Last Saturday, we had plans to meet Chicago friends in Oak Park for dinner followed by the David Broza concert at the Oak Park Temple. Our friends wanted to grab dinner before the show and asked if we could meet at Jerusalem Café, which is one of my favorite local places.
It was Saturday night, and so a little wine with dinner seemed in order. I called Jerusalem Café and asked if we could bring a bottle. They said Sure. I was actually a little surprised to hear that it was okay to bring beer and wine, as there’s no sign in the window nor notice on their menu saying it was okay. Plus, there’s no corkage fee, which is always appreciated.
Similarly, when we were shooting a recent episode of “You Really Should Eat This” at Luo’s Peking House, I asked if it was okay to bring wine or beer to dinner there, and was told Yes. Bringing alcoholic beverages would be okay and, no, there was no corkage fee there, either.
Wine and beer always drive up the cost of dinner significantly: it’s not uncommon for restaurants to mark up the price of a beer or glass of wine by three times: a two-buck beer ends up costing $6 and an industry rule of thumb is for a glass of wine to be priced at roughly equivalent cost of the entire bottle. No kidding.
Though both Jerusalem Café and Luo’s Peking House let you bring a bottle to dinner, this BYOB policy is unadvertised. In Chicago, if a place is BYOB, you can expect it to be advertised in the front windows, on the website and on the menu – because it’s a huge economic advantage to customers.
Perhaps the reluctance to advertise the BYOB policy reflects a temperate sensibility that goes back to Oak Park’s dry days, before we had a bar (Louie) with a neon cocktail sign on Lake Street. But being able to bring your own beer or wine to dinner is an undeniable advantage to customers, and I’d encourage Jerusalem Café, Luo’s and others to make their secret BYOB policy more public. It can only attract more customers.