The high price of drinking wine in Austin, Texas restaurants
I recently made a trip to San Francisco, and I had the good fortune to eat out at several fine dining establishments. When the wine list appeared at the first restaurant, I noticed that the wine prices were much less than I would pay in Austin, TX. At first, I thought it was just for Californian wines, but prices for imports were also lower then I had seen in Austin.
So I dropped by K & L Wine Merchants in San Francisco and got the local retail prices for several bottles of wine and took the information with me when I went out to eat.
At each place I went, the mark-up used by Californian restaurants was about 2x retail — so a $20 bottle of wine from K & L would cost about $40 on a restaurant wine list. I have done this comparison many times in Austin, and I find that the mark-up from retail shop to restaurant runs somewhere between 3x and 4x.
Why so much more? The answer is on the bottom of almost all wine lists in Californian restaurants where they list their corkage fee. In California, you can take your own wine with you and pay a service fee that ranges from $10 to $25 per bottle. In Texas, it is illegal to bring your own wine to a restaurant that serves liquor, and most fine dining places have a full bar. If you want wine with your meal, you have to pay whatever price the restaurant wants to charge, and many places take advantage of you.
There does appear to be some hope for Austin wine drinkers, and it is coming from the new wine bars and “try and buy” shops that are springing up around town. Several of these shops, including Taste Select Wine, The Grove Wine Bar & Kitchen, and Vino Vino, offer good-to-excellent food, and they sell their wine for less than most restaurants. For example, Taste sells wines at competitive retail prices, and they only add a $10 corkage fee to drink the wine with your meal. The Grove and Vino Vino offer wines at about 2x to 2.5x retail to go with their food.
Maybe these establishments will force a change — but what we really need is an overhaul of the archaic Texas liquor laws. This prohibition against taking your own wine to a restaurant that serves liquor does not make the people of Texas any safer or less likely to drink to excess. The only thing this prohibition does is make more money for Texas restaurants.
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