Wine: Ripped off and Ticked off

Ripped off and Ticked Off at Restaurant Wine Practices

There are only a few things that really ruffle my feathers, taking advantage of children, arrogance (not to be mistaken for confidence), poor customer service and blatant price gouging.  – I also dislike tweeting your Facebook status, but I’ll leave that for another discussion.

Earlier this month there was a tweet-storm over a CNN article that listed the top five “rip-offs” in America. Behind texting, movie theater popcorn, “free” credit reports, and name brand pain killers was…wait for it…RESTAURANT WINE! As a wine lover, this doesn’t just make me grumpy, it pisses me off (sorry mom). High prices at restaurants, in my opinion, have a counter effect on wine consumption.

Put yourself in the seat of an average or beginning wine drinker. You’re enjoying your beautifully made prime rib with your date. Glancing through the wine list causes you concern and great stress. What will taste good with my dinner? What will impress my date? After much deliberation you decide on the $7 glass of Bogle Zinfandel (because you remember reading that your favorite blogger, said it was a decent value wine). You’d love to share a bottle, but the restaurant has the bottle price at $28. OK, here’s the problem – you can buy Bogle Zinfandel for $9 or less at the store…for the whole dang bottle. At the typical 30% discount, the restaurant paid just $6.30 for that bottle. That is more than a 400% mark-up! Would you stand for that kind of mark-up for your TV, your car, your toothpaste?

So, what’s the problem? How does this damage the wine industry? High prices for lower quality wines at restaurants perpetuate the thought that wine is unattainable for the average guy. Looking at restaurant prices, one would think that the entry price for a wine is $25 with most wines cost between $40-$60 per bottle. The problem is compounded when the consumer buys a $7 glass of <insert cheap name here> only to go “bleh, I’m not really a fan of wine.” Well, that’s because it either tasted like vinegar or a giant Welch’s fruit bomb.

Hey, I realize that restaurants work on razor thin margins and high overhead. I understand restaurant owners invest everything they have to pursue their dream with minimal chance of success. When did 400% profit in anything become acceptable! Did you ever think that maybe reducing the price of wine to a moderate profit would increase turn-over, drive bottle sales, increase dessert sales and even improve return traffic? What would happen if you priced that same Bogle Zinfandel for $5 per glass and just $15 per bottle? As a consumer, I’d do the math and think that the bottle sounds like a good value. Not only that, I won’t be ticked if I happen to see that bottle for $9 at the wine shop.

Restaurants are not only guilty of wine gouging – they’re guilty of wine laziness, and red-neck presentation. Wine laziness refers to the restaurant that has amazing food, beautiful preparation, quality ingredients, and a fresh atmosphere – only to have your stock distributor wine list of five reds, five whites and two sparkling wines. The wine list is a representation of mass produced, inferior juice with zero imagination and no consideration for the food pairing. The “red-neck” presentation is the restaurant that puts forth the effort in a decent wine list, has phenomenal food, and then brings 6 ounces of your $50 bottle of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (that you splurged over $120 for) in an 8 ounce small bowl glass that amounts to nothing more than a tasting glass. You might as well serve it in a mason jar. Wine of this caliber should be served in a high quality Riedel big bowl wine glass that lets you enjoy the swirl, sniff sip experience.

Lately, I’ve been to three restaurants that seem to “get it.” Two of the restaurants have a moderate mark up from what I see at the store (between $5-$7) and they have a great selection that includes local wine, regional wine, and unique selections that show care and attention (kudos to Left Bank Wine Bar and Nikos Restaurant in Spokane). The third restaurant didn’t carry a huge selection but their bottle prices were almost exactly what I would expect to pay retail. We enjoyed an $11 bottle of Kiona Cab/Merlot that can usually be purchased at the store for $10 (kudos to Ferrantes Restaurant in Spokane).

What do you think? How do you handle restaurant price gouging? Do you confront the red-neck presentation? Do you bring your own bottle to combat the lazy wine list?

Restaurant owners – what is your response? What say you in defense of 400% price gouging?

Bloggers, wine lovers, and consumers everywhere – unite! Call out the worst offenders, praise the good guys. Do you know any restaurants that fall into the unholy trinity of wine (price gluttony, selection sloth, and glass greed)?  Let’s use the power of a unified voice to bring this crime against wine to justice.


