Thursday, February 22, 2018
Bars & Spirits

When a restaurant lets you BYO wine, here's what you do

Few three-letter abbreviations besides DIY and IMO are more USA than BYO.

That's "bring your own" bottle(s) for those of you who are in not ITK. That's "in the know" for those of you who are not UOYA. That's "up on your acronyms."

It's 2016 — everyone knows what DIY and IMO stand for. What's more American than self-reliance and opinion-spewing? A BYO restaurant offers an opportunity for the former — it supplies the food, and you bring your wine. And for anyone lucky enough to live near such an earthly paradise but not clear on the finer points of BYO'ing, allow me to weigh in with these suggestions. Please don't stop buying wine in restaurants, but when you choose to BYO, do it like you mean it.

1 Give your wine choices the attention they deserve. You are not required, as so many people seem to think they are, to duck into a liquor store on your way to a BYO restaurant and buy the first bottle you see. Look at the restaurant's menu ahead of time, think about what you might order and match your wines accordingly. A couple of months ago, I went to a Mexican BYO with a friend, thinking we'd order some mole-sauced steaks. After we plowed through some appetizers and drained a bottle of white, he deviated, opting for a brothy fish stew. I told him the red wine was going to make the stew taste like dirty harbor water. "Oh yeah," he said. "Red wine with fish." Well, sort of. It wasn't just red wine — it was that particular red wine. He admitted sensing subtle hints of ocean pollution and floating metal objects, but he kept drinking because he doesn't care. You care, though. Go into dinner prepared.

2 Make sure your first wine is at the proper temperature when you arrive. Nobody wants to sit and wait for a bottle of Champagne to chill in a bucket of ice. If you need to cool a white or a light red for later in the meal, you can do that when you sit down. But your first wine needs to be ready to drink immediately. If that requires jamming it into a bag of ice and holding that bag under your arm as you pedal your bike to a restaurant, do it. If your pre-chilling results in ice-bag drippage in a bus, train or taxi, life goes on. Get the job done.

3 Splurge a little on your wine. A bottle generally costs twice as much in a restaurant as it does in a retail situation. This means you can score a $60 bottle on a restaurant wine list for about $30 in a wine shop. If you spend $40 in a store, that's an $80 bottle in a restaurant. By-the-glass markups are even higher than bottles — much higher. The savings justify the splurge. Showing up at a BYO with cheap, so-so wine is like going to a Halloween party straight from work in your business clothes, plopping on a Yankees cap and saying you're Babe Ruth. If you don't want to spend a little money on some good wine and food, stay home and cook.

4 Bring more wine than you will drink. This applies to both volume and variety. You've kind of won the lottery when you go to a BYO. Celebrate your good fortune, and don't rule out half bottles (375 milliliters), which allow you to add yet another pour to your multicourse extravaganza without having to lug a full bottle. Variety is about enjoying lots of little tastes; volume is about generosity.

5 Ask for a second set of glasses. This way, you'll always have two wines to taste. No server of mine has ever denied this request. In fact, most BYO servers are so used to people bringing in a single bottle of afterthought wine, they are delighted and intrigued when you show them how psyched you are about your personal wine program. Ask for a second ice bucket if you need it too. FYI, most BYO restaurants have crappy wine glasses. Don't let it bring you down. Look past it. Luxuriate in your bounty.

6 Share your overflowing reserve of wine beyond the boundaries of your table. Such an act can initiate life-affirming fellowship among you and the people sitting next to you, your servers and the talented people cooking for you. Send part of a bottle or two back to the kitchen during dinner. Urge your server to return with an empty glass of her own. Leave what you didn't drink on the table and tell the server it's for the staff, or offer it to another table on your way to the door. Spread good cheer.

7 Overtip. Which is to say, tip appropriately. When a restaurant lets you bring in your own wine, that's a gift. The restaurant still has to buy wine glasses, even if they're crappy. It has to replace them when we break them and wash them when we don't. Servers fill and heft ice buckets, swab floor dribbles, pull corks, clear away foil and empty bottles, and sometimes refill glasses. That all takes time and energy. Corkage fees cover some or all of those costs, but there's still the fact that the would-have-been price of the wine is not on the bill. If you need justification to tip extra in a BYO situation, call it good karma.

If you are already doing all of this, bravo. If not, I can only hope that you're now thinking, "OMG, I'll never BYO the same again."

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