Monday, March 05, 2007

An old colleague of mine long since moved to another industry recently asked me what group of diners I dislike the most. As this is a question that begs steroetyping, he was fully expecting that my answer would be based on race, religion, or possibly even sexual orientation. He also expected a good deal of hemming, hawing, and qualifying. What he did not expect was the immediate, fierce response nearly spit from between my lips--"corkage people!".

I despise no group of diners more than those that attempt to bring their own wine to dinner with them. The act itself is rooted in arrogance, pomposity, condescension, and cheapness. Somehow these people have convinced themselves that they are the very apex of the dining public and that their patronage is to be sought after and cherished. The reality is that these self-important asswipes are the last people any respectful and successful restaurant wants to see.

First, the bare economics. In my restaurant, which I am proud to say does not accept corkage, bottled wine sales account for nearly 23% of total sales, with wine-by-the-glass adding another 7%. On any given night nearly 80% of our seated guests will have wine at their table. Replacing a table of these normal, valued guests with someone carting in their own alcohol robs us of those important sales. I suppose things may be different in a failing property, but luckily that is not my point of view. This restaurant carries nearly $250,000.00 in wine inventory at any given time for its very extensive [and reasonably priced] wine list totalling more than 400 selections. There is plenty of excellent wine to drink in our restaurant, with prices ranging from $20/btl to more than $1000/btl.

Secondly, the people just suck. There was a time many years ago when I would sometimes bring wine with me to dinner--I own nearly 3,000 bottles, and with my schedule I am often challenged by how to get it all drunk in a reasonable amount of time [reasonable meaning before I/the wine/or both of us die]. I followed the established rules of corkage. Call the restaurant ahead of time and ask first if they accept corkage and secondly what their policies are, and then make sure the restaurant does not carry the wine that I was planning to bring. Upon arriving ask the restaurant the best way for the wine to be delivered to the table, and always understand that I was being shown a GREAT courtesy. Buy wine from the restaurant as well--even if the party is small I would get a couple of glasses of something. Accept all aspects of the restaurant's wine service as perfect, again I was being shown a GREAT courtesy and was in no position to dictate or find fault. Offer those serving the wine/waiting on the table some wine.

As time progressed I stopped the practice because so many other people had ruined the original concept of corkage--I simply did not want to be associated with them. These scumbags rarely call the restaurant ahead of time to ascertain allowance or policy. They generally attempt to dictate what will be done with the wine, usually buy nothing to drink from the restaurant, and often complain about the corkage fee no matter how reasonable. Very often the restaurant's stemware and wine service will be criticized, and unless the party is very small there is usually such a proliferation of bottles that service throughout an entire busy restaurant can be damaged as staff struggles with endless decanting, course after course of clean glassware and difficult special orders for food. At the end of the meal the check is usually markedly below the normal check average in the restaurant, the tip is average, and the server is exhausted--oh, and the offers to try the wine if forthcoming at all are usually offered in the most condescending tones imaginable.

At some point this legion of douche bags convinced themselves that restaurants should feel priveleged to be able to serve them--several of these creatures, upon being told that we do not accept corkage, have told me that we should be honored to have their wonderful wines brought to our restaurant, and in the dark days before I put an end to this hideous practice my queries regarding the prospective wines to be brought often met with the response--"Oh, I'm sure your restaurant would never be able to offer any of the wines I am planning to bring,"--the implication being that Ira Cocksucker's cellar was so vast and superior to the restaurant's that he had no choice but to travel with his own bottles. Breaking these people down, many of whom are breathing testament to the saying, "a little knowledge is dangerous", has always been a beloved hobby of mine.

And the garbage these people bring--oh my God I often don't know how they can even choke it down.

I am being joined each passing day by more and more operators who have had enough of these people and are halting acceptance of the practice--many other brilliantly sadistic restaurateurs like Charlie Trotter have raised their restrictions about the policy to near artform [$50/btl fee, one bottle minimum, and the wine brought cannot be from a producer represented on the restaurant's massive wine list].

Like with any other prejudice, there are of course exceptions, and it is the very heart of hospitality to honor them. Recently a couple called ahead of time and asked to be able to bring a bottle of wine for their 30th anniversary--the bottle was bought on their wedding day [part of a 5-case purchase] and every year they open a bottle at dinner. When they open the 6oth one, it will be on the grounds of the winery while they renew their vows, and I only hope they get to see that day. The wine is a 1974 Jekel Cabernet from Monterey in California. While not meant to be a 30-year wine, this bottle still had life--it was my honor to decant and pour the wine for our guests and I would never have thought to charge a cent for it. That is the very definition of special occassion. Another regular guest of ours has a specific taste for American petite syrah as well as the connections to buy large quantities of cult-wine bottlings--I have no comparable wine to offer him on our list--even if I did though it wouldn't matter. This guest is an icon of common courtesy and respectfulness and it is once again our honor to welcome him to the restaurant with his wine.

That's the difference. More than the lost revenue or the extra work, it is the vile manners and raw arrogance of most corkage fans that has led to their exile from ours and many other restaurants. The list will only get longer while these people, devoid of any and all social grace, continue to get worse.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just found your site. One of the other food blogs linked to you. I forget which one. I will try and find out. Maybe it was Club Life.

Anyway, you have an excellent blog here. You should have tons of hits. Very good stuff.

I did about 20 years in the restraunt biz. Never a big success like you, but I did pretty good. I can relate to a lot of your stuff.

Can't wait for your next stuff. Thank you. Really. Bob

3:27 PM  
Blogger cdees39 said...

This entry made me cry with the description of the anniversary wine. Just found you via RG. Great job!

Do you narrow down your location any?

6:38 PM  

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