Winnipeg restaurants now BYOW

Restaurants in Manitoba now have the option of allowing patrons to bring their own wine to the table, thanks to a new law passed by the provincial government.
The law, which came into effect Nov. 1, makes it legal for restaurants to allow customers to bring a commercially purchased, unopened bottle of wine to drink in a licensed dining room. That means no homemade wine, no other alcoholic drinks, and no bringing wine into lounge or bar areas.

The law is part of a series of amendments to Manitoba’s Liquor Control Act, dubbed the New Hospitality Strategy, which is aimed at modernizing existing liquor laws in Manitoba.

However, Scott Jocelyn, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, expressed concern that the change could present challenges for restaurant owners.

“We look at it as a loss of a revenue stream. Some people spend extra money training staff to be experts in the area of wine service,” said Jocelyn. “It is taking away from a service we provide.”

A potential loss of revenue could be partially offset by a corkage fee charged to customers bringing their own wine. The fee covers the opening of the bottle and the use of glasses. In other provinces that have similar BYOW laws, corkage fees have ranged from nothing to as high as $30.

Jocelyn emphasized that the law is strictly voluntary and can vary from restaurant to restaurant, meaning people should phone ahead of time before bringing their own wine.

“We’re concerned the general public is going to be confused [about] who’s offering it and who’s not offering it,” said Jocelyn. “I want to caution people to not just show up at your favourite restaurant with your favourite bottle of wine and think that restaurant is going to be part of the program.”

The upside, Jocelyn said, is that restaurant owners now have an option they did not have before. He said he expects many restaurants to utilize the law selectively, using a BYOW policy to draw in customers during slower times of the year or to cater to special requests.

One local business that has decided to allow diners to bring their own wine is Orlando’s Seafood Grill on Corydon. Part-owner Estevao Marques said he didn’t expect the new policy to cut into revenue too much.

“We are just going to charge a corkage fee, usually about $20, but it depends on the quality of the wine,” Marques said. “It’ll about even out with the average mark-up we currently charge on our wine. We hope this is something that will make the dining experience more enjoyable for the customers.”

Diana Soroka, communications manager for the MLCC, said she believes the public will respond positively to the new BYOW law.

“When we decided to take a look at the liquor laws and modernize them, this one of the ideas that came forward that people had been asking about for years,” said Soroka. “It was an opportunity for us to include it in the changes to the liquor act.”
Soroka stressed that the MLCC is trying to present an opportunity for local restaurants rather than impose changes.

“It’s totally voluntary. If they want to offer the services they can,” said Soroka. “It opens up the act and making it less restrictive.”

Manitoba is the sixth province to allow restaurants to have a BYOW policy. Other changes included in the New Hospitality Strategy include a new class of licences for brew pubs, establishments permitted to brew on site, and the opening of boutique-style liquor stores, called Liquor Mart Express, in several urban grocery stores.