The repeal of a long-standing city ordinance that prohibited Kansas City, Missouri, diners from bringing their own bottles of wine into restaurants was quietly passed by the City Council on January 31. So quietly, in fact, that a surprising number of local restaurateurs and wine vendors still don't know about it.
But as word about the amendment to Sections 10-335 of the city's Code
of Ordinances has gotten out, questions have been raised about
this new age of BYOB in Kansas City.
"I just found out about
this last week," says Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange co-owner
Ryan Maybee. "And we're going to play it by ear -- until we sort out all
the issues here."
Those issues, Maybee says, range from whether to permit diners to allow the practice at all (restaurateurs can set their own BYOB policy and charge any corkage fee) to setting rules on the policy. "Should we let patrons bring in bottles of wine that we already offer on our own wine list?" Maybee asks. "There are many things to consider."
The repeal of the city ordinance, says Gary Majors of Regulated Industries Division, took only 10 weeks to pass from the initial proposal, written by one of his staffers, to the vote by the City Council. The proponents of the measure expected some resistance from restaurant owners, but there was next to none, according to City Councilwoman Jan Marcason.
"We passed the ordinance at the request of the restaurant community," she says. "This decision allows diners to bring in their own wine, but only to restaurants that hold active liquor licenses. It's still prohibited in restaurants without liquor licenses."
Marcason says restaurateurs will be permitted to charge corkage fees because the revised ordinance requires that a restaurant employee must open the bottle, pour the wine, and re-seal the bottle for the patron after the meal. The rationale behind the revised ordinance, according to Marcason, is to increase restaurant traffic. "Customers who can bring their own wine into a restaurant may be drinking more and buy a bottle of the restaurant's wine after the first bottle. Or they may buy more food, like desserts.
"It's a good thing for Kansas City, I think," Marcason adds. "Everyone was in agreement about this. Anything to make small business work in Kansas City."
It's not an industry secret that restaurant owners generally mark up wine bottles they sell to diners -- sometimes considerably. This markup is often very important to a restaurant's bottom line. Profit margins on food sales can be uncomfortably slim, particularly in the current economy.
Leonard Mirabile, co-owner of Jasper's Restaurant, didn't know about the revised ordinance passing until Fat City told him yesterday. He was not pleased with the news.
"It's ridiculous that this passed," Mirabile says "Last Saturday, I had a customer come in with his own wine, and he wanted me to open it. Not knowing about the revised ordinance, I said it was against the law. He had an $8 bottle of zinfandel. Am I supposed to charge him a $20 corkage fee to open an $8 bottle of wine?
"This is an exaggerated example," Mirabile continues, "but let me pose this scenario. Let's say a Kansas cattleman comes in with one of his own steaks and wants me to cook it for him. And he comes in with a nice lady who won the Pillsbury Bake-Off and wants me to cut her prize-winning pie for the people at her table. Oh, and they also invite the lady who won a blue ribbon for her lettuce at the Missouri State Fair, who wants me to use her lettuce for the salad. What do I charge these people for eating their food in my restaurant?"
Supposedly, the revised BYOB ordinance will also help local wine-shop owners. But Ryan Sciara, owner of Cellar Rat Wine Merchants at 1701 Baltimore, isn't convinced. "I don't think it will make a dent in my business," he says, "but I'd love it if it would.
"I think there are two schools of thought on this," he continues. "There are some people who would be embarrassed to bring a cheap bottle of wine into a classy restaurant and pay a corkage fee to have it opened and served. Or else they should be embarrassed. And, then again, there are restaurant patrons who have a very special bottle of wine that they've saved for a special occasion, and they don't mind paying to have it opened, presented and served to them."
Sciara says many restaurateurs are proud of their own wine lists and might resent the new revised ordinance: "These restaurateurs feel like they've spent a lot of money on their inventory, expensive glassware, training for their servers. I'm really surprised the local restaurant community let this pass. I would have thought there would be no way in hell."
Local waiter and restaurant-industry blogger David Hayden thinks the revised law will be good for restaurant owners. "A corkage fee is pure profit and goes straight to the bottom line," he says. "They don't have to keep that bottle in hand, in storage, chilled. It's easy money. It's not such a good thing for servers. Do you think customers are going to pay an extra $4 tip on a $20 corkage fee? And the server still has to open the bottle, present and serve the wine, and seal the bottle at the end of the meal."
We're interested to know what Fat City readers think of the new law. Pour out your thoughts in the comment section.