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Not All Michigan Restaurateurs Toasting New ‘BYOB of Wine’ Law

A new law taking effect Friday allows diners to bring their favorite bottles of wine to their favorite restaurants, but it also allows restaurants to set guidelines or opt out of participation.

A new Michigan law allows customers to bring their own bottles of wine to be served with their dinner at restaurants. Not all restaurants are participating. (Photo: Getty Images)
A new Michigan law allows customers to bring their own bottles of wine to be served with their dinner at restaurants. Not all restaurants are participating. (Photo: Getty Images)

Cheers! Or hold the toast?

Aficionados who appreciate wine but haven’t found the vintages of their choice on the wine list can start now bring their own bottles to some participating restaurants.

A new Michigan law effective Friday allows customers to bring their own bottles of wine to participating restaurants that licensed to sell and serve liquor, the Detroit News reports.

Restaurants aren’t required to participate, and they’re able to charge corkage fee to cover the costs of the server and providing wine glasses.

The voluntary aspect of what’s being called the “BYOB of wine laws” is a key to making it work, said Rep. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, who shepherded the law through Michigan's Legislature after he visited Chicago and saw how a similar law was invigorating the restaurant scene there.

“We made it permissible to bring in wine, but it’s not a requirement that a restaurant allow it,” Stamas, who also owns a pizzeria, told the newspaper.

Experts say the law could enliven Michigan’s restaurant scene.

The voluntary nature of the law that gives restaurateurs the freedom to opt out of participation also applies to customers who may choose to go somewhere else if they can't bring in their own wine, said Sally Jefferson, regional government affairs manager at the California wine industry’s advocacy group, the Wine Institute.

“Customers appreciate having the option and the freedom to bring their favorite wines,” said Jefferson, who worked with Stamas to draft the bill.

Michigan restaurateurs appear to be cautiously weighing their options. Some fear it will hurt their bottom line because they’ll lose out on the mark-up usually charged on a bottle of wine, said Scott Ellis, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association.

Participating restaurants can charge corkage fees to cover their costs, making the new law more palatable.

The sommelier at a tony Birmingham restaurant with a strong focus on wine said the ink wasn’t dry on Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature on the bill in December 2013 before customers began asking when they could bring in their favorite wines.

Joseph Salerno, also the general manager of the Forest Grill restaurant in Birmingham, said he and Chef de Nick Janutol, researched how the law might affect their business, which is known for its extensive wine cellar.

They decided to participate, but with some caveats – including that the wine customers bring in must be bottles they're not stocking.

“We have had someone bring in something very special and he did the courtesy of letting us have a taste of it to educate us and possibly see if it was something we should add to our menu,” Salerno told the newspaper.

The Hill Seafood & Chop House in Grosse Pointe Farms has yet to set a policy, but general manager Gretchen Meeuws said rules will probably allow customers to bring in a special bottle of wine only if it’s something the restaurant can’t provide.

Restaurateurs said they need to educate their customers that the purpose of the new law isn’t to lower customers’ bills.

“It’s about honoring a special occasion with a special bottle, not a ‘two-buck Chuck’ or something you can’t find on my wine list,” Nancy Gogo, manager of The Brewery Restaurant  in Clinton Township, told The Detroit News.
tagguy100 March 17, 2014 at 10:06 AM
I've got a nice steak in my fridge, think I can get them to cook it for me?
michelle March 17, 2014 at 10:25 AM
Most nice restaurants already have a pretty extensive wine list to suit most tastes. I think that people can deviate briefly from their one specific favorite when they go out. I see this as more of a "we are just sick of paying the huge mark ups that the restaurants charge". I went out, had them recommend a wine for my meal and I enjoyed it. Then found the same bottle on my own significantly less. Maybe if there was a better balance and reasonable prices. I understand some markup...perhaps even double but it was way more than double the price. I like the wine, especially since I can get it for much less on my own. I would feel odd bringing my own wine to a place that serves wine. It just seems more of an economic choice than I just prefer this particular wine and we all know how the fancy restaurants are when you try to save a buck. They act like you are destitute and shouldn't dine there. I could see people trying to figure out what wines the restaurants do NOT sell so they know what to bring. LOL Oh, this is funny. I don't see why we needed a new law. We have too many crazy laws to begin with.
Bryan March 17, 2014 at 01:46 PM
This seems far too complex. In Chicago BYOB places are restaurants that don't offer beer so it makes sense. Who has time to research what wines a restaurant doesn't serve?
K. Scott March 18, 2014 at 05:13 PM
Michelle, my understanding of this law is that you can't bring in a bottle that they carry. Only one they don't. The establishment must have a license. This law is different then it is in Chicago. I don't know why they are saying it's the same.

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