New Michigan law allows restaurant-goers to take their own bottles to dinner

This is a really big month for wine drinkers in Michigan.

On March 14, a new law takes effect allowing you to bring your own bottle of wine to a restaurant, as many other states already do. Restaurants will be allowed to charge a “corkage” fee (also the norm in other states).

The state House and Senate passed the bill in December; Gov. Rick Snyder signed it. The new law is unlikely to affect restaurant wine prices right away, but if there is a lesson to be learned from other states, consumers will have vastly more choices, and restaurant wine lists will become more varied and esoteric.

We’ve been waiting for this — and I’ve been very vocal in this space about the need for such a law — for a long time.

The bill was introduced by James Stamas, a House Republican who represents the Midland-Pinconning area, which has barely any connection to wine or grapes.

In effect, the new law pretty much copies corkage laws of other states, including big winemaking states where taking a bottle of wine to dinner is common practice.

Under Michigan’s new law, the fee to pull your cork will be set by the restaurant. In other states it varies from $10-$25. However, in California there has been a bit of a dust-up over corkage fees gone wild, with some restaurants charging close to the price of the bottle.

There are several things to keep in mind if you do bring wine to a restaurant. There is also unofficial corkage etiquette.

The new law does not appear to obligate the restaurant to allow you to bring your own bottle. The law’s language says establishments may let you. So, call ahead and ask if they do corkage.

The law doesn’t say how much the corkage fee should be. Ask what they’ll charge.

The original concept of corkage fees was not to simply save customers money. It was to offer more choices. Even wine-savvy restaurants can have limited lists and storage. They may not have that 1977 Barolo in your cellar that you would like with their fine Italian food.

Don’t show up with three bottles for a four-person dinner. There’s a point where bring-your-own becomes rudeness.

If you bring a bottle for a group of four, the right thing to do is buy a second bottle from the restaurant’s wine list. If you’re just a couple, don’t worry about the second bottle.

This may be the most important: Adjust your tip upward so that your server doesn’t get screwed because you brought wine.

Offer to leave a glass of wine for the sommelier, chef, or owner. Legally, they might not be able to drink it on the spot, but having a glass after closing of something they could never purchase is a nice gesture.

Personally, I’m glad to see this. I know some restaurants here have been tepid about it. But if California is any indicator, restaurants will come out ahead in the long run — wine has become far more embedded in their culture than it is here. This can only help us become more educated consumers and also expose restaurants to their customers’ tastes — and to more and different wines.