Corkage row fizzes as caterers decide not to push BYO ban

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 February, 2007, 12:00am

The Beijing Catering Industry Association has backed down in a row over corkage fees, saying it will not encourage restaurants to ban patrons from consuming their own beverages.

The controversy began when a Mr Wang and his friends took a bottle of wine to the Xiangshui Restaurant in Beijing in September.

When the restaurant slapped a 100 yuan corkage charge on top of the 196 yuan food bill, Mr Wang successfully sued it in a Haidian district court.

The restaurant argued that it clearly stated on the menu that if customers chose to consume their own beverages, it would charge half the price of the same drink on the menu or 100 yuan for drinks the restaurant did not stock, reports said.

But the court ruled in December that it was unfair for the restaurant to impose such charges as part of its standard terms on the menu, and that the charges were in violation of a consumer's right to a fair transaction and free choice. The case sparked debate and led to some restaurants declaring they would not serve customers who intended to consume their own alcoholic beverages.

The Xiangshui Restaurant has lodged an appeal with the Beijing No1 Intermediate People's Court.

Deputy manager Ge Jianhua said: 'We are doing this not only for our own and our industry's interests but to foster a good consumer culture where one should pay the corresponding price when one chooses to enjoy a high-end service.

'I think the [Haidian] judgment might have been motivated by a sentimental intention to help the weak.'

Qiu Baochang , of the Beijing Huijia Law Firm, advised the Beijing Consumers' Association on the corkage fee dispute and said the root of the problem was that restaurants charged unreasonably high prices for beverages.

'When prices of beverages fall to a reasonable level, the corkage fee problem will no longer exist,' Mr Qiu said.

Although it is common in other parts of the world for restaurants to charge a corkage fee, Mr Qiu said the consumption culture in China was different and it was commonplace for customers to bring along their own beverages when dining out.

The Catering Industry Association issued a joint notice with the Beijing Consumers' Association this week saying consumers and restaurant operators should work to achieve 'harmonious consumption', and that they would not encourage a ban on bring-your-own (BYO) drinks.

Renmin University sociologist Zhou Xiaozheng said the notice was significant because it was a sign of unprecedented open conciliation between two semi-government organisations representing opposing interests.