Owner of Nectar Tasting Room in Spokane, WA. (@nectarwine) Publisher of Spokane Wine Magazine (@spowinemag), author, speaker, consultant and internet marketer with Nectar Media (@nectarmedia)

68 comments on “Wine: Ripped off and Ticked off

  1. Margie Tosch

    I remember eating at a well known upscale Las Vegas restaurant a few years ago. I think they had maybe 5 bottles on their extensive list that were under $100. Guess what – I didn’t see anyone drinking wine in the whole place! It doesn’t matter how fabulous your list is – it matters how many people are buying…

    1. drinknectar

      Exactly, Margie. Sitting on all that inventory adds to the cost of doing business. I understand the danger of pouring a glass and then sitting on the rest as it goes bad, but what if that “rest” wasn’t so dang expensive.

  2. Steve Paulo

    I like the description of “redneck presentation.” While I certainly hate being gouged for inferior juice, nothing pisses me off more than getting my wine in a freakin’ $3 Wal-Mart Special of a glass. I have Vinum XLs at home… sometimes I wonder if I should bring them along to some restaurants :)

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  4. Joshua S. Sweeney

    Ugh, this bothers me to no end. I went out for Mardi Gras in Raleigh, and the bar we ended up settling in at was charging 9 bucks for a glass of Kendall-Jackson. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? The last three glasses of wine I paid for have been horrible and averaged 7 dollars a glass. Rock of Ages Riesling, some garbage-water Pinot Grigio, and a Cab Sauv I wouldn’t sully a toilet bowl with. It’s about 50-50 for me if I actually strike gold when buying wine in restaurants, and those odds are starting to get too expensive for my tastes.

    1. drinknectar

      Josh, I see I struck a chord with you. Sorry to get your blood pressure up :)

      $9 for Kendall-Jackson (for a glass)! Something must be done to stop the outrage. Where is that “fleecing of America” newscaster guy when you need him?

  5. markmye

    I look through the wine list and laugh. then I pay $20 corkage and have them serve me the wines I bring myself. yay to corkage!

    $60+20 = 80
    same $60 wine is$130+ at restaurants.

    why even bother buying AT the restaurant?

  6. Ben Simons

    Man, you are on fire with this one. You hit everything, even the high notes!

    There is one restaurant here in town that has amazing food. I always want a nice glass of wine with my meal when I go there, but the wine selection sucks, is overpriced, and they pull the small bowl/overfilled glass trick with all of their wines. So I always end up saying, “Hmm, I’ll take a Dr. Pepper.” If the price for the wine was more reasonable, and if they had even a few decent wines, they could increase the take from me by a solid $15.

    On the flip-side, I went to another local restaurant, with good food, a great wine list that includes some stellar local options, at a decent price, with the wine poured into an appropriate glass.

    Which place do you think I’ll be going next time I want a nice meal?

  7. LeFoodWhore

    Bravo!! I’ve long felt resentment at the outrageous markups for wine at restaurants. I was even at a birthday party where a gag gift of Boone’s Farm was opened and the waiter threatened to charge a $15 corkage fee for the $2 bottle (no charge, I hope he was kidding)! I constantly talk myself out of buying a bottle at a restaurant, even on special occasions, simply because I know I can get the same bottle for 1/4 of the cost at my local grocery store. Kudos to you for the voice, to the restaurants that are starting to get the hint, and especially to those rare restaurants that have exceptional, reasonable wine lists or let you bring bottles in for free!

  8. Keith

    Absolutely excellent post. Could not agree more. The other thing that restaurants might not be taking into account, and should… is the “Vegas effect”. They ply you with free booze for a reason… you gamble and spend more when ethanol-happy. I would think same might work for a nice bottle of wine.. “gee! that was good, lets get another”. Yes, their margin is lower if they take your sage advice.. but in many situations the Vegas effect might make their wine volume double. Nobody orders a second bottle of cheap crap, but they might certainly splurge for a second of “good and reasonably priced”. Finally, buzzed folks also go for dessert orders way more than sober eaters. Desserts are high margin.

  9. Laurie London

    Is it bad of me to admit that we often bring our own bottle of nice wine and pay the corkage fee? In many instances, it’s much cheaper. It feels wrong paying all that money for a bottle of wine we have at home and purchased for much, much less.

  10. Catie

    I think we need to look at what is really gouging and what is a reasonable mark-up. Every restaurant is going to vary based on their overhead. Also, what price Rite-Aid and Safeway can get their wines wholesale (based on volume) is going to be different based on a restaurant. A restaurant obviously isn’t going to order cases and cases of Bogle Zin based on overhead and storage.

    We also have to remember, we are paying for more than a glass or bottle of wine. We are paying for a service. Someone has to be paid for opening the bottle of wine, serving and cleaning the glasses. So – one could bitch about that and yammer they will bring their own glass or clean their own glass or even open their own wine, but it does add up when you have to pay staff and the taxes that go along with it.

