BYO deserves more respect

New Jersey is lousy place to live if you’re a wine drinker, according to a state-by-state report card issued last month by the American Wine Consumer Coalition (AWCC).

My state of residence earned a D+, based on six criteria, and a #28 ranking (as did the other prongs of the Tri-State Area, New York and Connecticut).

(By the way, the AWCC gave seven states an A+ and a #1 ranking: California, D.C., Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon and Virginia.)

But New Jersey’s poor showing is due in part to the relative weights assigned to the study’s six criteria, and there I beg to differ with the methodology. This state is a BYO mecca, yet that benchmark is weighted next-to-last in this study.

brown bag2

As the report, “Consuming Concerns,” explains, AWCC surveyed 1,000 wine drinkers around the country to identify the key parameters on which to judge a state’s responsiveness to their interests. That survey further enabled AWCC to rank the six in importance, from most to least, and rate each state according to its laws around each parameter:

Ability to have wine shipped to their home from any winery

  1. No State monopoly on the sale of wine
  2. Ability to have wine shipped to their home from any wine retailer
  3. Ability to purchase wine on Sundays
  4. Ability to bring their own wine into a restaurant to drink with their meal (BYO)
  5. Ability to purchase wine in grocery stores

Really, is BYO that low on the priority list for most people? Maybe if you haven’t experienced its joys (and financial benefits!) you don’t know what you’re missing.

New Jersey is no paradise for restaurateurs, because it restricts the number of liquor licenses available, thus driving up their price. The result is a number of excellent dining establishments that cannot sell alcohol. (And even many licensed restaurants let customers bring their own by paying a corkage.)

But what’s bad for a restaurant owner is a boon for customers. For serious wine connoisseurs and collectors, BYO restaurants are prime locations to open a special or long-cellared bottle not found on a typical wine list or, if it is, that carries an exorbitant price tag. For average customers who may not be wine experts but nevertheless enjoy having decent wine with dinner, BYO establishments allow them to bring a bottle from home or a neighborhood wine shop, paying a fraction of what that wine would cost on a restaurant list.

In fact, rather than being inhospitable to restaurants, I’m willing to bet that BYO-friendly states like New Jersey result in more dinners out rather than less, because each meal with a BYO wine saves the diner $20 and up.

I can live with a D+ if it comes with BYO rights.

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