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BYOB in MI: Are People Bringing Their Own Bottles?

Photo: Courtesy of Hannah Lowe

Wine enthusiasts have another option now when dining out: bringing their own bottles to restaurants. Effective March 14, 2014, Michigan Enrolled House Bill No. 5046 now provides restaurants who currently have liquor licenses the option to allow patrons to consume bottles of wine brought themselves. Sorry beer lovers, the law only pertains to wine.

Restaurant owners, like Josie Knapp of Assaggi Bistro in Ferndale, saw the new law coming and are sure it's here to stay. She notes that the law is fairly non-specific, such that restaurants can choose to participate or not. If they do, they can set their own parameters and corkage fees. For instance, Assaggi Bistro charges a $25 corkage fee and stipulates that the wine not be on the restaurant's menu. She's already seen quite a few patrons bringing their own wine.

In practice, it is hoped that customers who will take advantage of the new regulation will likely be those who want to bring in a special or rare bottle. And, as a diner, it's generally considered good form to call ahead to ensure that the restaurant does indeed allow outside wine and let the staff know what bottles are being brought.

Some restaurants, such as Trattoria Da Luigi in Royal Oak, have opted out of corkage since they have an extensive wine list themselves, while others are taking a trial period approach to their fees. According to Kimberlia Kirk, General Manager at Mercury Burger & Bar in Corktown, the restaurant is currently charging $15 corkage but may decide to tweak that depending on how business is affected in the coming months. So far, they've only seen one larger party take advantage of the option to bring in their own wine. The restaurant's view is that it's a nice benefit particularly for special occasions, and customers will still be enjoying the restaurant's food.

David Duey, Director of Operations at The Whitney, believes the law is great for customers but hasn't seen a huge uptick in outside wines yet, probably due to lack of awareness. The Whitney is charging a $25 corkage fee and anticipates patrons bringing in high-end or "heirloom" wines. Duey also cites that the vagaries of the law may lead to control issues since food and beverage regulations are typically specific and this opens the door for more personal interpretation.

Cliff Bell's hasn't experienced any changes in its wine service, and owner, Paul Howard, also expects that diners will most likely use the opportunity to bring in a unique bottle that they've earmarked for a special night out. Cliff Bell's is currently charging a $20 corkage fee, but management reserves the right to limit consumption at its discretion. Like many others, Cliff Bell's is supportive of the law and is optimistic about its implementation but will continue to monitor business and reevaluate its policies as necessary.

Only a month and a half in, it seems that the new law isn't wreaking havoc on Detroit's restaurant business yet, so raise a glass to that.-By Hannah Lowe
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Cliff Bell's

2030 Park Avenue, , MI 48226 (313) 961-2543 Visit Website

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