Bringing your own wine to a restaurant could mean you miss out on some great vintages, says sommelier Yulia Ezhikova. Photo: David Silverman/Getty Images
Yulia Ezhikova
Yulia Ezhikova

Why sommeliers hate it when you BYOB – a Hong Kong insider explains why

  • There aren’t many good reasons to bring your own wine to a restaurant that has its own wine list, says sommelier Yulia Ezhikova
  • If, however, you have a bottle of something really good, pay the corkage and give the sommelier a taste, they will be more than happy to host you, she says

There are two good reasons to show up at a restaurant with your own bottle of wine. One is to compensate for the lack of a wine list (or liquor licence) at a newly opened or more casual venue. The other is to share something special with friends you would rather not entertain at home. Anything else, and you’re cheating yourself out of a potentially joyous wine discovery.

While many guests still lack trust after decades of cookie-cutter wine lists, poor service and greedy mark-ups, most fine-dining establishments today are paying a great deal of attention to curating wine selections and offering value.

What this means is that there has never been a more exciting time to order a bottle of wine in Hong Kong, yet the percentage of brought-in bottles remains high. So what’s going on?

Mark-ups, or diners’ lack of understanding of what is fair, could make them feel they’ve been taken advantage of. After all, it’s easy to pull out your phone and check the retail price of a bottle. Three times more than I can get it for at the shop? Call the police!

Yulia Ezhikova is the sommelier for Embla restaurant in Central, Hong Kong. Photo: David Holmberg

The truth is, of course, far less sensational. It is tough to run a restaurant – the rent is ridiculous, profit margins are low, the pressure is high and the work is often thankless. In fine dining, the drink sales pay the bills. Without those, your tasting menu would be priced three times higher to reflect the work and expenses that go into keeping the lights on.

Running a stellar wine list is also a costly affair – you need to hire and train a top-notch team, buy expensive, state-of-the-art glassware and pay electricity bills to store all those bottles at the right temperature.

When you think of it this way, ordering wine from a restaurant is less an option and more a nod of respect. And, if it’s a good restaurant, chances are you’ll be talking about that bottle for days.

That said, if you’ve got some DRC lying around, all etiquette bets are off. Bring that baby in, expect to pay a hefty corkage, offer a sip to the sommelier, and anyone in town would be delighted to host you.