Published on : Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Despite decades of popularity and expansion, one quintessential Philadelphia dining phenomenon continues to fly deliciously under the radar. It’s the BYOB, the bring-your-own-bottle restaurant—BYO, for short.
Typically independently owned and operated, Philly’s BYOBs number into the three hundreds.
Diners find them on dozens of corners in Center City, along avenues of renewed urban neighborhoods and tucked down rural roads. It’s a curious trend with an interesting backstory—and an even more interesting present.
Here’s a short explanation of how the BYOB scene came to be—and advice on navigating the landscape.
What Is A BYOB?:
A BYOB restaurant allows patrons to bring their own wine, spirit or beer of choice to accompany their meals. There are BYOBs where patrons bring precious stock from well-attended wine cellars—or six- packs of light beer. Some restaurants prep their own mixers for spirits: It’s not unusual to see a customer toting along a bottle of tequila to blend with a pitcher of just-pressed mango juice.
There are a few reasons the region is so rich in BYOBs. One is, local liquor licenses can be hard to come by (expensive, time-consuming), especially for restaurateurs just starting out. Another is, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania controls all in-state liquor sales, which means both restaurants and everyday consumers pay the same price for a bottle (or case) of wine. So, area restaurants with liquor licenses often struggle to price alcohol reasonably.
From the consumer’s standpoint, the BYOB evolved from necessity to novelty to all-out phenomenon for more than mere economic reasons. Sure, diners like spending less on merlot and Manhattans, but they also like that at a BYOB, the focus is entirely on the food. The chef, who often owns the place, doesn’t have to deal with operating a bar, in addition to a kitchen.