Ready to pop that cork, Texans? Here’s a plan to let you BYOB (wine) to more eateries

Like wine?

In many restaurants across the state, Texans may bring a bottle of their favorite wine and pay a “corkage fee” to have it opened and served with their meal.

But that practice isn’t allowed at some dining establishments.

It depends on what kind of alcohol license the restaurant holds.

State Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, wants to change that.

“It’s a common-sense bill,” he said Tuesday during a legislative hearing for House Bill 3897.

Texas law lets diners take their bottles of wine with them to a restaurant that has a beer and wine permit, if the restaurant says it’s OK. But they cannot take that same bottle of wine to a restaurant that has a liquor license.

The bill would allow restaurants with a liquor license to allow people to bring in their own bottle of wine and charge whatever corkage fee they want, Goldman said during a House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee meeting.

“They don’t have to do it, but it allows them to do it,” he said.

The proposal drew support from some Fort Worth residents, but opposition from the Texas Restaurant Association. It was left pending in committee.

If the Legislature approves the measure before the session ends May 27, and the governor signs off on it, it could go into effect Sept. 1.

Corkage fees

Diners take advantage of corkage fees to bring old or hard-to-find wines that are not available at restaurants.

Proper etiquette calls for the diner to order a comparable bottle of wine from the restaurant as well — and to tip generously, factoring in the cost of the wine brought in from outside.

Many restaurants charge $10 to $20 in corkage fees, but high end restaurants may charge $75 or more.

Opponents say this bill likely could hamper wine sales at restaurants and impact the financial bottom line for some businesses.

“For us, it really is a matter of economics,” said Richie Jackson, chief executive of the Texas Restaurant Association, who spoke against the bill. “The truth is that for us, selling that bottle of wine contributes to the overhead, contributes to paying the electricity, contributes to paying the staff that cooks those meals.”

If those wine sales are lost, Jackson said servers will get smaller tips and restaurants will bring in fewer dollars. And he doesn’t believe any corkage fee added to the bills of diners who bring their own wine will make up for lost revenue.

Fort Worth support

Jeff Davis, a former Fort Worth City councilman and longtime wine connoisseur, said the measure could improve the local “wine culture” and the bottom line for restaurants in several ways.

First, he said, it might entice people to dine at restaurants during the slower days of the week, generally Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

And those who stay home and cook because they can’t bring their preferred wine with them might go out more in general as well.

“For over 40 years, I’ve been trying to explain to my friends ... why they can’t bring their own wine into a place that has a liquor license, as opposed to a beer and wine place,” Davis said during the committee hearing. “There’s just no logical reason. It doesn’t make sense.”

He said he doesn’t believe restaurants or servers will lose revenue if this bill becomes law.

“Our culture tips very well,” Davis said. “We don’t just tip on corkage. We don’t just tip on food. We tip on the kinds of wine we bring.

“If we bring a $100 bottle of wine, we are going to tip that waiter $20,” Davis said. “They look forward to us coming in because we tip on the experience.”

This bill is needed to even the playing field for restaurants across the state, said Jon Bonnell, a chef who owns restaurants in Fort Worth including Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine.

“I can promise you, if I were going to lose any revenue in alcohol sales based on this, I would never support it,” Bonnell said. “To allow someone to bring in a bottle, they’re going to buy another one. That’s pretty standard etiquette.

“It gives us more freedom. It lets us make our customers happy,” he said. “I cannot for the life of me find a downside to this one.”

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.