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Is Per Se Charging America's Highest Corkage Fee?

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CORKAGE.pngHere's some BAD news for BYO fans. Thomas Keller's service-included Per Se, one of America's most expensive restaurants at $310 for the dinner menu, is now charging customers what could be America's highest corkage fee.

Guests who bring their own wine to the three Michelin-starred restaurant will now pay a set price of $150 per bottle, up from the previous fee of $90. Keller's French Laundry in Yountville, California, which used to ask $75, is now charging $150 as well.

"I'm not aware of another corkage fee that is as high as that, anywhere in the country," Eater wine editor Levi Dalton wrote in an email. Indeed, the closest contender appears to be Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas, where a tasting is $435, and where patrons can bring in their own wines for $100 per bottle. Masa, the country's most expensive restaurant at $450 for an elaborate sushi omakase, levies a $95 corkage fee, while The Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, at $255 for a 20-30 course tasting, charges $90.

Per Se's "intention would seem to say that they'll open your very expensive wine if you bring it in, because that is the only scenario in which paying such a fee would make sense," said Dalton. A spokesperson for Thomas Keller Restaurant Group did not respond to an email requesting comment on the increased fee.

It's worth noting that those who bring their own wine into restaurants typically do so not to save money, but rather to enjoy a meal with an esoteric or rare bottle not found on even the most comprehensive lists. Restaurants, in turn, charge corkage either to discourage that practice, or to recoup the potential lost revenue from not having sold their own wines, often marked up anywhere from 50 percent to 300 percent. Certain high-profile venues, like Le Bernardin and Daniel in New York, or Grace in Chicago, do not permit outside wines.

Then again, the published corkage fee is not always the price one pays. "The reality to all corkage fees is that they are negotiable and based upon relationship. In fact, it is one of the rare charges relating to food and wine in a restaurant that is actually negotiable and changeable," says Dalton. Manresa in Los Gatos, California, for example, will wave its $75 corkage for each bottle a patron buys off the restaurant's list. And sommeliers can often be persuaded to forego the fee in exchange for a glass of the patron's rare wine.

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As a critic or as a civilian, I've never found due cause to bring in my own bottle to a restaurant with a proper wine list, just as I've never found a good reason to bring my own steaks into a chophouse and have the chefs cook them for me. That's another way of saying I trust my colleagues in the hospitality industry to get the job done better than I can and as such I'll pay accordingly.

That said, some of my oenophilic friends like to bring bottles from their private collections into good restaurants, and they frequently enjoy sharing a glass or two with the beverage staff to promote both wine education and bonhomie. Right on.

And regardless of whether such fees are negotiable, it's hard to fathom how one of America's best restaurants like Per Se could charge a corkage fee that's anywhere from $50-$100 more than the corkage fees at some of America's other best restaurants. Agree? Disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments. And here's a list of corkage fees at some of the country's most ambitious culinary establishments, and at Nello:

Jean Georges: $85
Eleven Madison Park: $65
Marea: $50
Meadowood: $50 but "no corkage fee for members."
L20: "At the sommelier's discretion but generally $50."
Quince: $50 for first two bottles, then $70 after that.
Saison: $50, "but flexible."
Nello: $50
Jungsik: $45
Atelier Crenn: $45
Benu: $40
Momofuku Ko: $40
Alma: $30

· All Coverage of Per Se [~ENY~]

Per Se

10 Columbus Circle, Manhattan, NY 10023 (212) 823-9335 Visit Website

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