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BYOB to restaurants is now legal in Michigan!

Wine Cellar PhotoFor those of you who like wine and would like to take your own to a restaurant, here’s some important news! Until now, it was illegal in Michigan to bring your own wine to restaurants unless they were designated a “resort” (e.g.  The Townsend Hotel).

However, in December, Governor Rick Snyder approved House Bill 5046, (Effective Date: March 14, 2014) which allows restaurants with liquor licenses to let patrons bring their own bottles of wine to drink at those restaurants. They must be bottles from licensed wineries, so note that you can’t bring your own moonshine! Note also that there is no regulation on corkage fees (what restaurants can charge in order to uncork and serve the bottle to you). So expect to see some disparity and make sure you check out the situation in advance! Here’s why:

Many Bloomfield Hills residents often eat in Birmingham because it’s the closest fine dining. So, I did a survey of 25 Birmingham restaurants and restaurateurs are well aware of the change in the law. Many are considering making a rules change to allow patrons to bring their own wine. However, they are looking at different ways to make it work for them as well as their customers. This is a big step for them, so be patient. Of those I polled, here are the restaurants you can count on, listed with their corkage fees:

  • Big Rock Chop House:  $25. (Must be a wine that is NOT on their list.)
  • Café Via: $30 (Prefer just for special occasions)
  • Forest Grill: $25.
  • Hyde Park Prime Steak House: $25.
  • Rugby Grill in the Townsend: $35.
  • Social Kitchen and Bar: $35. (After March 14th only)
  • The Stand: $50.
  • Tallulah: $15.

I’m sure there will be a lot more now that the law has taken effect, so call and check before you show up with your brown bag. 🙂

You can still take an unfinished bottle of wine home from a restaurant that you purchase from the restaurant if their staff replaces the cork even with the lip of the bottle. However, the way the law reads, you cannot legally take unfinished wine home if you have not consumed a meal. You also may not take additional wine unless they are classified as a merchant.

There will be a learning curve on both sides with this new practice, so be patient. Realize that the wine mark ups for restaurants are anywhere from 100% to 300% above their wholesale costs. That extra revenue goes a long way toward paying restaurant expenses. Also, tips on wine are important revenue to staff. In most cases, with corkage fees, it only makes sense to bring your own if it’s a relatively expensive bottle of wine. Let’s say that the corkage fee is $20. If you buy a $15 bottle, you will pay $40 to drink it at the restaurant. If the restaurant bought the same bottle for the same price and marked it up 300%, you would pay $45 or maybe even less if their markup was less, so it wouldn’t be worth it. For a much more expensive bottle of wine – say a $300 bottle, you do the math and you could see that it would definitely be worth it.

 So what about the person who serves the wine? The fair thing to do is to tip on the value of the wine – or if it’s an exorbitant value – use your judgment, but definitely don’t tip just on the meal. It’s important to keep your server happy! Believe me… He/she won’t forget.

 Etiquette is going to be important for these restaurants to accept the wine law change. Here are some more tips for bringing your own wine to restaurants:

  1. Call ahead to see if it’s acceptable to them and ask what the corkage fee will be so you are not surprised. Ask if the bottle you want to bring is on their list. If it’s for a special occasion, tell them to help them understand your situation. If you want to bring more than one bottle, also ask if that’s OK.
  2. A very cool thing to do if you have enough people is to also buy a bottle from the restaurant’s wine list.
  3. Offer a taste to the Sommelier or if you don’t drink it all, send what’s left back to the chef. (I love using leftover wine after parties in sauces!)
  4. Don’t bring a bottle that’s on their wine list. Do bring a special bottle for a special occasion.

 If you want to read the law, you can find it here online:

If this change is important to you, be informed about the new rules and promote it by talking to restaurant Managers who are not yet participating. The law reads that restaurants “may” allow people to bring wine, so encourage them to change their policies after March 14th because it is now possible to BYOB!

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