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Like many New Jerseyans, I frequently find myself defending my home state’s virtues—proximity to mountains and our glorious shoreline, cultural attractions and thriving ethnic neighborhoods, and a fabulous food culture and restaurant scene. And where there is such diversity and such a plethora of great food, the availability of great wine naturally follows.
New Jersey offers a special boon for wine-loving restaurant-goers—a wonderful BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) scene—thanks to the state’s antiquated liquor laws, which have historically limited the number of “on-premise” licenses issued in the nation’s most densely populated state.
I sometimes take for granted the luxury of enjoying a bottle of wine while dining out that doesn’t cost me triple or even quadruple the price of what I might pay at retail. Occasionally, I am snapped out of this complacency by a night out in Manhattan where I can pay upwards of $12 for a glass of wine—in other words, roughly the starting cost for a decent bottle at retail.
New Jersey liquor laws have a specific clause that permits customers of unlicensed restaurants to consume their own wine and beer unless there is a local ordinance prohibiting it. Legally, no cover, corkage, or service charge can be imposed. Other “nuances” in the law—for example, the times of day during which these activities are allowed, are patently ignored.
The law allows the restaurant to supply the glasses and in my experience, the wait staff (whether they are legally permitted to or not) opens the bottles, even stopping by the table periodically to refill glasses or to check that the ice bucket they have supplied is adequately chilled.
This is an arrangement so wholly reasonable and civilized that it might help the outsider to “fuggetabout” whatever preconceived notions they once had about New Jersey.
A 25-year veteran of the wine and hospitality industry, George Staikos is known for his role as an educator, sharing his passion for wine appreciation. He is the founder and president of the Educated Grape, a company specializing in interactive education programs and in-home wine entertaining for wine enthusiasts and companies. He is a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s International School of Hospitality Management, where he teaches “Introduction to the Study of Wine.” He is also Vice Echanson or regional wine director for the mid-Atlantic region for the Chaine des Rotisseurs, a worldwide food-and-wine organization.
Staikos is a graduate of Florida International University in Miami with a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management. He is married with three children and lives in Flemington.