begrudge them that at all — but I always felt I was getting gouged. A hundred per cent mark-up is standard in many industries, but more than that, in my opinion, is just unfair.
So imagine my delight when I learned amendments had been made to the Manitoba Liquor Control Act under the province’s New Hospitality Strategy to permit patrons to bring their own wine to a restaurant. There was some whooping and hollering on my part, believe you me. Here’s what the amendment says officially:
"Manitoba now joins five other provinces in allowing a bring-your-own-wine service. This voluntary program allows patrons to bring their own, unopened bottle of commercially made wine to have with a meal in a licensed dining room. The bottle will be opened and served by staff and all regulations regarding sale and service apply. Licensed premises who choose to offer this service will be permitted to set their own corkage fee."
While some restaurateurs argue that the new strategy might undermine their bottom line, and a couple have made the argument to me that hiking prices on booze to exorbitant levels (well, OK, they didn’t use the term ‘exorbitant’, that’s my take on it) makes up for other areas in the business where there’s not nearly as large a profit margin, I feel the bring-your-own wine proposition is a winner all the way around.
Sure, some establishments might notice a slight drop in their wine sales. But I’m betting it won’t be a substantial one. Most folks who want just a glass of wine will still have to purchase from the restaurants. Many people don’t plan ahead, so they’ll choose from the restaurant’s wine list. Lots of folks may figure bringing their own wine is a hassle, and that eating out should be an all-inclusive event, so hang the expense — let’s just go full bore and enjoy.
But for those of us who feel the wine offerings at many establishments are sadly lacking, the new policy is very welcome news. I can take a bottle of wine I really love, and enjoy it with food I can’t or don’t make at home (or can’t or don’t make as well), have a much more pleasant outing and not break the bank.
I have a favourite wine for which I pay $19.27 at the Liquor Mart. Add tax, and that becomes $21.58. At my favourite restaurant in town, I pay $43.95 for the same wine. Add tax and that become $49.22. Already I’m at roughly 2.3 times the amount the wine and tax would cost me at the LC. But then I’d tip on the $43.95 — I do NOT believe in tipping on tax — at the standard 15 per cent (unless, of course, the service is exceptional, which at this place, it often is). So I’d add $6.50 or $7.00 to my wine total, and now we’re sitting at about $56. For something that originally cost $21.58.
If I take my own wine to this restaurant, I’ll pay their corkage fee of $15, add tax ($16.80), and tip (in this case, I’d probably add 20 per cent, or $3) for a total of $19.80, which again, I’d round up to $20. Add that to my wine cost of $21.58 and I’ve paid $41.58 instead of $56, a savings of approximately $15.
While some serving staff may be concerned this practice will cut into their tips, I understand. But again, I suspect the impact will be minimal, as I’m optimistic people will be generous to the serving staff, and I don’t think that many folks will end up taking their own wine to restaurants.
I can guarantee you, however, that I’ll be one of those who do. And next week, I’ll talk about why I think this new system can work to benefit both restaurateurs AND consumers. As well, I’ll have a list of some local establishments that are planning to participate in the bring-your-own-wine program and what their corkage fees are going to be.
But if you’re into wine, call ahead to the place you’re planning to patronize and find out for yourself. And if being able to take your own wine to a restaurant matters as much to you as it does to me, choose to spend your dinner dollars in an establishment that allows the practice.