The Complete Guide to BYOB Restaurants in Chicago

wineDining in Chicago, as in any major city, can be expensive. At a “nicer” place, you can figure on anywhere from $20 to $50 for an a la carte entree, and $100 to $150 (or even much more) per person for a multi-course tasting menu. And that doesn’t even begin to factor in the high cost of alcohol. Luckily, thanks to Chicago’s wacky liquor laws, many restaurants allow guests to bring their own wine, beer, and in some cases, even cocktails to enjoy with dinner. It’s a great way to save money on an evening out. Plus, it’s just kind of fun.

So what’s this whole BYOB thing all about? The rules vary from place to place, but generally the situation is that you can bring beer or wine (a select few places allow liquor as well, for example, many Mexican places let you bring tequila and will make margaritas for a small fee; call to confirm the rules) and in exchange for the privilege, you will pay a small “corkage” fee. The only caveats are that you can’t consume alcohol before 11am on a Sunday, and you cannot leave a place with an open container – if you don’t finish it, too bad.

When it comes to the etiquette of BYOB, it gets a bit tricky and can be a little intimidating for first timers. Here are some answers to common questions about bringing your own.

What kinds of restaurants are BYOB?
BYOB restaurants tend to be the more inexpensive ethnic places – Thai, Chinese, Sushi, Indian, etc. But more and more upscale BYOBs like Schwa, Bonsoiree, HB, and Mixteco, seem to be opening up, which means it is possible to have a fancy night out and save money with BYOB. And you don’t have to just BYOB for dinner. It’s common for people to bring their own bottles of Champagne for mimosas at weekend brunch as well.

How much can I bring?
While most places don’t have hard and fast rules on the amount of booze you can bring, common sense dictates that you keep the amount limited to what you might feel comfortable bringing to dinner with your boss. In other worlds, four bottles of wine or a 12-pack of beer for two people is probably too much.

What should I bring?
Bring something that pairs well with the food you’ll be having. Most restaurants or wine shops will be happy to make recommendations based on the style of food. Or, just bring your favorite beer. If you’re going BYOB with a date, keep it classy and splurge on a nicer bottle. “Two-buck Chuck” doesn’t exactly scream “romance.”

How do I get it there?
If you’re just running from home or the wine shop directly to the restaurant, carrying the bottle in on its own or in a plastic bag is fine. The restaurant staff will whisk it away when you arrive. But if you plan on carrying the bottle around in more extreme heat or cold for a while, it’s worth it to invest in an insulated wine bag.

How much does it cost?
Some restaurants charge no fee for BYOB, while others charge just a few dollars per bottle or per person. You can always call ahead and inquire about the exact corkage fee.

Should I tip extra at a BYOB?
Had you ordered a $40 bottle of wine with dinner, you probably would have tipped a few dollars on the cost, right? After all, the staff person did have to do a little bit of work opening your bottle, bringing out glasses and keeping them filled, and perhaps putting your bottle on ice. It’s just polite (and much appreciated) to tip the server for these efforts, especially if your group consumes multiple bottles.

Other considerations
It should go without saying…but don’t overindulge just because you were able to bring your own booze to dinner. Getting a little tipsy and enjoying your meal is fine. Getting sick in the bathroom while others are trying to savor their dinner is not. Don’t get too drunk, don’t be obnoxious, and don’t linger too long after your meal. BYOBs can be very popular, so respect those who are waiting and don’t continue to take up a table long after you’ve finished eating.

Photo by theonetruedevo