Drink, If You Brought 'Em

Strictly BYOB places bother me.

Yes, I know about the pernicious restaurant mark ups. In general, management will triple the price of lower cost wines and double the more expensive labels. They often tack on rather impressive corkage fees for those who insist on carting in a bottle, as well. Bring your own policies benefit customers in other ways, too--allowing large parties to sample a range of wines without spending a week's take home pay, for example, and discerning types to bring in a particular vintage.

But several weeks ago I sat across from a couple toting Wal-Mart's house wine into Citrus Bistro. Figure they either couldn't bear the thought of an alcohol-free dinner and stopped by a super center on their way over or they're incredibly cheap. And when I walked into Normandie Alliance sometime last fall, learned of their BYOB ways, and asked directions to the nearest liqour store, they pointed toward a corner 7-Eleven.

So while BYOB may be inexpensive, it's not always sophisticated.

Yet that's not what troubles me about the policy. Depending upon where you live, it can be rather inconvenient to pick up a bottle on your way to the restaurant. If you don't manage to finish your wine (never encountered this phenomenon myself, but I'm sure it happens), you end up driving home with an open container (or a loosely re-corked bottle rolling around in the trunk).

Those are minor quibbles, of course. More importantly, at least for connoisseurs who appreciate a good pairing, guests must know their orders before reaching the place...unless they carry along a half dozen different options.

Oh, wine and food pairings occasionally come down to something simple, like red or white. But the intensity of a certain spice may damage one red varietal and bring another to life. Your favorite Chardonnay may die against a dish that cries for a Viognier. If you really care about such things (and don't know the menu that well), you're stuck bringing the most generally food friendly wines.

OK, OK--most of us order by familiarity and price, anyway. And it's nice that a few strictly BYOB places exist, just so people have the option of a low or no corkage fee experience. The key question remains: how long will newly opened bring your own restaurants hang on?

Small operations like Citrus Bistro or the neighboring Cava likely went the BYOB route to avoid alcoholic beverage license fees. Sales of wine, beer and spirits account for 10 to 30 percent--or more--of a restaurant's take. With profit margins of chef-owned establishments rarely topping 15 percent, that $15,000 expenditure (two years of fees, tax bond and legal assistance) to sell booze would seem like a good investment.

Unless the business plan calls for slashing food costs, there's only faint hope for longevity. Better to use the full bar and less than $10 corkage fee approach.

Yeah, a few such places exist. 

So for price and special occasion wines from your cellar, strictly BYOB places are a welcome part of the Dallas landscape. But from so many perspectives, the idea makes no sense at all.

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