The name—Wine Doggy Bag—although descriptive, still sounds a little cheesy for upscale restaurant use. But never mind. The product does exactly what it’s supposed to do: enable restaurant patrons to take home the unused portion of their wine. And it lets them do so legally, although they have to lug it around in a sealed transparent bag that resembles something a transplant organ courier might use. But when savvy restaurateurs who’ve tried products like this one say that wine sales take off as a result, it might be worth a look.
Couple open container laws that make possession of an open bottle of wine a crime in most U.S. jurisdictions with complex licensing regulations regarding whether wine can or can’t be sold for off-premise consumption and you have a situation that causes restaurant wine sales to be less than they might otherwise be. Few customers want to pay restaurant markups for wine and then leave the unfinished portion behind; operators don’t bring the subject up because they know better than to jeopardize their alcoholic beverage license.
Both parties will be happy to learn about a legal take-home option, which is what the products from suppliers such as Wine Doggy Bag and Togobrand.com provides. These companies sell one-time-use, tamper-evident transparent bags that meet the legal requirements for open wine bottle transportation in all 50 states.
Restaurant operators don’t have to use these particular products to offer the take-home option, but whatever they do use has to meet the same standard. That standard likely varies from state to state, but here’s an example of the legal restrictions—these are from Washington, DC—with which you would likely have to comply:
“The partially consumed bottle shall be placed in a bag or other container that is secured in such a manner that it is visibly apparent if the container has been subsequently opened or tampered with, and a dated receipt for the bottle of wine shall be provided by the licensee and attached to the container.” Who’s responsible if, say, the patron consumes the wine after leaving your establishment but before arriving home? Under this law, it’s the patron, not the restaurant owner.
Who’s using these products? The Glazier Group, for one. It’s a Manhattan-based operation that runs six Strip House steak restaurants (one each in New York, Las Vegas, Houston, New Jersey, Key West and Naples, FL) plus the Michael Jordan’s The Steak House located in Grand Central Station in New York City. They call it the “Cork and Go program.”
“While the economy is surely a factor in our decision to promote this program, we also feel that with the option to bring unfinished bottles home our guests will be more willing to try a bottle they wouldn’t normally order, or experiment with wine pairings to match their different courses,” says Glazier Group beverage director Jono Moratis. “Now guests can be more adventurous with their wine choices and feel less pressure to finish an entire bottle in one sitting.”
The result: the restaurant sells more wine. It’s a no-brainer for customers, too. “It’s commonplace for guests to bring their unfinished dishes home and we feel there’s no reason why we shouldn’t encourage the same for unfinished wine,” adds Glazier Group head Mathew Glazier.
Wine-to-go laws differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Be sure to check with your local or state restaurant association before rolling out a do-it-yourself equivalent.