    Hey, I sell wine retail and once in awhile I don’t mind buying a glass of wine for $10 even though I get the same bottle wholesale for $18. For me, it’s a treat of just being out with friends and having service. I am just of the attitude that if I have to bitch about costs of going out, then I just shut my pie-hole and entertain at home. Going out is a luxury.

    But – your mileage may vary. Cheers!

  11. markmye

    I’m sorry, i can’t resist but to comment.
    I completely disagree with the “if you bitch about the cost, don’t go out”.

    going out is not a luxury. Going out to drink Margaux is a luxury, but going out for a reasonable dinner once in a while, and having a reasonable wine is not a luxury in the US. Yes we’re fortunate to be able to do that in this country (most of us at least), but it’s not like we’re showering in Cristal.

    The argument of “we pay for more than wine/glass” isn’t accurate either.
    We pay for the cleaning of the glasses, etc. Certainly! that’s why there IS a mark up.. but that doesn’t excuse 400% markup.
    By the same argument, the service?? isn’t that why you TIP? b/c of SERVICE?
    So by Catie’s argument, we should pay 400% markup for the wine AND the service, THEN put down another 20% tip for the service.. again..??

    Makes no sense.

    Buy a nice bottle from your local store. Pay the corkage fee.

  12. Joshua S. Sweeney


    I definitely don’t mind paying the extra as long as it’s a good wine. The issue is their presentation usually sucks — improper and cheaply-made glass that’s never as clean as it should be — and it’s a crap shoot because they’ll overhype even the worst table wine on the list… If I’m paying 6, 8, or even 10 bucks, the wine should be enjoyable, not something I have to suffer through.

  13. Ben Simons

    I am perfectly fine with a markup. Obviously there are additional costs involved at a restaurant that don’t exist in retail. I do not expect to be able to drink at a restaurant for the same price that I get at the store. Still, I am not paying $8 for an effing GLASS of Yellowtail, when I could buy a whole bottle of the same swill for less at the store.

  14. Sean P. Sullivan

    I love wine and I rarely buy bottles of wine at a restaurant. Here’s why. I am very aware of the prices of many of the bottles on the list – certainly the Washington ones at least – and just can’t stomach paying more than 100% markup. I have often seen 300%-400%. I’m fine paying for service. However, I can’t pay $48 for a wine that is $16 that I also know is not particularly good. As a result I either buy a glass or bring wine and pay the corkage fee (always offering a glass to the waitstaff I might add).

    1. drinknectar

      I would buy more bottles of restaurant wine IF the prices weren’t outrageous. I’m like you Sean – I know enough about the Washington market to know that I don’t want to pay $32 for that $7 bottle of Two Vines. Why would I throw my money away. It makes me mad because like I said in the post, the restaurant is holding back the wine industry as a whole. Imagine the poor guy on a date buying that bottle to share with his sweetie and they have to plug their nose just to drink it. They leave thinking $32 wine isn’t that good, when actually $32 buys you some good juice!

  15. Tim

    It’s enough to make you wanna drink beer instead

    1. drinknectar

      Ahhhh – no, not beer! I agree – I often order beer at a restaurant after looking at their wine list – or at the least a vodka martini or tonic.


  16. Tim

    I am now asking about corkage fees at every decent place I want to eat at. If it’s $10 I will bring my own wine. The worst rip offs I ever saw was in Vancouver BC. $43 for a bottle of Rosemont, $35 for a bottle of Yellow tail. That is when I switch to beer, which is exactly what you are saying happens when consumers notice they are being gouged. The stop consuming.

  17. Anonymous

    My wife and I are looking to open a small restaurant in the Tri-Cities in the next several years, and we firmly believe that it will be possible to charge the retail-esque 30-50% markup that people are expecting to pay for a bottle of wine and still make it work for the business.

    One thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that restaurant wine lists (glass pours in particular) are oftentimes a great opportunity for an individual to try a wine that they would never otherwise pick up at a grocery store or wine shop. An opportunity to pick a wine removed from a label design or shelf placement is a rare thing.

    1. drinknectar

      You and your wife will be on to something great! The folks in the Tri-Cities will be lucky to have you.

      I like when a restaurant takes care in their wine list affording me the opportunity to try something I otherwise may not have enjoyed by the bottle.

      Best wishes on your future business.

  18. Wine Harlots

    Thanks for this one, this is my major wine bitch.

    People are surprised when I don’t order wine out much, but it offends me when the wine by the glass is the same price as the retail price I pay for a bottle. I understand profit margins, but a 10x mark-up is outrageous to me, so I’ll go for the pint of a micro-brew.

  19. Sean

    great conversation. I think most can agree that some markup on wine is fair – as a restaurant has more costs than a normal wine retailer.


    Where are the restauranteers to justify their gauging?

