March 3, 2012 in Washington Voices

Spokane ripe for Eastern BYOB craze

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BYOB. In this neck of the woods, “Bring Your Own Bottle” is synonymous with backyard barbecues and parties where family and friends gather at private homes.

In the East, BYOB also can mean restaurants and bistros. An evening out, it seems, can entail bringing along a bottle if you’re so inclined.

I discovered this BYOB tidbit during a phone conversation with my New Jersey sister, Lillian, who bantered “BYOB” with “dining out” like it’s the national norm. After the umpteenth utterance, my mind grew curiouser. “Ahem,” I said, delicately clearing my throat. “What exactly do you mean by BYOB?”

It was a dumb bunny question and Lil’s 10 seconds of silence confirmed it. “You mean … you don’t have BYOB’s?” Disbelief permeated her Jersey lilt.

Turns out, BYOB means the same in the East as it does in the West – where our Eastern counterparts can slap down $10 to $12 for a glass of house wine, BYOB restaurants have bottle-rocketed to dining stardom by offering the opportunity to enjoy an evening out sans the frightful bar tab.

They’re common along the Atlantic coastline, these BYOBs. So common in fact, that my newly acquired curiouser mind had me surfing the Web to find out if responsibility and liability went hand-in-hand with, as Lady Gaga says, “sippin’ the bub.”

Not only are liquor licenses required but BYOB establishments need city permits or “bottle club” licenses. The varying legalese is mind-boggling, but as Joe the bartender in Lil’s neck of the woods told her, once you have a permit the restaurant isn’t responsible. In other words, personal responsibility reigns supreme.

Many restaurants provide their BYOB patrons with glasses, ice and wine chilling expertise. Some charge a “corkage fee” which varies from reasonable to outlandish depending on locale.

Wine is the BYOB’s bring-with choice and it’s common courtesy, according to Lil, to order dinner. “We enjoy a great meal without wiping out the piggy,” she explained. “I’ve never seen anyone plastered. That’s why BYOBs are popular.”

Lil’s right. A quick Internet search shows BYOB restaurants have proliferated throughout the country; instead of restaurateurs lamenting over a cellar of unsold wine, they’ve embraced this concept as a way to get people in the seats and spending more on appetizers, main courses and desserts.

Although Florida, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and numerous points beyond are BYOB abundant, I wondered how our own Evergreen State fared.

According to urbanspoon.com, there are eight BYOB restaurants scattered around Western and Central Washington and three in Spokane – a bakery, café and espresso shop. It’s possible area restaurants haven’t jumped on the wagon because they depend on bar tab revenue whereas the Eastern seaboard eateries have shifted their revenue focus to improving their menus.

With the economy such as it is, perhaps a few BYOB restaurants and bistros would be a good idea. The city’s coffers would increase with bottle club license fees and restaurants could potentially see a significant uptick in their customer base.

It’s rumored, however, that folks around here rarely aspire to trendsetting and enjoy the status quo. Let’s dispel that rumor.

Voices correspondent Sandra Babcock can be reached by email at Sandi30@comcast.net. Previous columns are available at spokesman.com/columnists/.

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