Looking for new ways to boost your bottom line? Do you offer alcohol at your restaurant? What if guests could bring their own?

Allowing your customers to drink alcoholic beverages makes them happy. Whether you offer a full-service bar or not, offering a BYOB policy in your restaurant can be a win-win situation.

Based on your restaurant location, the local laws on alcohol consumption vary. But, because of the expense of liquor licenses, restaurants are turning to offer BYOB. In this situation, your guests have a good time, and your restaurant cashes in at the same time.

What Is BYOB?

You may have received a party or barbecue invitation with the BYOB acronym on them. If you aren’t sure what it means, “BYOB” is short for “bring your own bottle” or “booze.” If a restaurant has a BYOB policy, the establishment allows guests to bring in their own alcohol.

A BYOB restaurant isn’t as self-explanatory and straightforward as it sounds. Why’s that? Because these establishments can offer different levels of service for BYOB.

In a typical BYOB restaurant, the eatery serves only non-alcoholic beverages and food. Guests can then bring their beer, liquor, or wine and pour their own alcoholic drinks. Check your local laws for restrictions on what type of alcohol your guests can bring in.

Usually, restaurants may provide glassware but do not handle guests’ alcohol at all. Although, we wanted to share a couple of different approaches to this.

Here are some alternatives to the traditional hands-off BYOB policy:

1. Complete the Drink

The first spin on a traditional BYOB restaurant is an establishment that “completes” the drink. It provides guests with the tools needed to create an alcoholic beverage. In cases where you allow spirits, offer mixers and garnishes like olives or fruit twists. This is a fun opportunity to provide guests with “build your own mimosa” if they bring champagne. This type of eatery offers all the things necessary for guests to act like their table’s own bartender.

2. Full-Service Optional

Like the first alternative, this BYOB restaurant completes the drink, but at the table. Servers can offer a full-service option to their guests and would pour their alcohol for them. If this is the accepted option, the alcohol containers are generally left on the table.

3. Full-Service

This type of hybrid BYOB restaurant is quite like the one discussed above. The key difference between the two is how the alcohol a guest brings in is presented. In this situation, customers give their alcohol to a restaurant employee upon arrival. Then, servers will deliver alcohol to the appropriate table as if the guest chose it from the drink or wine list.

4. Corkage Fee

The fourth hybrid BYOB restaurant can be any one of the three mentioned above. But, this policy is different from the others relating to its fees. This type of eatery adds a “corkage fee” to the bill of diners who bring in their own beer, wine, or spirits. A corkage fee is what a person must pay to enjoy the privilege of drinking alcohol at the restaurant. Establishments usually assess corkage fees on a per bottle basis.

How Is BYOB Beneficial to Restaurants?

Having a BYOB status can be beneficial for restaurants in some meaningful ways. The most significant benefit of running a BYOB restaurant is saving money. Liquor licenses or permits may have six-figure price tags and vary by location. This puts them out of the reach of many restaurateurs.

If your restaurant implements BYOB, you can use that saved money and invest it in other aspects of your business. Finally, upgrade your kitchen equipment or remodel your dining room.

On top of saving you money upfront, BYOB can benefit your establishment in the following ways:

1. Enables Guests to Connect With Your Restaurant

As a general rule, successful restaurants are eateries that connect with their customers. If you offer BYOB, this will allow servers to spend some more time at the table engaging with your guests. This is an excellent opportunity to ask questions such as if it’s their first time with you or celebrating anything. If a customer brings in a nice bottle of wine, sometimes there’s a backstory to it. Ask, listen, and connect with your guests over drinks.

2. Provides Chances to Make Specific Recommendations

Restaurants that offer BYOB give servers the chance to make specific product recommendations. If a guest brought in a bottle of pinot noir, they could recommend a creamy pasta dish. Based on the alcohol they bring in, up-sell and gear your guests towards dishes that will pair well.

If guests let the host know ahead of time what kind of alcohol they are bringing, make a note of it. Vice versa, if you are running new specials that night, the host can suggest what would alcohol would pair best. Servers should always check the reservation notes and begin to think of complementary dishes.

3. Offers a Chance to Distinguish Your Business From Competitors

Take a look at your competitors and see what kind of bar service they offer. If you offer BYOB and they don’t, your restaurant will stand out against its competition.

Dining at a BYOB establishment offers a different shareable experience. Many people seek out locations across the country that offer this service.

4. Allows You to Create Classic and Signature Mixers

BYOB restaurants have the opportunity to create classic and signature mixers for guests. For example, if a customer wants an old fashioned, you can provide bitters and orange simple syrup.

For guests that enjoy other kinds of spirits, make mixers that you can’t find elsewhere. Explain to your guests that all your mixers and made fresh in-house.

