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Does The French Laundry Have the World's Highest Corkage Fee?

$150 corkage fee? No wonder Keller is laughing
© AFP | $150 corkage fee? No wonder Keller is laughing
The corkage fees at Thomas Keller's two top restaurants might be the highest in the world.

If you want to bring your own wine to The French Laundry or Per Se, you can, but be prepared to pay $150 a bottle for the privilege.

The huge corkage fee charged by Thomas Keller's two top restaurants in Napa Valley and New York City is believed to be the highest in the U.S., and probably the world. 

"It's plain old gouging," said Tom Wark, executive director of the American Wine Consumer Coalition. "There are a lot of really fine restaurants with outstanding wine programs and great sommeliers where the corkage fee is $25 or $30. I have to wonder if the wine service at The French Laundry is six times better.

"If you wonder why the average person has contempt for the idea of high-end diners drinking wine, this is a good example of why they do. It's not good for consumers. And it gives wine service a bad name," he added.

Thomas Keller Restaurant Group did not return an email and call from Wine-Searcher requesting a comment.

Throughout the U.S., corkage charges rarely exceed $50 with a few notable examples: Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas charges $100 a bottle and Masa in New York charges $95. On the other side of the Pond, the Shangri-La hotel at London's tallest building, the Shard, boasts similarly high corkage fees. Expect to pay £50 ($83.95) per 750ml bottle of still wine and £75 ($125.90) for a bottle of Champagne.

Presumably, Keller's high corkage fee is meant to discourage diners from bringing in their own wine from a visit to nearby Napa wineries but – incredibly – even at $150, sometimes it still might be worth doing.

2004 Schramsberg "J. Schram" Brut has an average price of $96 on Wine Searcher (all prices excl. sales tax). It's $395 at The French Laundry.

The 2007 Dominus Estate has an average price of $188 on Wine Searcher. It's $695 at The French Laundry.

However, there are more than 100 wines under $150 on The French Laundry's list, including Napa wines such as 2012 Cliff Lede Stags Leap District Sauvignon Blanc ($24 retail, $70 restaurant), 2012 Stony Hill Napa Valley Riesling ($29 retail, $85 restaurant) and 2012 Arnot-Roberts Watson Ranch Napa Valley Chardonnay ($39 retail, $110 restaurant).

You can even drink Napa Cabernet for just $140 with your French Laundry meal. The restaurant has two listings at that price: 2011 Round Pond Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon ($47 retail) and 2010 Purlieu Cabernet Sauvignon (a relative steal because it's $79 on Wine-Searcher, unless the listed wine is actually the $40 second-label "Le Pich." We can't afford to go eat there and order to find out, but if you do, let us know).

Ordering either of those Napa Cabs is $12.50 cheaper than bringing Charles Shaw Cabernet and paying the corkage fee and probably better as well, though we'll leave the value judgment to you.

Have you had a pleasant experience or horrible shock at the corkage charged in a restaurant? Leave your comments below.

Related stories:

Local Restaurants a Letdown For Napa Valley Wines

World's 50 Best Restaurants Named

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  • Comments

    Terry wrote:
    27-Jul-2014 at 22:12:51 (GMT)

    At Outback Steakhouse, they charged me $5.00, what a deal!

  • Aaron wrote:
    27-Jul-2014 at 20:22:58 (GMT)

    I can say that, from my experience, the wine service is not worth the markup at FL. I was thoroughly discouraged by my experience, the one time I'm ever likely to get to eat there. We'd asked for a specific wine ahead of time from their list, and were told on arrival it had "sold at lunch" the same day. Then a '61 Calon Segur in 375 was decanted without being asked. We finally found a great bottle that wouldn't be easy to come across elsewhere - a '95 Quilceda Creek - but ponied up $600 for it. Icing on the cake was a Somm swinging by to tell us our original choice "wasn't any good anymore anyway." So yes, in my experience, the corkage there is worth avoiding those headaches. I've never been so disappointed in my life.

  • Koba wrote:
    27-Jul-2014 at 08:06:07 (GMT)

    If I send over $10K in wine and bring a dozen friends to a restaurant I am hardly going to be skimping on the rest. Restaurants need to earn the right to my corkage, not tell me that if I don't like their policies I can find another venue. On the other hand, a $50 or even $150 bottle fee is also not the issue. Could even be good value if the restaurant takes delivery of the wine, treats it with respect and serves it with precision.

  • Miss Moss wrote:
    27-Jul-2014 at 04:23:59 (GMT)

    Jade is unbearably rude. As I am not familiar with his/her restaurant, I pray I do not go there by accident. I shall have to research this as meticulously as he or she does the precious wind list, which I am sure is matched by many restaurants, minus the attitude. Please. Why is the choice always Per Se or McDonalds? Is that the biggest insult restauranteurs can manage to sling at the public. I suppose another chef who has forgotten that customers actually make the business possible.

