Maryland Corkage Law Hits the Area
Submitted by peek on Wed, 01/26/2011
In Maryland, you may bring your own bottle of wine into an unlicensed (BYOB) establishment. We have done so at Fazzini's Italian Kitchen FEAST at 4 East and Iggie's Pizza in Baltimore. State law prohibits you, however, from bringing your own bottle of wine into a restaurant with a liquor license. Proposed legislation in Maryland would permit this practice, known as "corkage," and individual restaurants would be allowed to set their own corkage policies. This has become a very hot topic in Maryland. But note, this is common practice and corkage is available in Pennsylvania and DC.
Here is information right from the source, Adam Borden from MBBWL:
You might not be aware of the corkage prohibition because: 1) it never occurred to you to bring your own wine into a restaurant that serves wine, or 2) you or someone you know has, in fact, done it; many restaurants either occasionally or routinely flout the prohibition for regular customers. It's a request typically made, not by the average consumer, but by a wine enthusiast who wishes to bring in a special bottle from a personal collection or by so-called "cellar groups" or wine aficionado clubs, in other words, the kind of desirable customer that some restaurant owners love to accommodate.
The corkage debate got heated for a few days last week. In one corner was the Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws (MBBWL), which favors corkage; in the other, the Restaurant Association of Maryland (RAM), which opposes legislation that would change the state's prohibition of corkage. Things got started on Thursday when MBBWL issued a press release provocatively titled Restaurant Association of Maryland (RAM) Industry Survey Supports Case for Corkage
MBBWL based this cheeky claim on the response to one RAM survey question: Despite that existing law on this issue has not really been well-publicized or strictly enforced, how do you normally respond when a customer asks the question? 30% of the respondents admitted to allowing the practice, if not routinely, at least for special occasions. For MBBWL, this indicated that corkage is practiced so widely that it amounted to tacit support for it in theory.
MBBWL did not win many friends with the press release's sudden reference to a December 2010 letter Volt's Bryan Voltaggio wrote to RAM asking for support of corkage. The letter arrived with an attachment listing 34 Supporting Restaurants, among them The Prime Rib, Chameleon Cafe, Brewer's Art, Clementine, Corks, Peter's Inn and Woodberry Kitchen. Voltaggio wasn't thrilled with how the letter had been used, and a few of the names on the Supporting Restaurants list were surprised to find themselves there at all -- they had at some point indicated support for Voltaggio's position letter but told me they had not been clearly advised how their support was going to be used.
However, Voltaggio, along with the restaurant owners I spoke with, restated to me (again, this is Adam Borden's recount) their strong support for corkage.) But it mostly was MBBWL's interpretation of the RAM survey that smelled funny to RAM, which later the same day issued a press release saying that, based on its survey results, it " strongly opposes legislation that would allow restaurant customers to bring their own bottles of wine into licensed restaurants."
For the record, 63% of the survey's respondents marked Oppose when asked, Do you support or oppose the general idea of allowing customers to bring their own bottles of wine into licensed restaurants.) What I found particularly unpersuasive though, were the conclusions RAM put forth in the press release announcing its opposition to corkage -- some of these concerns appear not to have been addressed at all in the survey: While there is currently little consumer demand for the practice, we believe that the publicity surrounding such a law change would encourage more customers to bring their own bottles. Our member restaurants fear that, as a result, the
law change will decrease wine and beverage sales, create confusion about serving control and regulatory compliance, create potential customer relations issues for restaurants that choose to continue prohibiting the practice despite a law change, and lead to future law changes allowing customers to bring in other alcoholic beverages.
... Assuming the new policy is confusing, surely one resource for helping the restaurants of Maryland understand and implement it would be the Restaurant Association of Maryland... I don't see how a restaurant's not allowing corkage when its competitors do would create more of a disadvantage than myriad other policies that restaurant owners have to either defend or compromise on, ranging from allowing split checks, charging for splitting entrees or allowing guests to bring in their own birthday cakes.
Personally, as an avid wine lover and collector, I (Patti Neumann, CITYPEEK) think that a new Maryland policy on corkage gives people more encouragement to dine out and also overall helps boost the hospitality industry.
Feel free to explain here why you oppose the idea that a restaurant shouldn't be able to set its own policy regarding the practice.