These craft recipes will help you stand out against your competitors. Examples such as cucumber or hibiscus and citrus both pair well with gin and tequila. Make sure your mixers complement the food you serve in your restaurant.

5. Breeds Culinary Creativity

BYOB restaurants don’t enjoy the margins typically associated with traditional alcohol service. Take other alternatives to make up for the money other establishments earn.

One way to do this is by serving creative fare that your competitors don’t offer. You can create a rotating menu that shows off the best seasonal ingredient or a specific type of cuisine. Being a BYOB restaurant allows you to have more room for creativity with the food you serve.

6. Makes the Cost of Eating out More Manageable

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the typical American household spends $3,365 on food away from home every year. They also report that Americans spend 1% of their gross income on alcohol. That translates into an annual expenditure of about $565 per year.

Going out to eat can be cost-prohibitive for some diners as specialty cocktail prices rise. Help your guests’ dollars go further by allowing them to BYOB. A BYOB policy can make dining at your restaurant more affordable and approachable.

7. Lowers Inventory Costs

Allowing people to bring their own alcohol makes the cost of eating out easier for many people. It can also help you keep your inventory costs in line.

When you have a bar—limited or full-service—you must carry an inventory of alcohol. This can tie up valuable cash until it sells. If your restaurant is BYOB, you’ll be able to invest that money in other areas of your business or keep it in the bank.

8. Creates the Opportunity for an Additional Revenue Stream

If you run a BYOB establishment and you’re not already charging a corkage fee, you may want to put one in place. Implementing one will help establish a new revenue stream.

Some corkage fees are a few dollars per bottle, while others might be a little more pricey. The key is to determine a corkage fee your customers will be able and willing to pay.

BYOB During COVID

As many restaurants are trying to recover from the loss of sales during COVID, offering BYOB can help you in this process. Being a BYOB restaurant is a selling point, and you can use it to encourage more guests to come in. 

During COVID, there were many restrictions on how bartenders could make cocktails and how servers could handle drinks, such as: 

  • No squeezing fresh citrus
  • No fresh herbs at the bar
  • No garnishes
  • No pouring wine except for opening the bottle and first pour

How do we know these restrictions won’t return? When cocktails can’t be served with garnishes or fresh citrus, the drinks often don’t taste as authentic as they should. Garnishes enhance the cocktails, giving them more flavor, and guests happen to be particular about them. 

COVID changed operations to reduce contact, and currently, servers should only opening a bottle of wine for guests and pour the first glass for them. After the first pour, the bottle is left on the table or in an ice bucket for guests to handle themselves until finished. By not continuously pouring wine for customers, it does take away from the guest experience. But if it was BYOB, they are paying less than what they would if they purchased the bottle through you, and it is more acceptable.  

Does your restaurant have a space for private events? One way to promote BYOB during COVID is by letting guests know they can bring their own alcohol when they book a private event with you. Having a space where customers can enjoy themselves in a private setting can help them feel safe while going out to eat.

When your guests bring in wine or their own beverages of choice, provide the glassware, and if they would like your staff to open the bottles, bring a sanitary wipe to clean it before handling. Let the guests know they will have to manage the pouring throughout their meal to help reduce contact, keeping them and your staff safe. 

Things to Consider Before Implementing a BYOB Policy

First, figure out whether it’s possible to have a BYOB policy in your establishment.

The rules that govern alcohol service vary from one state to another and between locales. Some states need a restaurant to have a license to sell and serve alcohol on its premises. Others might enforce a license or permit that allows guests to consume alcohol on site.

Once you have your license or permit, you’ll need to determine the type of BYOB eatery you want to have. Will you allow your guests to bring in wine only, or will you permit them to bring in liquor as well? Is your restaurant going to be 100 percent BYOB, or will you sell alcoholic drinks too?

After you determine your policy, think about your restaurant’s insurance. If you don’t plan on selling your own alcohol, you might not need the same coverage as a full-service bar. Liquor liability insurance is a must. But, BYOB restaurants are more of a social host rather than licensed servers.

Social hosts aren’t held liable for as many things as licensed servers can be. But, they still need the appropriate type and level of liquor liability insurance. Find a knowledgeable insurance agent who is familiar with BYOB restaurant requirements. Your staff should also be adequately trained on the responsibility of serving alcohol.

Lastly, make sure that your restaurant is still abiding by COVID guidelines and check your local liquor laws to see if BYOB is possible during this time.

Get Started

Get your policies in place, and let your guests have a good time.

To catch up more on the latest drink trends and what’s in store for this new year, download our Restaurant Trends 2021 Guide. Our guide goes in-depth on the current food and drinks trends, consumer expectations with COVID, and more.