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Corkage fees could hurt fine dining in Maple Ridge

Robert Klaus, owner and manager of Lava Dining and Lounge in Maple Ridge, is concerned the corkage fee he will have to charge will put off customers.  - Colleen Flanagan/The News
Robert Klaus, owner and manager of Lava Dining and Lounge in Maple Ridge, is concerned the corkage fee he will have to charge will put off customers.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

The move to allow restaurant patrons to bring their own wine with them to dinner could be bad for business for fine dining restaurants.

The new Bring Your Own Wine program was unveiled Thursday by Rich Coleman, the province’s minister in charge of liquor regulation, and follows in the footsteps of Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec, where similar “BYO” legislation already exists.

Restaurants will serve the wine in the same manner as wine selected from the menu and may charge a corkage fee for this service. Licensees are still liable if patrons are over-served or liquor service is provided to minors. Coleman said B.C. has no plans to broaden the program to beer and spirits.

Robert Klaus, owner and manager of Lava Dining and Lounge in Maple Ridge, is concerned the corkage fee he will have to charge will put off customers.

“Customers who don’t understand the realities of the business look at it like a fee for nothing,” said Klaus. “But I have to pay for everything from linens to dish washing chemicals, garbage collection, gas and heat and electricity, rent, my business license, and then I still have to pay my employees, and pay for [food and alcohol].”

For a food primary restaurant, 30 per cent of business comes from liquor sales, he said.

While smaller restaurants might opt to abandon wine service altogether in favour of only charging a corkage fee, that’s not an option for fine dining establishments.

“Our wine program is part of our service,” he said. “We pair wines with every course, so it won’t effect our inventory.”

Klaus said he has been in conversation with other high-end restaurants, and many are concerned about the potential fallout from the changes.

“It’s widespread panic, because most people don’t know how it will work ... or what will happen,” he said.

Klaus said he plans to charge a corkage of $20 for wine brought to his restaurant. However, wines that retail for less than $15 at government liquor stores won’t be accepted. He said he is also considering waiving the corkage at certain times to encourage late-night dinners.

Klaus said his biggest fear is a confrontation with his guests upset by the corkage he feels he has to charge.

“Here in Maple Ridge, you have to work very hard to keep your customers,” he said. “But the average guest will see it as a $20 charge for nothing. I don’t want to lose customers over that, but I don’t want to go out of business either.”

Participation by licensed restaurants is voluntary, and is supported by the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association and the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

The changes will give the restaurant industry flexibility to get people out and dine more, according to Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Service Association.

Tostenson said high-end restaurants likely wouldn’t see a flood of economy-minded customers arriving with cheap U-Brew wine.

“Nah, won’t happen. Or if they do, they’ll still pay their $15 to $20.”

He predicted the change could boost restaurant attendance two per cent, adding $20 million to industry sales in B.C.

Licensees are still liable if patrons are over-served or liquor service is provided to minors. There are no plans to broaden this beyond wine to include beer and spirits, according to the provincial government.

– with files

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