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September 22, 2004

'Waiter, I'd like a doggie-bag - for my wine.'


Excellent article by Katy McLaughlin in today's Wall Street Journal about the little-known fact that in most states, it's perfectly legal to re-cork wine you've ordered at a restaurant and take it home.

The law is crystal-clear in 27 states that it's OK.

Seven others have no statewide law that addresses the issue.

Here's the story.

Getting Your Bordeaux to Go

New Laws Let Diners Take Leftover Wine Home; Stashing the Bag in the Trunk

It's the perfect ending to an elegant evening out at a restaurant: Lugging the leftover wine home in a paper bag.

For years, it's been illegal in most states for restaurants to send unfinished bottles of wine out the door with customers who bought them.

But a wave of recent legal changes is making it possible in an increasing number of states.

The latest state to jump on the doggie-bag bandwagon: New York state, which put its new law into effect less than two weeks ago.

This summer, Colorado adopted such a law, and last year, Connecticut, Utah, Hawaii and Pennsylvania all put similar statutes into effect.

A doggie-bag bill is pending in Massachusetts, and liquor-authority staff members in a handful of other states say they expect more such laws will soon be proposed.

The upshot: Though many restaurant-goers don't know it, 27 states, from California to Texas and Vermont, now allow people to re-cork their wine and take it home.

Seven other states have no statewide law that addresses the issue, making it a gray area in some places - though it is forbidden by local ordinances in others.

The legal changes are partly an effort to curb drunken driving.

Letting diners take home unfinished wine removes some of the pressure to finish a bottle at the table before getting behind the wheel.

Restaurant associations in various states have also lobbied for the changes.

Their hope is that customers will be more willing to order bottles of wine (a profit center for restaurants) if they're free to leave with any leftovers.

That's welcome news for wine lovers like Andrew Pollock, a New York architect who regularly orders a full bottle of wine when dining out with his wife - but then feels compelled to polish the whole thing off.

"I always make sure I drink it, even if I have to stagger home," says Mr. Pollock.

Considering the markup on restaurant wine, "it would drive me nuts to leave a bottle" unfinished on the table, he says.

However, just because it's legal to doggie-bag that Chianti, doesn't mean every restaurant automatically allows it.

It's usually voluntary for the restaurant to participate, and some opt out amid concerns they could be liable if a driver toting wine home had a drinking-related accident.

In addition, in some states, the rules vary by city or county.

To avoid misunderstandings at the end of the meal, consumers should ask a restaurant about its policy before ordering.

Some states, including Texas, Connecticut, North Carolina and Utah, require restaurants to offer the doggie-bag option.

But even some of these laws don't explicitly say that restaurants will be punished if they don't allow it.

And in Florida, restaurants need a combination of permits to doggie-bag wine, but few restaurants have them.

In other states, your rights are less clear.

There's nothing on the books to say you can't take it with you in West Virginia, for example.

However, state law makes it illegal to have an open bottle of alcohol in any public place, which means theoretically you could be in violation of the law while walking through the parking lot to your car.

Because of open-container laws - which prohibit people from having open bottles or cans of alcoholic drinks in the passenger area of their cars - it's a good idea (and the law in some places) to stash the bottle in the trunk for the drive home.

Most doggie-bag statutes have been written with open-container laws in mind.

For instance, some require restaurants to reseal and repackage opened wine so carefully you would think people are transporting radioactive material.

Arizona's law says that the wine cork has to be reinserted so fully that the top of the cork is flush with the lip of the bottle.

A spokesman for the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control acknowledges that can be impossible and says this requirement isn't strictly enforced.

New York's law requires restaurants to reseal or recork the wine, place it in a "one-time-use tamper-proof transparent bag," and then securely seal the bag.

It may take time for the changes to fully take effect.

On a visit to Locanda Vini and Olli, an Italian restaurant in Brooklyn on Sept. 10 - one day after the New York state doggie-bag law took effect - the restaurant told a group of diners they couldn't take home wine leftovers.

Catherine de Zagon, a co-owner, says that her attorney advised her not to let customers take out wine until October since the police might not be aware of the change in law.

She adds that, since New York law doesn't require restaurants to allow doggie-bags for wine, she may continue to forbid them.

Montrachet, a New York City restaurant with a 1,400-bottle wine list, also isn't yet letting customers carry out wine, because the restaurant says the state hadn't yet informed them exactly how the wine was to be resealed.

But they say they intend to allow doggie bags in the near future.

The New York State Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control says all the information is available on its Web site and that restaurants can immediately begin offering the doggie-bag option.

September 22, 2004 at 09:01 PM | Permalink


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» Go on, put a cork in it. from Metroblogging Boston
To alleviate some confusion: It may soon be legal in Massachusetts for restaurant patrons to take home unused portions of wine from dinner. Being in the restaurant business, I always hate to be the jerk that says, "no, sir or... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 26, 2005 4:28:23 PM


Please inform me about the law in California regarding taking opened wine bottles home. I believe you can if they are fully corked. Please let me know. Thank you.

Posted by: Robert Hilton | Jul 11, 2008 1:47:56 AM

where can we get decales for restaurant door or windows that state we are able to take home wine bottles

Posted by: lynda brolin | Jul 18, 2006 8:18:48 PM

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