  20. Stephen

    I have been tasting, buying, selling, drinking wine for a long time. I have consistently set wine prices at levels lower than my competitors, and our wine sales show that it is indeed true that better values encourage wine consumption and help profitability. One way to look at it is “wine gross profit per customer” – and if we sell more bottles or glasses but make a bit less margin per glass or bottle we are ahead of those who do the 400% rip off pricing. AND we encourage those who like wine to dine more often.

    I recently saw a bottle on the list of a local resort for $165.00. That wine costs about $36 wholesale in Arizona. We sell it for $75, tha’ts less than 2 times what it cost, leaving me a $30 profit which I am happy to have – I don’t make $30 on a steak, or a pasta dish, or anything else and the wine costs me LESS to buy and keep than a steak – no shrinkage, no overcooking. I do have a wine steward and a temperature controlled wine cellar, but I have ONE wine person whereas we have 12 cooks….

    My message: don’t be greedy, encourage more frequent visits and sales of nicer wines. Help to make wine more approachable and less special, just something that you order with dinner like you would a side dish or a salad.

    1. drinknectar

      Awesome response from a man in the business! Thanks for stopping by Stephen – what is your restaurant name and where is it located – I’ll most certainly recommend it!

  21. Mark Cochard

    Sadly this is an old but ongoing story, How about $55 for Ravesnwood Vintners Blend (insert variety hear). It makes me sick to the point of getting up and leaving. I had an all expenses paid gift cert to this place and did not order a bottle of wine. In Philly and envriorns we have many, many good Byo’s that survive becase of the PLCB discounting of only 10% to restaurants who are basically marking up RETAIL prices 300 to 400% Ouch.
    Most good wine service restaurants permit corkage but it will cost you and the wine can’t be on their list. No light at the end of this tunnel especially in PA.

    1. drinknectar

      Mark – I know how you feel. I’ve never asked a Spokane restaurant about corkage fee – may have to do that next time. Seems like a sad never ending story, but maybe in today’s social media world the customer’s voice is infinately louder and can actually drive change. We each need to speak up. We speak with our wallets.

      Stephen at Sassi (comment above) and Anonymous seem to have the right idea and this trend should continue.

  22. Mark Cochard

    We have on place in Philly Friday, Saturday Sunday that marks up wine 10% above thier cost. No else does this though. A number of the better wine restaurants are now allowing BYO with no corkgae on slow nights like Sunday and Monday as have some spots in NYC.

  23. markmye

    Stephen has it understood perfectly.. it’s refreshing.

    Drinknectar, WA law permits corkage (BYO), so you should definitely ask and most places should allow it. Unless i have to go (i.e. significant event at a place not of my choosing), if a place doesn’t at least ALLOW corkage, is a place i’m passing on.
    Thankfully most places in the Seattle area allow it. :)

  24. andrewsi

    markmye your comments are just dead on for me.

    I’m bringing a $45 retail ’04 Biale Black Chicken with me this Saturday – already called the restaurant, will gladly pay the $20 corkage rather than pay $100+ for a similar priced bottle they have on their list.

    I’ve had enough – they can either offer a corkage (as most of the nicer places in my neck of Connecticut do) or I’m just not going to frequent their establishment… Unfortunately, none of these places seem to have a reasonably priced list.

  25. David T (@ONUMello)

    We have a growing chain in the Columbus, OH area called Wine Guy Wine Ship & Bistro. They have over 2500 bottles sold at retail, but half of the store is a restaurant that turns out extremely good food. You can get any bottle from the store with your meal for retail + a $10 corkage, OR bring your own as long as they don’t sell it… for the same $10 corkage. They also have over 40 wines available in various flights (4 2oz pours for $13-15) or by the glass for a reasonable price. Needless to say, it’s always packed and everyone is drinking wine. They are also making an absolute killing, and expanding like wildfire (opening 1+ new location/year, I think the liquor license/building permits are the rate limiting steps!)

    I recently ran across a situation similar to restaurant wine markups: A recording company was selling DVDs of a music competition performance for $40 each. Gimme a break, everyone knows DVDs cost a buck a piece to produce, and even new movie releases are $20. If they were to cut their price in half, they’d likely sell at least twice as many, and at the end of the day have made the same profit yet made twice as many customers happy as opposed to saying ‘what a ripoff’. Same goes for wine: cut the markups in half, move twice the volume, and make even more customers happy thus increasing return visits and food/wine sales in the future. The math is not that hard!!

