How do you drink your beer? A silly question to ask but usually the answer would be either from a glass, or straight from the bottle or can. It doesn’t really matter sometimes how you drink your beer, though of course, if you want to really appreciate the aroma and taste of the beer, then glassware usually helps, as well as serving the beer at the right temperature, but let’s be honest, we don’t always have the time for that.
In theory, what you get from the bottle should be the same product that you get on tap, depending on whether if it has been stored in a cool, dark place though that can’t always be guaranteed. Moreover, with beers ranging in strength from 2% to upwards of 14%, you might not want a pint of the stuff, especially if you have plans, so a bottle would seem a logical choice. A smaller size, for a fraction of the price that can be spread among friends that you want to share with.
Perhaps you have bought said beer and want to share it – no one really wants to share beer from the same bottle as your friends have drunk from, no matter how close you are. So you want some glasses – it makes sense to get some and share out equally. However, as soon as you open that bottle, you’ve got to pay a fee, sometimes known as a bottle opening fee, or a corkage fee if you’re more familiar with wine.
Hang on a minute – you’ve just spent perhaps 2000yen on a bottle of beer – something that was sold on the premises, and now you have to pay for it to be opened? I’ve got my own bottle opener so surely I can just open it myself? Nope, you have to pay to get some glasses. Some places we’ve seen charge anywhere between 100yen to 1000yen for opening a bottle, depending on either the size of the beer or sometimes the price of the beer.
Of course, if you’re using the bar’s services, such as cups then surely the price could be included in the beer. Hey, you’ve just bought a bottle of beer from the store and a little plastic cup would be great to drink it from in the store. The cup can be thrown away and cuts down on washing up. If you want a glass to drink from, then you could either bring your own or pay a bit extra to get on from the store.
Why does it exist? Money. Profit. Bottle fees are used to dissuade customers from bringing in their own bottles of drinks, which in the past were usually bottles of wine, and then expecting the same kind of service from the waiters and sommeliers, essentially for free. Restaurants usually make profit on selling glasses, or even bottles, of wine and are a valuable source of income for them. Moreover, the licensing laws from country to country vary, and as a result, owning a liquor license and also a license to sell beer to be drunk off-premises are not one and the same, and thus require more money to be spent in obtaining the licenses.
Bars can, and often, make a fair amount of money on a keg of beer versus a bottle of beer. One brewery we came across charges 15,000yen for 15L keg of beer. Now a bar could easily sell 470ml of that for 1,000yen, perhaps even 1,200yen, and using the upper end, would produce an income of 23,000 yen at the upper range but then let’s be realistic about it – expenses have to be paid, such as salaries, rent, bills, and so on.
However, and this is what convinced me to write about bottle charges, what to do if the beer isn’t on tap or you have some plastic cups? One of my usual places I go to escape from my family (though they totally know where I am) is Antenna America. I’ve bumped into a few people there and shared bottled beers from them. And there is no bottle charge as the prices include some profit margins. As such, I’m more inclined to buy more bottles to drink in and share, especially the more expensive bottles of 2 or 3,000yen. Which means I need to eat – well I ALWAYS need to eat but that’s a different story altogether.
It looks like bottle charges are going to become more common as bars need to find new avenues to improve upon profit margins. While some bars may include the fee into the cost of the beer, I wonder if some places will add it on later?