Pssst… Hey, you.
Yeah you, bub. I see you have an unfinished bottle of wine there on your table.
Well, the wife and I were…
Shut it pal. That is, if you know what’s good for ya. I got a way you can take that tasty wine home with you, if you can be quiet about it. Can you be quiet about it?
Uh, yes sir… You’re not going to hurt me are you?
What did I JUST say?
Ok – here. See this clear tamperproof bag? Get your server to recork that bad boy and seal this thing up. Walk outta here all cool and collected, put it in your car, take it home and enjoy. No muss, no fuss, see?
But, isn’t that still illegal in Chicago?
Look pal, do I look like a guy that would steer you wrong?
Fair enough. But, everybody’s doin it. Are you a man or a chump?
I guess…I’m a man?
I thought so. That’ll be fifty cents.
Tired of asking for wine doggie bags like they were dime bags? OK, probably not.
But the recent Cork and Carry Law passed in Illinois has left restauranteurs and consumers with plenty of questions. As of January 1st of this year, it is perfectly legal for Illinois restaurants to offer their guests an approved wine “doggie bag” for the purpose of taking home their unfinished wine.
I find this to be a sensible law all around. Restaurants sell more wine by the bottle and make a bit more cash. Consumers get a better deal as buying wine by the bottle is always more economical than ordering by the glass, plus they have a better selection to choose from. But best of all, this discourages folks from chugging the end of an expensive bottle and then getting behind the wheel. While groups like MADD have no official position on laws of this type, I think common sense dictates that this encourages responsible consumption.
Rep. John Fritchey, the Illinois Representative who proposed this bill, was quoted in the Chicago Tribune noting, “The legislation is unique because its one of those rare bills that is simultaneously pro-business and pro-consumer.” Other than a few hand wringing busy bodies who oppose anything involving booze or fun, this is a universally supported bill. Which is why I found it so weird that Chicago restaurants weren’t jumping on this opportunity and advertising that they offer cork and carry service?
Turns out, while the bill was passed for the state of Illinois, the “Merlot to Go” law is still illegal in Chicago. It seems that there was an existing law on the books for the City of Chicago that prohibits any patron from removing “leftover” wine or any alcoholic beverage from a restaurant, essentially violating the “open container” laws. Even though the state says the practice is a-ok, something in the legal world called “home rule” takes precedence. The more restrictive ordinance prevails in the local community; hence the wine doggie bags are technically illegal within the city limits.
However, as Chicago folk generally don’t like silly laws to get in the way of good commerce, lots and lots of restaurants are offering the wine to go service. They’re just quiet about it. I called several prominent restaurant companies and fine dining spots and asked if they had the bags in stock. The answers were generally, “Of course!” “Yes, we do!” “Sure thing!” But when I asked if I could quote them on it, I got “not a chance”.
Frustrated by the whole situation, I called my alderman’s office and asked who I needed to lobby to get the whole thing cleared up. The kind and helpful folks in Dick Mell’s office and the crew with Rep. Fritchey’s office directed me to a helpful civil servant named Stan Hollenbeck. After a quick chat, he agreed to investigate the situation for me at the next city council meeting. Mr. Hollenbeck called me this morning (Feb 7th) and said, “Guess what bill we’re ratifying today!”
So, it is my pleasure to report that according to Stan Hollenbeck, Chief Research and Information Officer for the City Council of the City of Chicago, “the bill will be ratified today. It takes about thirty days to publish, so probably by the next City Council meeting in mid March, it will be official.” There you have it! Huzzah! I encourage you to donate a little cash to support re-election of these folks when the time comes.
In the meantime, I think it’s pretty safe for restaurants to be open about their policy. I don’t think Chicago’s finest are going to bother themselves policing exact dates of compliance regarding wine baggies. But before you start demanding your wine takhomasaks, you should know the particulars.
1. A restaurant MAY allow a patron to take home leftover wine. They don’t have to.
2. Some portion of the wine must be consumed in the restaurant with a meal.
3. The bottle must be resealed by an employee of the restaurant.
4. The recorked bottle must be sealed in a clear and tamperproof bag.
5. The restaurant must supply the customer a receipt for the wine that shows its date of purchase.
That’s the basics. If you want to read the official legalese, you can get it here.
So, what’s up with these official bags? The most prominent manufacturer of multi-state compliant bags is WineDoggyBag.com. They offer a variety of bags and marketing tools for restaurants like menu stickers and table tents that let the diner know about legal cork and carry service. They also sell direct to consumers, with a minimum order of just 25 bags. So, if you are a regular wine and diner, you could purchase some for yourself in case your favorite restaurant doesn’t carry them.
The folks in the burbs are already loving this new law. According to Belinda Chang, Corporate Director of Wine and Spirits for Cenitare “Out here in Wheeling, we can do whatever we want,” she quips with a smile. “We offer the wine doggie bags with the Osteria di Tramonto logo and neat little card that has my phone number. They can call and ask questions about the wine they enjoyed or proper storage.” Ms. Chang tells me the program has been a hit and lots of folks have already called and asked for her savvy advice. The other nice thing is that “most of our clients are local…Northbrook, Highland Park, Wheeling…and very conscious of the fact that they will be driving home. Now our guests know they can order a great bottle of wine and enjoy it responsibly.” Amen to that sister.
So, next time a server offers, “Can I wrap that for you?” You can confidently say, “Yes, and the wine too, please.” Just leave the Sweet N Low packets on the table. Pocketing condiments, while not illegal, is still tacky