Wine lovers in B.C. can now bring their own choice of wine with them when they go out to dine.
The Bring Your Own Wine program is the latest in a series of changes to B.C. liquor laws, following on the heels of an announcement that B.C. would now allow wine consumers to order any amount of Canadian-made wine, with no B.C. taxes applied as it crossed the provincial boundary.
“We want to provide our restaurant industry with greater flexibility in terms of the services it can offer to its customers,” said Rich Coleman, minister responsible for liquor, when he announced the change Thursday. “Today’s change does just that; it allows customers to pair their favourite wine with their favourite restaurant.”
Patrons will be required to have the wine served in the same manner as wine selected from the menu, and restaurants may charge a corkage fee for this service. Participation in this service by licensed restaurants is voluntary.
Darin Paterson, chef-owner of Bogner’s of Penticton, said the change is nothing but positive for restaurants and the wine industry.
“That allows customers to get what they want out of the situation and explore a much wider variety of wine than any restaurant can realistically house,” said Paterson, who keeps what he describes as a “fairly significant wine cellar” at Bogner’s. He doubts the change will affect his own wine sales. People who do bring wine bottles to the restaurant he said, might choose to start with something else.
Nikos Theodosakis, of Theo’s Restaurant, also maintains an extensive wine cellar, and shares Paterson’s opinion that the changes are more likely to augment his sales than hurt them.
“I think it will encourage people to dine out more with their favourite wine,” said Theodosakis. “We carry a lot of wines that are hard to find. I think people will either bring their favourites or find a favourite on our list.”
Paterson expects the Bring Your Own program will improve customer relations.
“These people are bringing something special to the restaurant, and we also get to see what they are bringing,” he said, adding that he recently had someone bring in a bottle of Petit Rothschild — worth over $800 — for him to serve.
Educating customers in the concept of corkage, and the etiquette involved, will be a factor, said Paterson, explaining the customer needs to understand that there are still costs associated with running the restaurant, from polishing glasses and breakage, to the server and the restaurant environment.
“At my restaurant, we’re a dying breed. We have real linens on the table. Every time you sit down, it’s costing me $6 to have those washed and laundered,” he said.
He also expects the ability for diners to bring their own wine to be a boon for the wineries and the wine tourism industry.
“It allows people touring the area to pick out what they want and try a bottle that night. And maybe they will go back and buy a whole case before leaving the area,” said Paterson. “The disappointing thing will be when you see people coming in with the $9.95 bottle. That’s not wine, it’s just a drink. You’ve kind of missed the point of getting value in this scenario.”
Theodosakis said they already do a lot of work with Naramata Bench wineries and it’s not unusual for a winery to recommend his restaurant to visitors.
“So if they could have dinner here along with the wine they just purchased, then it seems to complement each other,” said Theodosakis.
In the same way, he and his staff often make recommendations when visitors ask how they should spend a free day.
“We like to suggest different wine routes. We send people out there and the wineries send people in here. It’s a synergy that’s been developing over the last couple of decades,” he said.
There are no plans to broaden the program beyond wine to include beer and spirits, and participating licensed restaurants are still liable if patrons are over-served or liquor service is provided to minors. They may also choose not to participate at all.
While Paul Jones of the Vanilla Pod restaurant at Poplar Grove Winery said he is happy to see the changes, his restaurant is unlikely to participate.
“We are restricted in what we allow to be sold. We have an agreement, of course, with Poplar Grove to promote their products. I don’t think it is something we would allow,” said Jones. “If it was a free-standing restaurant, I have no problem with it at all.”
“This gives industry the needed flexibility to get people out and dine more,” said Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Service Association. “More business will result in positive economic impacts such as increased employment and downstream benefits to suppliers of the industry. This is a very innovative, flexible and common-sense policy.”