  26. Tim

    Josh –

    you’ve definitely struck a nerve with this one. I’ve worked in the wine business for the last decade and have very good friends that I go out with often that have never seen me order wine in a restaurant. they joke that it must be that wine is too much like work for me to drink it in my off-hours. but in reality it is all of the things that you point to and more – 3 to 4 times mark-ups, poor service, crappy glasses, IMPROPER STORAGE, serving cooked, oxidized or corked wine and then having the cologne drenched manager tell me there is nothing wrong with the wine, seeing wine-list selections that represent only what a distributor needs to sell and not what is interesting, appropriate for the fare, or local to the area, etc.

    I’m glad that an enlightened restaurant owner was willing to attest to the insanity of what many in that role do with their wine prices. And when I see good wine programs (and I do see some) with reasonable mark-ups and appropriate glassware, service, etc., I make it a point to order wine, tell the server/manager/owner how much I like their wine program, thank them, and then tell everyone I know.

    Maybe we need to start shaming other restaurants that are gouging or putting out red-neck wine service. I will tweet or check-in with comments every time I see happening for the next month and encourage others to do the same.

  27. VA Wine Diva

    I hate this level of mark-up so much that I almost never buy wine when eating out (wine bars being an exception). I try to find places that allow me to bring in my own wine and pay a corkage, but lately that’s been getting harder and harder to do. I will pay a reasonable mark-up – I understand the need to make a profit, but I will not be ripped off – I’ll eat a meal cooked better than I can cook it and then go home and drink wine that I can select, buy, and open myself. They’re losing out, not me.

    1. drinknectar

      I’m with you – Wine bars seem to get it more consistently than the restaurants. To Tim’s point – restaurants miss the boat on so many levels (stemware, list selection, service, ignorance). I think everyone posting in these comments is willing to pay a reasonable mark-up.

      My favorite part of wine bars is the selection and the opportunity to try a $10 glass of something that I normally wouldn’t buy because I’m unfamiliar with it.

      Thanks for commenting.

  28. Elaine

    We went to a restaurant last weekend that also has a wine bar and sold wine off of racks as well. They let us choose any bottle from the “store” part and we paid $10 over retail for it (and that was the way for ANY bottle there.) We thought that was a pretty good deal since we’ve been to MANY nice restaurants where we’ve paid WAY too much for wine…

    1. drinknectar

      I like that approach and would love to see more places go that direction.

  29. Shannon Casey

    I could not agree more. I rarely order wine in a restaurant for this exact reason.

  30. Eric Hwang

    Excellent post. What encourages me the most is that more people are willing to call out the places that gouge on their wine. I agree that social media can become a strong force of change and this topic is a prime example of putting our voices together.

    I do order wine by-the-glass when I go out. I only buy it this way because it’s often just my wife and I and we can’t decide on a wine that will pair with both our meals. I don’t mind paying $8-12 a glass for the same wine I know I can buy for $20 a bottle provided everything else about the experience is great. Good knowledgeable wait staff, a reasonably good wine list with local selections and decent glassware. However, I only drink one glass and I’ve almost never bought a bottle at these places.

    There are a few smaller restaurants where wine is priced reasonably and even fewer larger chains, such as The Keg, that have managed to strike a good balance on price while upscaling (and upselling) their wine service. At these places, we can’t expect an exhaustive selection, but I’ve found the choices to be decent and even familiar. And with proper service and stemware, I don’t mind paying a 100% markup for a bottle.

    At the other end of the spectrum are those Michelin-rated restaurants with the wine lists that got them that rating. You know the places I’m talking about. That $1,200 Premiere-Cru Burgundy was only on the list to woo the critics and get them a star or two, but it was never intended to be sold to us mere mortals. You’re not likely to find a bottle of anything good at reasonable prices at these restaurants, but I argue that we aren’t the clientele they are catering to. Sure, you could bring your own and pay the $20-30 corkage, but do you risk getting snickered at by the sommelier for bringing in anything that cost you less than $50 or may already be on their extensive list? Sparkling water, please.

    The whole corkage issue is another matter altogether, because for larger gatherings at a restaurant, I’ll bring 2 or 3 bottles of $40+ wine. A $10-20 corkage seems reasonable, depending on the restaurant and how extensive their own list is. However, I’ve been to places that have less than 20 overpriced wines on their list and try to charge $30 for corkage. Insane. That doesn’t make sense and just means I won’t be going back.

    I think a lot of restaurants are slowly changing their wine service policies and those places charging retail plus $10 are setting a new trend that I hope spreads to other restaurants. Let’s encourage the others to change also.


  31. Russell Mann

    I can make a steak at home for less than they charge at a restaurant. And salad, don’t get me started! Mixed drinks too, I like a dirty Sapphire, usually pay $9 for it out, it retails for $1 / oz. so what kind of crazy markup is that?

    On a more serious note, this is why capitalism exists. If you think you can create a better value proposition, start your own restaurant, invest your own time and money, and set your margins where you feel they should be. In time, you will be judged by the market and a winning strategy will emerge.

