Friday, 9 July 2010

Bringing BYOB up to date

By Kelly Parsons
Bring Your Own Booze: conjure up an image of the local curry house?  Those associations will soon be consigned to the restaurant dustbin of history if wine lovers, Khadine and Christopher Rose, have their way. 
They have persuaded some of London’s leading restaurants – 50 at the latest count – to sign up to their recently-launched brainchild, BYO wine club, and allow wine enthusiasts to bring their own special bottles for no, or a substantially reduced, corkage fees. 
Restaurants already on their growing list include perennial favourites like Angelus, L’Oranger, Le Cafe du Marche, Wodka, Boisdale, and Le Cafe Anglais, to top Michelin-rated eateries such as Tom Aikens (pictured here), Apsleys at The Lanesborough and Rasoi Vineet Bhatia.

For restaurants, listing on is free, but by invitation only, and they must meet the club’s high quality standards. The founders expect to have over one hundred participating across London by the end of 2010.
“My husband and I were thinking about how wonderful it would be to bring a favourite bottle of wine from our collection to dinner at some of London’s best restaurants.  After speaking with a few restaurant industry friends, BYO Wine Club was born,” explains co-founder Khadine Johnson Rose, who has a background in the drinks business, having worked as a brand ambassador for Remy Martin and several Diageo brands.
While the club is undeniably aimed at reducing the costs of eating and drinking out, it is a far cry from the traditional concept of sticking a bottle of cheap plonk or a few tins of beer in a carrier bag and rocking up to a low end restaurant which can’t afford an alcohol licence.  This new take on BYO is aimed at diners who want to drink fine wines but resent the significant mark-ups charged by decent eateries, which often mean they will drink far better wine at home than they do when out for a meal. To that end, annual membership costs just under £100 a year, although there is currently a special launch rate of £75.
So what’s in it for the restaurants? Surely wine is one of their biggest money-spinners?  Clearly the impact of the economic downturn has forced many to get a bit more creative in an attempt to fill empty tables. “Participating restaurants can attract and retain wine enthusiasts - a high-spending restaurant-going audience,” says Rose. Some venues also impose restrictions in their listings, including a corkage fee (typically between £5 and £15), minimum spend, weekdays only and other limitations. 
The club also provides a set of clear etiquette tips and common sense do’s and don’ts for members to abide by. It’s absolutely forbidden to bring homemade wine or boxed wine, beer, cider, alcopops or spirits. Other recommendations include discreetly presenting your bottle of wine to the Maître d' or wait staff, preferably in the tote provided to members on joining, or at the very least discarding any carrier bags or other packaging before entering the restaurant and presenting the bottle on its own. 
Rose also says members should endeavor to bring wines on par with at least some of the wines on the restaurant's own list. “If you feel the need to bring a truly inexpensive bottle, it's best to do so at a comparably inexpensive restaurant,” she says. She suggests that, where possible, members should avoid bringing exactly the same wine that is on the restaurant's list. “Also, consider offering the sommelier a taste of your wine - it's just a nice thing to do,” she adds. 

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