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Readers Respond to Per Se's $150 BYO Fee

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Thomas Keller's Per Se and The French Laundry, as Eater reported on Friday, are now charging what could be the country's highest corkage fees, true to form for two of America's most expensive restaurants. Guests who in bring in their own wines will be charged $150 per bottle, service-included, which is a heck of a lot more than Keller's three Michelin-starred peers. Masa asks $95, Eleven Madison Park charges $65, and Meadowood commands $50.

Reader comments poured in over the weekend, so here are some of the best below. Two commenters share their experiences in trying (or hoping) to have Per Se's corkage waived, while the owner of Amali in Midtown Manhattan writes that free corkage can have a negative impact of wait staff tips. Check it out:

Hoping and wishing that Per Se will waive its corkage fee, Part I. This commenter tries to play the game but it's all for naught:

A group of eight of us dined at Per Se a few years ago, and one couple, who are true oenophiles and collect great wines from around the world, brought three bottles from their collection. They offered the sommelier some from each bottle, which he gladly enjoyed.

We then purchased a bottle of Per Se's wine along with some cocktails before dinner. The couple bringing the wine live in Napa Valley and are regular customers at The French Laundry. Given those parameters, the couple politely asked if perhaps one of the corkage fees might be waived, but a flat "no" was given. So much for negotiating fees.

Is it appropriate to bring in one's own wines? Another commenter seeks the high road of sorts: "I've come to the conclusion that BYO is best reserved for BYO restaurants. It is preposterous, even for an 'oenophile' with 'great wines from around the world' to expect to deprive a restaurant of income, however inflated."

What happens to your restaurant when you waive corkage fees? This comment comes via James Mallios, owner of a Mediterranean restaurant in Manhattan:

At Amali, we waive corkage for "unique or exceptional wines" so long as the guest shares some wine...I reference this because as a result, we open between 10-20 bottles a week without charge - more than any restaurant I know of that is not BYOB. But, there there is an undeniable cost to Amali and the staff's gratuity.

First, there is no timing/quantity restriction to our policy. Second, I am disappointed that even amongst wine lovers, collectors, somms, buyers etc., only a fraction of these "insiders" consider the level wine service provided by the somm when leaving a gratuity; once our somm decanted over 20 bottles and poured for over four hours and nothing.

Regardless of our policy, I do not fault any business for any corkage fee they choose to charge - $50, $100 or $1,000. What would we say if a customer walked into Luger's, brought in a great cut of rib eye with asparagus, olive oil, sea salt & pepper, passed it to the host and said "Medium please. Don't worry, I will buy some drinks. Table for two!

On why we pay a corkage in the first place.This commenter thinks the fee might be worth it:
If you're bringing in a $800 bottle of Coche from the 80s, a $150 corkage is no problem. Great glassware, great sommelier service, etc. What's another $150 on a Per Se tab? You're going to spend that for the white truffle supplement anyway. [Editor's Note: white truffles are actually $175 at Per Se]. If you are bringing in a fifty dollar 2011 Napa Cab, you're an idiot and should get charged to have them open that. Just purchase from the list!
Greasing The Wine Guy. This commenter has a few ideas on how to tip when brining in one's own vino:
I have always though that BYO is a privilege rather than a requirement, and if you take advantage of it, you have certain obligations. Sharing wine does not mean that I expect the charge to be waived, I tip around one third, and if there are multiple bottles, I will privately tip the sommelier with cash. In fact, I learned that lesson the hard way, as the sommelier may be salaried, and does not necessarily share in the gratuity pool. [Editor's Note: The sommelier will likely have to forfeit that cash anyway to the general tip pool, unless she or he wants to get fired.]
Hoping and wishing that Per Se will waive its corkage fee, Part II. Another commenter gives it a go. We know how this ends:
One has to assume this is an FU tax, I suppose. A few years ago, four of us (all wine/spirits/restaurant industry people) went to the French Laundry for my only experience there. The person who made the reservation for us, who lives in Napa and is a well-regarded wine rep for a major importer with a lot of great things on the FL's list, wanted to bring some of his "best of cellar", and did. He brought about half a case of some of the most amazing wines he collected on his travels over the years - a truly generous offering on his part.

He made sure to invite the managers, captains, somms and waiters over to try each and every one, and not just a spit take. We also ordered several other wines from their list just to be 'fair'. Yes, we were poured out of that restaurant at the end of the night, and a great time was had by all, but we paid for privilege and then some - not even a little bit of a discount despite ordering likely just as many bottles off their list as the average four top. And this was before the hike to $150.

· Is Per Se Charging America's Highest Corkage Fee? [~ENY~]


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