Too posh for BYO?

Is this your bottle or the restaurant's?

Is this your bottle or the restaurant’s?


Imagine if you could go to a posh restaurant with your own decent bottle of wine and be greeted with a big smile instead of being shown the door? It might not happen now but it did in Sheffield once. Nearly all the top restaurants ran BYO and no one turned a hair.

Well, the trade press did as it was so unusual. Hotel and Caterer ran a story on it. Of course there were caveats: it only applied weekdays, not weekends, and you were expected to pay corkage.

It started in the mid-Nineties when Wayne Bosworth and his brother Jamie ran Rafters on Oakbrook Road to get bums on seats. Unlike other top restaurants Rafters opened on Mondays, not the most popular day of the week, closed Tuesday and re-opened on Wednesday. Monday opening (and BYO) was partly to compensate for not opening Tuesday, the day their beloved Blades often had a midweek home game at Bramall Lane!

With Rafters doing it, Wayne’s mate Cary Brown, then at Carriages (now Peppercorn) on Abbeydale Road South, felt he had to follow suit. Richard Smith, then at Smith’s of Sheffield, at Crosspool, wasn’t best pleased either. You could even take a bottle midweek to super-posh Greenhead House, as I recall.

The practice went on for a decade or so and then fizzled out, although you can take a bottle to Marco@Milano on Archer Road in the week. But I think the city’s upmarket venues are missing an opportunity.

The reason BYO is popular with diners is the heavy mark up on wines in restaurants, at least 250 per cent. We don’t normally volunteer to pay three or four times the price for a product we can get in the shops, so why with restaurants?

With some, of course, that is where they make the money rather than the food, or at least Heston Blumenthal claims. And the better places do have wines you can’t buy easily. I don’t object to a corkage charge, provided it is reasonable, because that pays for the glasses, the cleaning and the disposing of the empties.

But if you are keen on the right wine with food how easy is it to choose a bottle when two people are eating on opposite sides of the menu: red or white meat, heavily spiced or not? How often do you see half bottles on offer?

I used to run a regular feature on the Sheffield Star’s food pages listing the BYO places available and the corkage charge. Apart from the upmarket restaurants, the others listed were little bistros, Asian, Italian and Chinese.

For the restaurant BYO saves tying money up in stock. For the diner it means not having to fork out £15 for a bottle of house you know only cost the restaurant a fiver, if that. To a large extent it’s wine snobbery, the insistence that certain bottles go better with certain kinds of food, which keeps a wine list going.

Well of course that’s right but there are precious few occasions where the wrong wine will spoil the food, although the wrong food can spoil the wine! If I go to a restaurant it’s the food which is my first choice. If I’m going for the wine I’ll pick a wine bar. That’s what the Italians do with enotecas: great choice of wine, simple platters of cheeses and meats to go with them. Now how about that over here?

Incidentally, you can hardly complain about the wine if you BYO but I did once. I bought a bottle in France and took it to Rafters in Bosworth brothers days. It was awful – the wine not the food. So I bought a bottle from the restaurant!

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