A 20c coin weaves its way down the restaurant table, getting passed over the lamb korma and around the naan.
While the birthday boy empties his wine bottle into a glass, his friend drops the coin into his cup and starts chanting.
“We like to drink with Isaac cos Isaac is our mate. And when we drink with Isaac he gets it down in eight.”
Isaac laughs and sculls the wine well before the countdown ends, earning a cheer from the table.
For a lot of young people, BYO restaurants are the go-to place to celebrate birthdays, go out for a work party or catch up with mates.
And the experience has little to do with the food.
It’s cheaper to bring your own wine to a BYO than to order it at a restaurant
‘BYO’ restaurants allow you to ‘bring your own’ wine by paying a corkage fee.
Corkage helps cover the costs of glasses, service, cleaning and their BYO licence.
Mark Davison is a 20-year-old university graduate living in Wellington who says he goes to a BYO every two or three weeks.
He usually brings one bottle of wine with him that costs $11-13 from the supermarket.
It’s a lot cheaper than buying all those glasses individually at a restaurant.
Let’s do some maths.
If Mark went to Masala, an Indian BYO in central Wellington, he would pay $8.90 in corkage.
If he took a $11 bottle of wine with him, his total spending on alcohol would be about $20.
If a bottle of wine contains 6 glasses, one glass would cost Mark $3.33.
Masala’s cheapest wine is $8 a glass, meaning Mark would save at least $4.70 per glass by bringing his own wine.
What makes a good BYO?
In Mark’s books, a good BYO has a great atmosphere and is full of other young people.
“You want to have the same mentality as the people dining around you,” Mark says.
Tanya says a good BYO is big and cheap – somewhere you can get a main dish for $20 or under.
Both Tanya and Mark say it’s important for BYOs to be centrally located.
Mark grew up in Tauranga and says you couldn’t get drunk at a BYO there because you had to drive to another location to party.
He’s noticed BYOs are more popular in central Wellington because of their proximity to other bars and clubs.
Does food matter?
Not really, according to university student Tanya Narayan.
“I’m going to a BYO to sit around and drink with my mates and the food is a bonus,” the 23 year old says.
Mark says going to a BYO does compel you to eat a full meal before a night of drinking – something young people aren’t always good at.
Why are BYOs so popular with young people?
Tanya says it’s because they’re an affordable way to make a fun event out of an otherwise standard night of drinking.
“Sometimes I don’t want to just go to a flat and drink, I want to go out with my mates and dress up and make it a bigger deal.”
Compared to regular restaurants, going to BYOs gives Tanya a sense of “freedom” and an “opportunity to get rowdy”.
Mark says BYOs are a way to kick start an evening of partying.
“The energy is different … I find I have great conversations at BYOs because they’re so lively.”
The cost of attending – and owning – a BYO
Tanya goes to a BYO about once a month and typically spends $40 – that includes a meal, a bottle of wine, and corkage.
At his regular BYO spots, Mark pays $17-22 for a main dish and roughly $5 for corkage.
BYO owner Patita Sumthont says she finds it hard to make a profit from selling food to young customers because they don’t have much money to spend.
Her Auckland restaurant PokPok has a $25 minimum spend on food per customer. Patita says she is a little flexible but requires customers to order a certain amount of food if they are drinking.
Monty Patel owns Masala and has been in the BYO business since 1999.
He says Masala has a minimum spend during its peak months that is equivalent to the price of one curry, but he doesn’t enforce it.
“We have to pay high rent and high wages. So when people come and occupy a seat but buy very little, I just encourage them to keep in mind next time that the restaurant needs to make money.”
How do BYO owners feel about their younger customers?
Monty estimates about 50% of his customers at Masala are under the age of 30.
He says he loves his customers and doesn’t mind when they get loud.
I can vouch for this. The last time I went to Masala, it was my friend Isaac’s birthday. Monty brought out a complimentary kulfi with a candle stuck in it and hand-fed it to Isaac while the rest of us sang loudly.
“People want to enjoy themselves when they come to my restaurant. I’m in an entertainment industry, people come for good food and a good time,” Monty says.
He likes the fact that his customers can bring in their own choice of wine and aren’t restricted to the options he stocks.
“People who can’t afford to pay heaps at a restaurant for wine, they bring a bottle to my restaurant and they’re happy,” Monty says.
Keeping people happy comes with responsibility.
At PokPok, many young customers come in large groups of 10-30 people which makes them harder for Patita to look after.
“Sometimes if there’s two birthdays happening at the same time it can be too much.”
Patita says her restaurant would like to sell more alcohol but because her young customers get intoxicated from the alcohol they bring, that isn’t an option.
“We look out for them if they’re drunk and ask them if they want more food or water,” Patita says.
Disregarding restaurant etiquette
Restaurant etiquette often gets thrown out the window at BYOs.
I’ve seen people scream into karaoke mics, dance on chairs, run around and break many glasses.
One 21-year-old Christchurch man, who wanted to stay anonymous to protect his privacy, says his friend group would conduct challenges at BYOs.
Challenges included: finishing your wine bottle before the food arrived, eating your food without cutlery, giving a speech to the restaurant, and doing a shoey.
In one instance, he attended a BYO with a group of 40 people. He says they got kicked out “when someone took one of the lobsters out of the tank”.
Patita says her older customers prefer to come in on weekdays to avoid young groups that dine on the weekend.
Are BYOs forever?
Tanya thinks she’ll grow out of going to BYOs in a few years.
She’s moving into a phase of her life where she hosts more dinner parties and potlucks at home.
Mark is entering his “yo-pro” years and sees himself continuing to enjoy BYOs for the foreseeable future.
“Once I get to the point where I don’t want to drink a bottle of wine by myself, that’ll be the killer.”