POSTED ON June 18, 2009 | IN Restaurants, Wine Information | BY Joe Becerra

We dined at a restaurant that recently opened in our neighborhood in Burlingame. We’d heard good things about the restaurant so a group of us decided to celebrate a birthday and an anniversary there. The food was delicious but the wine list was marked up too high and the corkage fee was over the top at $25. Why gouge customers on wine; don’t you want us to return again and again?

Any good wine list should be well thought out and include good wines priced for all pocket books. At the low end there should be some decent tasting and enjoyable wines priced at $30 or under. At this restaurant there were no red wines to be had under $40 and the lowest priced white wine was $38. Worst of all, the markup was huge. Get this: I can buy a bottle of Robert Hall Cabernet Sauvignon at Trader Joe’s for $13. The price for this same wine was $40 on the wine list, a markup of almost three times retail. If you want wine loving-customers to keep coming back, a reasonable markup of 1.5 is just about right for the consumer.

Corkage Fee at $25 is just too high unless the restaurant is highly rated by Zagat, Michelin and others, plus has an extensive and good wine list for all pocketbooks. I have been to many a fancy restaurant in San Francisco and the usual corkage fee is $20, or perhaps $25 or more at the very top echelon of restaurants. Most neighborhood restaurants have a corkage fee of $10 to $15. Another reasonable corkage policy is to waive the corkage when another bottle of wine is purchased. This works great when there are four or more dining together.

As a wine lover and collector, I prefer to bring to a restaurant a treasured wine from my wine cellar. I will call ahead or check the restaurant’s website to find out the corkage fee and policy. If the corkage fee is too high, a change in restaurants is likely the result. The one down side to bringing your own wine to a restaurant is matching the wine to the restaurant’s menu. That’s another good reason for a restaurant to have its menu posted on their Website.

Bottom line for real wine lovers who know their wines: select your restaurants like you do fine wines. Look for great food and service, a wine list priced for everyone and not marked up more than 150% and a corkage policy that is reasonable. Is there a Website out there in the Internet world that keeps track of wine list markups on corkage fees? If not, maybe we should start one.


  1. Jim says

    I like your comments here.

    Some thoughts re the math:

    1. $40 for the Robert Hall is more than three times retail (which is $39).

    2. 150% of retail means what? Is that the same as saying one and one half retail, or two and one half retail?

    ($20 retail x 150%= $30)

  2. Ray says

    Bravo! I think it’s unconscionable to “jack up” corkage fees and then not to even have a representative wine list for all budgets.