  • willbikefor wine wrote:
    26-Jul-2014 at 19:16:42 (GMT)

    A reasonable corkage fee is the best investment a restaurant can make. No initial investment, no storage costs, no risk of " this bottle is off", it is a no brainer! we always buy at least one wine, often 2, but bring the special, old, wines in. I don't dine at restaurants that either do not allow corkage, or gouge the patrons! Hopefully more diners will make their voices heard!

  • Robert wrote:
    25-Jul-2014 at 19:41:02 (GMT)

    There is no justifiable reason for excessive corkage fees! When couples are going out for a special occasion dinner paying with hard-earned cash, they should be able to bring their own bottle for a reasonable fee, and have a truly enjoyable experience. Let the business-people, using the company plastic, pay the 3X-6X markup for wine purchased at the restaurant. They are investing in future business for their companies and eating and drinking for free! Price is really no object when you have to close that deal, so let them pay. Keep the corkage fee low for the people who pay with their own money. To me, that is how the dynamic should work.

  • DontLikeBeingScrewed wrote:
    25-Jul-2014 at 18:15:39 (GMT)

    Jade and David C. I don't begrudge high end restaurants charging a reasonable corkage fee to make something on the meal and cover their costs: staff, rent, wine storage, etc. Here in NYC corkage fees are around $40-$50 for a good restaurant with good glassware, up to, last I checked, around $90 at a 3 star like Jean Georges. If I bring a 30 or 40 year old bottle not on their list from my cellar, even with corkage and my original cost from purchase years ago and long paid off, its much cheaper than finding something of similar age and quality on their list. Everyone is happy. However with Per Se, the markups on the wines themselves are so extreme 5x -10x for recent releases at wholesale, that even a $150 corkage fee is a deal, if you want to drink something of high quality, let alone something with age. I found a wine I liked on their list that was selling at retail for about $50 (about 35 wholesale). They were selling it for $325 (might have even been the previous, lesser vintage that they had, but not a better vintage). Do the math 50 + 150 is a lot better than 325. And an older bottle more ready to drink from my cellar bought years back would be an even better deal than that. Who wants to pay $325 for a $50 bottle of wine? What? For the privilidge of eating in their immaculate dining room? Well, the same people that got duped by Rudy K, and have no problem spending tens of thousands on a bottle, are the same people who don't mind paying obscene prices at Per Se, and they are well catered too. So forget the corkage fee, their wine mark-ups are so insultingly outlandish that I stopped going there on principle. It's been 8 or 8 years now, so maybe they no long charge 10x. I will certainly not bother to find out.

  • Jade Forbes wrote:
    25-Jul-2014 at 15:55:05 (GMT)

    @David C. Yes David, our mark-ups are similar, although the end cost of sales on food is slightly higher due to wastage, I have been in this business for 15 years, and my last 3 shops all have had a similar percentages. Conversely I know there are some restaurants who have a low mark up on food in a bid to get bums on seats, and then try make up the money on beverage. I also base my prices on more than just a fixed percentage, we look at competitors prices who are at the same level as us, we take into account the original cost price, we would rather sell bottles than have them collect dust, so we set a profit value rather than a percentage. Look there are business who are ridiculous, the same as any industry, but I hate it when people whinge about corkage, or the fact that a restaurant puts a mark-up on wine, yet will not blink at the 300% mark-up that a clothing retailer adds on. I think at the end of it, you just need to consider a point of view from all sides before you make silly comments, like all you do is open the wine. I'm busy with my wine list now, and its taken me almost a month, and I still have a way to go before it is complete. I know the amount of effort that goes into compiling the perfect wine list, and I think it is rude to bring your own wine, as a general rule of thumb. As I said previously, I like most will waive the corkage, if it truly is an awesome bottle. At the end of the day, be informed, don't whine about something you don't understand, and vote with your bum, if you don't like a restaurant business practice don't put on their seat.

  • david c wrote:
    24-Jul-2014 at 22:02:26 (GMT)

    Question for Jade: As a business owner I totally understand your comments. My question is whether your wine mark-up is the same as the mark-up on the food you prepare and sell?

  • notKeith™ wrote:
    23-Jul-2014 at 21:52:23 (GMT)

    This is years ago - a restaurant on Hennepin Ave. in Minneapolis named Auriga had a $15 corkage fee. We had an anniversary; my wife and I decided on this restaurant instead of a couple others because they all charged $25. (Didn't have much money, but had a very nice wine as a result of a subscription to Beaulieu.) I'm trying to remember the specifics on this - it was a Georges de Latour Private Reserve, I think 1990 or 1991. The waitress, who said her boyfriend was a wine buyer, recognized this wine. I suggested she get a glass for herself. We shared our wine with the staff, including one of the owners, who eventually came to our table. He told us that this wine was probably better than anything they currently had in house; because I shared it with them they waived the corkage fee, and he told us that 'dessert is on us'. We continued to visit Auriga from time to time, but especially for our anniversaries. Loved that restaurant - they had amazing food - and it is in the list of Minneapolis' "most missed restaurants".

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