April 2 2014 12:00 AM

Amended Michigan liquor code allows customers to bring wine to restaurants


You walk into a restaurant, intending to order a nice bottle of wine with dinner. You check out the wine list, but can’t convince yourself to spend $35 for a wine you recently purchased for $12 at the retail store. Or you see a better bottle of wine that you splurged on for $40, but here it’s $80 or $90. So what do many wine consumers do? Order a beer. The restaurant misses out on profit from the wine, and you don’t get what you really want.

The inability to savor wines from a personal collection while dining out has been a pet peeve of many for years. But House Bill 5046, which became law last month, has changed the game for Michigan wine fans with just two sentences. The bill amends section 1021(5) of the Michigan Liquor Control Code, expanding the wine enjoyment landscape for consumers and provides restaurateurs with the opportunity to woo new or more frequent customers.

The new language gives a restaurant with a liquor license the option of allowing customers to bring their unopened wines into the establishment to enjoy while dining. Customers cannot, however, bring in homemade wine, nor can they take wine into a restaurant without a liquor license. Any wine not consumed during a meal made may be re-corked or sealed and brought home.

Restaurants allowing this privilege may also charge a “corkage” fee. This is a convenience fee for the restaurant. Remember, the restaurant is still providing the service of opening the bottle and providing glassware, and is missing out on the profit of selling a beverage from its inventory. Corkage fees may vary from restaurant to restaurant. They might not be charged at all, or may be as high as $25 per bottle. The corkage fee may be negotiable and might even be waived if wine is also purchased from the wine list.

Experience has shown that there is a certain etiquette expected when bringing one’s own wine to a restaurant. Here are some tips:

• Call ahead to inquire whether the restaurant allows the practice. Do not just show up with a bottle or bottles of wine.

• Inquire about the fee ahead of time and determine whether it is negotiable based upon variables such as the number of bottles being brought or whether additional wines will be ordered from the list. If the corkage  fee is too high and causes you to go elsewhere, let them know. By the same token, if the corkage fee is reasonable and reinforces your decision to patronize that restaurant, let them know that too.

• Do not under any circumstances bring a wine that is on the wine list for that restaurant. Definitely bad form. Be sure to verify this when you call.

• Also, an excellent practice—particularly when bringing a rare, expensive, or older wine—is to offer the manager and/or server a sample. Trust me, they will appreciate it.

This new law is truly a win/win situation for both consumers and business. Consumers will have an opportunity to enjoy more wines in new settings. Restaurants will have the option of allowing the practice (or not) and can look upon the new rules as an opportunity to develop new clientele and reinforce patronage from existing customers.

Retailers, distributors and wineries will have the opportunity to replenish those bottles now emptied of their delectable juice.

That’s lots of “wins” for just two sentences.

Cheers to our legislature! In vino veritas. (Michael Brenton is president of the Greater Lansing Vintner’s Club. His column appears monthly. You can email him at brenton@lansingcitypulse.com.)