The Lowdown: Corkage charges

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Corkage charges in restaurants

Related tags Dorian Wine Corkage

Notting Hill restaurant Dorian has reignited the debate on corkage by introducing a £100 charge and requiring guests to buy a bottle of similar value from its list.

Don’t a lot of top restaurants have high corkage charges? 
Yes, they do. Hélène Darroze at The Connaught also charges £100, for example. At some other places, corkage is set based on the market value of the wine in question, so can be even higher. It’s also worth noting that many high-end places - including Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester - don’t have any truck with the practice at all. 

So why did Dorian attract so much attention? 
The previous corkage charge at the Talbot Road restaurant was set at a modest £25 so it’s a big jump. And while not unprecedented, its request that guests order another bottle 'of similar value' from its own list is unusual and unworkable for smaller tables that are trying to drink in moderation. On top of this, Dorian is pitched as a relaxed neighbourhood bistro. That said the restaurant - which opened in 2022​ and won a Michelin star earlier this year - is in a bit of a bubble, in general attracting a moneyed crowd that drink top-end wines with Dorian offering an extensive wine list that’s not short of options for those looking to splash out. 

Why did Dorian increase the charge? 
In a rather feisty post on Instagram that has generated in excess of 300 comments,​ owner Chris D’Sylva said he was introducing the charge in a bid to stop some guests “gaming the system” by bringing multiple bottles “to extract the lowest cost experience for themselves”. He went on to criticise some of his guests for having “a complete disregard and respect for the fact that it’s financially impossible to put out our quality of food, using superior produce and offering the best quality of life to the best young talent in London, without the sales of wine.” 

What are people saying in the comments? 
While some were supportive of D’Sylva’s position and praised him for his transparency on the issue, others accused him of alienating his customers and setting corkage too high. One commenter even went as far as to say that the restaurant was “exploiting its wine loving customers”. Another said that they were “at a loss as to why it costs so much more to open and serve a bottle of wine at Dorian than in many other great London restaurants”.   

How did D’Sylva respond to his detractors?
Dorian’s owner came out swinging, responding to all comments exclusively IN CAPITAL LETTERS. In many cases, he questioned the credentials of those that disagreed with him asking them “DO YOU RUN A SUCCESSFUL RESTAURANT OR NOT?”. 

What do restaurants need to bear in mind when setting a corkage charge? 
Most look at the average revenue they would generate from the sale of a bottle of wine. For this reason, corkage is often priced roughly in line with house wine. But some larger restaurant operations opt to take a hit on corkage - sometimes even offering it for free or at a heavily discounted rate - in order to fill restaurants at quiet times. For example, Sam’s Riverside in Brentford usually charges £20 corkage for still wines and £40 for sparkling but waves this completely on Tuesday nights. “It puts bums on seats and creates a nice buzz,” says owner Sam Harrison. “It’s particularly popular with people that are very local and also those in the wine industry, of which there are a lot in West London. Even with a high proportion of people essentially drinking wine for free, our model is such that we still make money.” For small and often oversubscribed restaurants like the 40-cover Dorian, the equation is different. As one commenter pointed out, Dorian’s policy works for those drinking Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, but not Yellow Tail Shiraz. 

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