    The grocery store sells wine as a commodity, and the restaurant sells wine as an experience. These are entirely different products, with different operating costs and different business models. Most margins in most industries are “standard margins” because that’s what those who have done it before learned were the minimum required margin to succeed using their chosen business model.

    We rarely buy wine at restaurants, but it’s not because of the margin. It’s the selection, glassware/presentation, and uniqueness that we like in wine, that is missing from many lists. Wine lists with food-appropriate wines are even more rare, except maybe the Olive Garden. (Kidding again!!!) In short, the experience is missing from the wine experience.

    We did buy a fantastic flight with dinner from Alan Wong’s recently. The entire experience was lovely, professional, delicious and complimentary to the food. Of course you get what you pay for.

    1. drinknectar

      Well thought out argument. Capitalism rocks – now we just need to get new business owners that are creating a better value proposition and a new strategy. I’m all for the restaurant experience and enjoy going out and paying $30 for a well prepared steak. The difference is I’m not a skilled chef, but it takes zero skill to pour wine. Restaurants that spend money on the presentation (Riedel Vinum glasses), hire a wine steward to manage and pair their wine with the food certainly should have the ability to charge more for their wine – but restaurants that go with a stock distributor list of moderate quality wine…priced at quadruple the store price…oh, man!

      Cheers to moving forward into a new business model experience for wine lovers.

  32. Darren

    Not a big fan of huge mark ups and that’s why we usually BYOB to places with minimal fees. In Spokane, I’d rec Wild Sage…great food and a $12 corkage fee. On the other hand, I don’t mind paying a little extra at Beverly’s in C D’Alene because they provide a Sommelier to help with your choices, nice wine glasses, a decent wine by the glass selection, and a decent aged wine selection.

  33. andrewsi

    “On a more serious note, this is why capitalism exists. If you think you can create a better value proposition, start your own restaurant, invest your own time and money, and set your margins where you feel they should be. In time, you will be judged by the market and a winning strategy will emerge.”

    Couldn’t agree more. I don’t see anyone here implying laws should be created (I’d certainly be dead set against that). I think the consumers here represent the majority of people in the marketplace that feel the markup a lot of restaurants choose to charge on wine is too high. Some restaurants are starting to figure it out (as noted here). For those restaurants that fail to adjust to the demands of the market and changes in pricing – and it will happen- they’ll face a choice: change or suffer the consequences.

  34. Nancy

    Josh, you’ve ignited an interesting conversation with many perspectives! I can’t imagine having a nice meal without wine so when the hubby and I eat out, we simply avoid places that have outrageous markups, or we bring our own wine and pay the corkage fee. Back when chef Lenny Rede owned Sapphire Restaurant in Seattle, he charged a flat $15 markup on every wine, which we felt was reasonable. Sadly, we haven’t seen others follow suit. We recently did a post on restaurant wine service, hoping to encourage restaurateurs to pay more attention to their wine service.

  35. Kate

    What amazing conversation here!

    Since I freelance here in LA, my income varies month to month.

    Not too long ago, after a crazy week of work, my husband and I were going out to dinner. We couldn’t decide which local joint to hit, and then where to park. Finally, I was so hungry, and so over finding parking, we went to the local grocery store. For $70, we got a bottle of Grgich Hills Cab, stuff to make salad and pizza. If we would have went to a local restaurant, we would have spent just as much, if not more, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to try a really good (IMO) Cabernet.

    More often than not, we’ll go to the store, buy our bottle of wine, and order take out or make our own dinner. We get to try and experience pricer bottles of wine, as well as different restaurants.

    That all being said, I had an amazing $7 glass of red wine at a local gourmet burger restaurant. I found the same wine at the store for $10/bottle. Guess how many bottles I bought for my next burger night at home!

    1. drinknectar

      Kate – I agree – so often restaurant prices hinder the enjoyment of wine when out on a date or for a nice event.

      What was the ‘amazing’ burger wine you found for $10 a bottle?

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  37. Katie Maurer

    Unfortunately, here in Michigan, BYOB is illegal. Why??? What is our wonderful state government protecting us from??

    1. drinknectar

      They’re protecting you from high overpriced wine served at restaurants in inferior glasses by often uneducated wait staff…wait…that is what you’re getting…Senator!

  38. Rich Breshears (onerichwineguy)

    Amen!!! I wrote a similar article about a month ago about the same thing. Nothing pisses me off more than a nice evening ruined by overpriced “supermarket” wine on a restaurant wine list. I loved your label of the “redneck” style of service. That just happened to me in Seattle in a very upscale hotel. They only charged $6 corkage fee, but brought me 8 oz glasses that looked like they came from the back of the catering department’s storage locker. Totally ruined my $60 Cab Franc.

