Restaurant BYOB Tips in Maryland and Pennsylvania from Roger Morris

BYOB 101: A few pointers for those who bring their own.

The first time I dined at a restaurant where you had to bring your own bottle was several years ago while first vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, a couple of local towns there never got around to turning back the clock. If you wanted a drink, you could bring your own—wine, beer, spirits. The restaurant might charge a corkage fee.

In recent years, Pennsylvania restaurants have turned a major negative—limited liquor licenses, and expensive ones at that—into a marketing positive. Some BYOBs even took on speakeasy-like status by renting out wine and spirits lockers where regulars could store their stash. I’m told there are BYOBs in Maryland, but fewer than in Pennsylvania.

However, being a BYOBer does put pressure on you to do it right. Here are some tips:

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  • Check out the corkage fees when you make reservations so there will be no surprises. Also ask if the fee is per bottle or per table. Per bottle can get expensive, so don’t go crazy opening bottles you’re not prepared to drink.
  • If you’re with a group, take more white wines than red wines. (A) Men only want to show off their best reds—trust me on that. (B) Everyone starts with a white, most appetizers are made to go with white and you spend a lot of time drinking white before the apps come. If someone orders chicken or fish for an entrée, the white is already gone.
  • Buy a decent, insulated carrier that will hold four bottles (unless you always dine by yourself). If you wear a hoodie and jeans down to your knees, a paper bag is OK.
  • It makes more sense to bring your more-expensive bottles to a BYOB. If your corkage fee is, say $15, and your bottle costs $12, you’re almost paying wine list prices. If it’s $15 for a $75 bottle—well, you run the numbers.
  • Take along a corkscrew. Things tend to get busy just when you get thirsty, so add DIY to BYOB—but tell your server when you’re seated that you may be assisting him.
  • If you’re drinking an expensive trophy bottle, check in advance if the restaurant has decanters available. Many, but not all, will.
  • If you’re having multiple bottles, re-use some glasses. Too many glasses equals knocked-over glasses and spilled wine, plus your server will hate you for the hassle. Special occasion? Make arrangements in advance.
  • You own the bottle. If you want to pour at your own rate, do it. If your bottle is cold enough and you don’t need a drippy ice bucket, say so.
  • If you open something particularly good, send a glass back to the chef. You will be remembered next visit.
  • It’s OK to leave partly full (or partly empty) bottles at the table. Your wait staff will love you. But, if you do re-cork something, be sure you have it well-stored in your trunk on your way home or risk paying serious fines.

BTW, sneaking peeks at what other BYOBers are drinking is OK. Tweeting OMG pics of good or bad choices is definitely NG.

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