Uncorking a Consumer-Friendly Wine Law
MARCH 1, 2011
The opportunity for Marylanders to savor a special bottle of their wine with a fine restaurant meal is up for debate in the Maryland General Assembly. The practice of charging restaurant customers a small fee for bringing a bottle of wine from their home cellars is called corkage. It is common in many high-end restaurants throughout the United States, including ones in Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. But it is not allowed in Maryland -- at least not in restaurants with liquor licenses.
A bill before that would allow corkage in restaurants in Baltimore City, Frederick, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties got a rough reception at the House Economic Matters Committee this week.
The objections raised against it make little sense. One restaurant owner told the committee that allowing corkage would cut into her establishment’s alcohol sales. This comment shows a lack of familiarity with corkage -- it is an unusual occurrence, reserved for rare wines. But this worry could be easily remedied by limiting corkage to wines not on the establishment’s menu, and by limiting frequency. Finally corkage is voluntary, so if she was worried about alcohol sales, she would not have to permit it.
As we have previously observed, most restaurants without a liquor license are perfectly free to allow a customer to bring his own alcohol (although the law regarding the practice varies county by county). This is one case where owning a liquor license actually gives a restaurant fewer rights to serve alcohol instead of more.
It's also yet another example of the convoluted, antiquated and anti-consumer nature of Maryland's liquor laws, the infamous three-tiered system that seems bent more on assuring the profits of wholesalers then maintaining reasonable controls on licensing and distribution.
Maryland restaurants should welcome corkage as a way to bring in customers and enhance the dining experience.