    1. drinknectar

      Rich – hotels are notorious for having inexpensive stemware. I was in Hawaii at the Hyatt and the room service glasses were like you described. Although I wasn’t drinking a $60 Cab Franc – it still made the experience less enjoyable.

      I’ll have to check out your article as well.


  39. Bob_Silver

    This is one of the reasons that I frequent Purple in Seattle. No corkage fee on your first bottle. Thanks, Heavy Restaurant Group.

  40. Chris

    Josh, Great blog and great conversation.

    We had two recent experiences in the Tri-Cities on each side of this debate.

    First, Carmine’s a freindly family style Italian place in Kennewick has a small but nice selection of local wines and we got a Gordon Bros. Syrah for around $25. After looking it up, this is about a 10-15% mark-up, amazing. Eat at Carmiens and buy their wine!

    The flipside. Tagaris in Richland has a tasting room/bar and a restaurant in the same building. After tasting wines and buying a mixed case, we walked about 20 feet to our dinner table and were presented a wine list that sold the same wines for at 200% mark-up. I didn’t ask, but I should have brought over a bottle I had just purchased and asked about a corkage fee. Overall, a ridiculous experience and I’ll never buy wine at their restaurant.

  41. Chris

    BTW on looking it up, it got a 90 rating from Wine and Spirits magazine.

    1. drinknectar

      Chris – thanks for sharing. Sounds like Carmine has the concept right. That’s an amazing deal for that wine.

      You should have asked about corkage since you just bought the bottle retail. That is pretty short sighted of those guys.


  42. Ed Thralls


    I obviously missed this wonderful party, but wanted to share how we found a reasonably priced wine list with a good selection at a restaurant here in Atlanta. I bought the 2006 Darioush Caravan Cabernet Sauvignon, which retails for about $34 for only $39 at Abattoir. You can read my post about it here:

    I haven’t had the balls to call them up to see if this was only an introductory thing because they were relatively new or what. I am thinking I need to call them and find out what they have learned and why they can offer such value!

    1. drinknectar

      You should – that’s awesome. It’s that kind of pricing that would actually get me buying wine and not beer when I’m out at a restaurant! I’ll buy a glass but rarely a bottle.

      Thanks for sharing your review too!

  43. Catie


    I can’t resist to comment on your comment. You put words into my mouth. I never wrote: “if you bitch about the cost, don’t go out”.

    I wrote: “I am just of the attitude that if I have to bitch about costs of going out, then I just shut my pie-hole and entertain at home. Going out is a luxury… But – your mileage may vary.”

    That is my attitude and I never accused others they should do the same, as I pointed out, “your mileage may vary.” And unlike you, who pointed out that going out is not a luxury, it may not be for you, but it is for me. So how can you tell me that it isn’t?

    I have reached a point in my life I do not want to ruin the experience of “going out” to mediocre chain restaurants and fast food drive-ins eating pre-fab predictible meals. Why eat that crap when I can prepare something better at home? However, I go out at least once a month for dinner to a restaurant with a great local menu and great local wines. That I consider my personal luxury.

  44. Catie

    Oh and one more thing Markmye …

    My argument was never to point out that “we should pay 400% markup for the wine AND the service, THEN put down another 20% tip for the service..”

    Those are your words and assumptions. Not mine. I own an online wine business so I understand wine mark-ups. However, because I do not visit mediocre chain restaurants and only patronize my locally owned restaurants with fresh menus, I am also giving back into my community, so I don’t mind paying a little more. Quid pro quo

    No, I do not think we should pay 400% markup on anything, but I do agree that restaurants have to have a larger markup than what I sell wines for because I am just selling a bottle of wine to a customer, not also providing them with waitstaff and a glass to wash later.

  45. markmye


    1. I’m not putting words in your mouth. I’m paraphrasing in preface to my argument. Are you saying your partial quote of:
    “If I have to bitch about costs of going out, then I just shut my pie-hole and entertain at home” paraphrased as “if you bitch about the cost, don’t go out” is unreasonable?!
    i guess i put the word THE, and OUT in your mouth?!

    2. I used 400% as an example. once again you pick on a word/number and missed the point. I’m not saying there SHOULDN’T be a markup. No one is arguing a $30 markup is unfair to cover glasses, server etc. but when a $200 wine is being sold for $500, that’s beyond covering for waitstaff/washer.. which is my entire point.

    3. Finally, again you make an argument that is true in ‘isolation’, but not true in the big picture of what we are discussing. True going out to eat is a luxury to SOME people. Well of course. A place to sleep is a luxury to some unfortunate in society as well.

