What's a budget-minded wine geek to do? In a less accommodating world, your options would be limited to the following:
A) Cough up the $30 and forgo the appetizer, dessert and possibly the entree. (Hey, the bread is free!)
B) Skip the wine and ask for a glass of yummy tap water instead.
C) Forget the restaurant and order take-out.
Luckily, the world isn't as cruel as all that. Why suffer when you can BYOW? Yes, that's right: You can bring your own wine. Though they rarely advertise it, many restaurants allow customers to bring in their own wine, provided they pay a small service charge called a "corkage fee." Corkage fees vary from restaurant to restaurant, with average costs ranging from $5 to $20. The fee helps cover the costs of washing, drying and handling the glassware you'll be using (no, don't show up with two glass-shaped bulges in your pocket), not to mention the profit loss the restaurant incurs by letting you bring your own stuff. It's a fair deal all around. What's even cooler is that if you practice good corkage etiquette, the server or sommelier may decide to waive the corkage fee and let you have a freebie.
To help put you in the restaurant's good graces, here are some dos and don'ts for BYOW:
Now that you know the rules, there's no excuse not to milk the corkage thing for all it's worth. You'll drink better, eat better and save enough cash to justify ordering that decadent dessert.
Tina Caputo is a San Francisco-based wino who supports her nasty habit by writing for wine publications. Comments? E-mail email@example.com, write Corkscrew, 1310 E. Ninth Ave., Tampa, FL 33605 or call 1-800-341-LOAF.