IL: Chicago Restaurants Can Now Charge You A BYOB Fee
By Anthony Todd
June 7, 2016
If a city commission changes a rule but doesn’t actually tell anyone, did the rule change? That’s the odd conundrum that WBEZ ran into over the course of the last week. They discovered that the city’s stated policy on charging fees for bringing your own alcohol to restaurants wasn’t actually the law—it was the result of an administrative mistake. Now, it’s possible that your favorite restaurants might start charging you to bring in booze.
Here’s the backstory: last week, Curious City did a report on why Chicago has so many BYOB restaurants. In creating that report, they looked at all the city documentation on BYOB restaurants, and that documentation had one thing in common: It said that city policy dictated that if a restaurant didn’t have a liquor license, it couldn’t charge a “corkage fee,” or a fee to bring your own alcohol.
This rule makes some kind of sense. If a restaurant is serving high-profit-margin alcohol, the only way it will offset the loss from someone bringing in their own alcohol is to charge them a fee. If it doesn’t serve alcohol, the restaurant is not really “losing” anything when someone brings their own bottle, though you do have to incur some costs to provide glasses and service.
Except, it turns out that this hasn’t been the law since 2008. That’s when the commissioner of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection apparently changed this rule, to allow restaurants to charge corkage fees. But no one ever updated any of the documentation that the city put out publicly, so as far as anyone knew, the rule didn’t change. As of May, 2016, the old rule was still being published. At least until the department contacted WBEZ.
Even better, WBEZ found restaurants that got in trouble for charging a corkage fee, which was legal, except no one knew it was legal. What a mess!
Will this mean that diners will have to start paying a fee to BYOB? It’ll depend on the restaurant. Some may decide that they can squeeze a little extra money out of diners, and even with the fee, it’ll probably still be cheaper to bring your own. Others won’t want to rock the boat. Especially because, now that this has become public, who knows if the rule is about to change again. Here’s hoping that the city tells someone this time.