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There used to be a handful of states, like Massachusetts and Arizona, that banned bringing your own bottle (BYOB) of wine into restaurants, but what started as a trend—likely somewhere in Philadelphia—has now swept cities like Boston (the land of “no happy hour”) and Phoenix.

What may seem to outsiders an easy, straightforward choice (to cork or not to cork?), there is, as any restaurant owner knows, so much more to consider before making the choice for you and your place. Of course the devil is in the details.

Here are some of the main considerations to take into account when trying to figure out if a BYOB restaurant approach is right for you.

Start with the Laws

This is a no brainer, but it has to be said. Both state and local laws dictate how bringing alcohol in and out of restaurants works (which is why Las Vegas is a free-for-all in a way that no where else is), so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with both. Along with the laws, understanding the terminology by state is helpful step, too, that will make the whole process less stressful. Arizona, for example, refers to BYOB restaurants as “unlicensed locations,” while New York State refers to them as BYOB establishments.

restaurant licensing and permits guide cover

When all is said and done, to obtain even just one of the proper licenses and permits can cost as much as 10,000 dollars. Luckily, the only resource you’ll need to open your doors with the right licenses and permits is here.

Get The Guide

Understand License Logistics

While the BYOB movement decidedly got underway to avoid oppressively expensive liquor laws, that’s not always the case these days. New York State, for example, requires restaurants to have a liquor license in order to be a BYOB spot, but in Austin a license isn’t necessary. However, in most cases where is license isn’t required, a permit still is.

Consider Corking Fees

There can certainly be a bit of a profit loss if your restaurant goes from serving alcohol to allowing BYOB. Enter then corking fee. This is an arbitrary number set up by each restaurant to help mitigate some of that loss—some places charge nothing or as little as one dollar, while some can get as high as $100 a pop (literally). It’s all up to you!

Get Creative

It doesn’t have to be an “us or them” proposition when it comes to allowing your customers to BYOB or not. There’s a place in Hoboken, NJ that lets its patrons bring in their own tequila and then makes their margaritas with it, still charging for the mixers. Approaches like this are a great way to strike a middle ground—your guests can bring in what they’d like, but you can still offer crafty concoctions that they can’t get anywhere else.
The best thing about the BYOB decision is that, in most cases (again, it all goes back to the laws), it’s not an all or nothing proposition. There are places that serve no alcohol whatsoever, some that only offer their own concoctions, some that only do BYOB, and there are some that do both—they still offer signature cocktails and even wine, but allow their customers to bring their own vino in if they want to as well. As long as you’re legal, there’s a way to craft an approach to the BYOB trend that’s sure to be a fit for your unique restaurant.

Check out Upserve’s guide to restaurant licenses and permits!

Written by   |  
Cinnamon is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and journalist who paid a large part of her way through college and graduate school by serving. Her work has been published with outlets like National Geographic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, and more. You can read more about her at www.cinnamon-janzer.com.
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