It's more popular than ever to bring your own bottle of wine to restaurants when dining out, but if you are seriously considering a BYOB wine evening at a local restaurant, there are some important issues you need to consider first. There are things you need to do in advance and things you need to remember not to do if you want have to have a successful, enjoyable evening pairing one of your wines with a nice restaurant meal. There are also things you absolutely, positively must not do!
Things you should do when bringing your own bottle of wine to a restaurant:
Call the Restaurant Ahead
Not every restaurant permits customers to bring their own wine and those that do can have restrictions on how it's handled. You'll be better off knowing all the facts ahead of time so you can make the right decisions.
Ask the Restaurant About Corkage Fees
Most restaurants charge a corkage fee to serve wine that you bring with you. Corkage fees can range from as little as $10 to as much as $85, depending on where you live and the quality of the restaurant. The more they charge, the more likely they are trying to discourage customers from bringing wine, but a rule of thumb for a reasonable corkage fee is around twice the cost of inpidual glasses of wine.
More and more restaurants are waving their corkage fees, at least on certain days, in order to encourage customers to come in during this tougher economy. You should definitely ask about this.
Think About What You'll Eat
Wine is meant to be paired with your meal so you need to choose the wine and the meal to compliment each other. Since the wine you bring limits the sorts of entrees that work well, it's a good idea to think in advance about what you'll eat. If the restaurant has an online menu, consult it.
Consider Two Wines
If you bring two wines to the restaurant, one red and one white, you'll have a wider range of appropriate meals to pick from. This tactic is even better when there are several of you dining out together because some can use one wine while others use the second wine.
Chill Your Wine
It's unlikely that the restaurant will be able to instantly chill your wine to just the right temperature, so you must chill your wine in advance. It would be a good idea to chill the wine to a lower temperature than you would normally drink it because it will probably warm up a little during its travels.
Think About Decanting the Wine
If you want to bring a wine that needs to be decanted, you'll have to do extra planning. Either you'll need to decant the wine at home or you can ask the restaurant if they will do it. If the restaurant will do it, you'll of course have to make an extra trip, but this isn't worth it unless you're confident that they sound like they know what they're doing it. At home, you can take the time to decant your wine then pour it back into the original bottle and seal it properly.
Offer a Taste
It's good etiquette to offer a taste of your wine to your waiter, sommelier or manager — depending on who is serving you and taking care of your wine. This naturally works better when you bring a better quality wine.
Listen to the Waiter's Recommendations
If you give someone at the restaurant an opportunity to taste the wine, they should be able to give better advice when it comes to which dish would be best to pair with it. If they sound like they know what they're talking about, then take their recommendations seriously.
Things you shouldn't do when bringing your own bottle of wine to a restaurant:
Bring a Cheap Bottle of Wine
What are you thinking? If you're going to bring a bottle of wine to a restaurant, you shouldn't even consider anything cheap — and by "cheap," I don't just mean bottom of the line vino, but just about anything under $40 or $50 per bottle. Bringing your own bottle of wine is a way of saying "I have something at home that I'd enjoy better than what you have on your wine list," so it's a insulting to the restaurant if you suggest that a cheap wine is better than what they offer.
Bring a Wine on the Restaurant's Wine List
One of the most common restrictions which restaurants place on customers bringing their own wine is that you can't bring a wine they sell. Bringing a wine the restaurant already sells is just an attempt to get the wine cheaper — and while that might be part of your motivation, you can't be so obvious and crass about it.
Bring a Case of Wine
Just how much do you expect to drink, anyway? It does take some work for the staff to deal with the wine and they don't want to have deal with a dozen bottles — and, yes, some people have tried to bring that much. Some restaurants place a limit on how many bottles of wine you can bring with you, perhaps two or three.
Bring the Wine in a Brown Bag
Perhaps a brown bag would work with cheap wine, but you're not supposed to bring cheap wine to a restaurant — remember? A good wine deserves a bit more respect than a brown bag, especially since that bag won't keep the bottle chilled and protected. You also don't want large picnic cooler, but rather a small insulated bag that you can keep out of the way under the table while you eat.
Bring a Box of Wine
You must also be sure to bring a bottle of wine — the final B in BOYB stands for bottle, not box. Bringing a box of wine violates multiple don'ts: it's a cheap wine, it's a lot of wine, and a box isn't far off from a brown paper bag. Just don't do it, OK? Saved the boxed wine for parties; when going out, bring your best bottle of wine.
Get Overly Fussy About Glasses
There are lots of "don'ts" for people being too cheap, but this is a don't for people being too snobbish. If your wine is just too rare and valuable to be drunk in anything other than a specific type of Riedel glass made just for that wine but which ceased to be manufactured a decade ago, then maybe you should drink it at home with your glass collection. Otherwise, accept the glass options at the restaurant you chose to dine at. It's reasonable to ask for a larger glass to drink your red wine if they give you a glass too small even for white wines, but it's even more reasonable to just not return to a restaurant which knows so little about wine.