    Going out doesn’t have to = a trip to Per Se in New York and dropping $1K per person. Going out to eat is NOT a luxory.. at least not to anyone who consumes WINE. If one is not in a stage of their life where a nice $30 meal is not a ‘reasonable expectation’ once in while, but instead it’s a LUXURY?? – why are we even talking about corkage? WINE itself would be a luxury! no?

  46. Pingback: Nectar Monthly Honors February 2010 | Drink Nectar

  47. Kevin Glowacki

    We tend to bring our own wine, but follow the following etiquette:

    – We don’t bring a wine that is on their list.
    – We offer a sip to our server and the wine steward.
    – We tip on the value of the wine.

    I am still amazed that more people aren’t following Michael Chiarello’s example.

    If we don’t bring our own, I tend to go for a cocktail, which is actually probably more overpriced if you were to measure it, but there doesn’t seem to be the “outrage” as there is with wine.

    1. drinknectar

      Those are great tips, Kevin! Thanks for the SF Gate post too.

  48. Pingback: Restaurant Wine Lists Are Put on Notice | Drink Nectar

  49. Drew Smith

    I couldnt agree with you more on this topic. I am nuts about food and wine and I want everyone to love wine as much as i do. I have a hard time buying a bottle of wine when i go out to eat when i know the exact price of it. I have had so many people absolutly outraged when they go to buy a bottle of wine they had the night before only to find they could have bought three for the price they paid. I know that the restaurant has to pay for the bottle of wine and most want their return on the first pour. To this i can say if i order a steak are you going to charge me for the whole cow! i also think the idea of unreasanble corkage fees are insane.

    Two things i would love to add to your thoughts that tick me off to no end. 1. Restaurant wine is one thing but have you ever tried to do an event at convention center or catering? You get handed a list of mediocre wine at best and you are going to be paying at least twice the price its worth. I have helped so many people with chairty events and still they get way over charged. If you bring in your own wine you get slapped with a corkage fee, usualy around 10 bucks a bottle. It isnt uncommon to pay anywhere from 600 on up for a corkage fee and still save money. Some places wont even let you bring in your own wine but make you pay for theirs. Some of the worst offenders are the nicest places in town. Forgive me folks but i would rather have kool aide than pay 30.00 for a bottle of 14 hands.

    I have to point a finger to the wine industry (which i currently work in myself as a wine steward). I am so sick and tired of “restaurant only” wines. This is a way to get the consumer to pay way over and beyound the price the restaurant paid for the bottle. Here is how this little scheme works. A winery will make a wine that usualy has no upc on it so it cant be rung up in a store. They usualy give it a different name so it cant be found easily (like 14 hands was originally a restaurant only wine and is made by columbia crest. It is everywhere now but not in the beginng.) Since the wine is not on store shelfs the customer has no idea how much the bottle of wine cost. When they go into their local wine store it cant be found and I get to look like an idiot because i have never heard of Chataue Cash Cow. The customer cant find it anywhere and the game has been won.

    Now please dont get me wrong here i love eating out and i love the restaurant bussiness. I love good service and great food and im willing to pay for it. I however am not willing to pay three times the amount for a wine to compliment my meal. I have no problem paying a bit more for it so the restaurnat can make money on it and everyone is happy.

    I have to mention one last thing on this subject. If you order a glas of wine ask how long the bottle has been opened before you have it brought to your table. I have been shocked by how many times the wine has gone way over its prime and is now becomming salad dressing. Since this leaves a bad taste in your mouth and sets you up for the culinary delights you will be offered i would think more restaruants would taste more wine before it is served. Sorry for such a long post but you hit my Bitch Switch with this one.

  50. Russell Mann

    Hi Drew! Good to “see” you.

  51. Erik

    It really is just an unfortunate mess, liquor is the worst- An $11 bottle of Bacardi costs about .57 cents an ounce yet you pay $5.50 for a shot, that would be like $110 per bottle if you drank the whole bottle at the restaurant- compared to an $10 bottle of Terra Blanca that costs about .50 cents per ounce yet you pay $8 for 5 ounce glass- only about $30 for a bottle. Same with beer- you pay $5 for a glass that cost the restaurant about $1- but lets not even begin to think about soft drinks. However- when it all boils down to it with taxes, wages and other expenses the average restaurant only sees a bottom line of 5% of sales. If we don’t like prices we need to support the Washington Restaurant Association and begin to tackle the State fees, licenses, etc. You ever notice how much cheaper it is to eat and drink out in Idaho where they have a tip credit for wait staff like the most of the United States has? Don’t pick on the restaurants- they’re going out of business left and right already and they are one of the top employers in the country.


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