Passive aggressive BYO policy

Whilst in the impressive wine section of M&S Lewisham on Sunday, I marvelled that such riches were available on Lewisham High Street when all around were pound shops and stalls were you can unlock your or indeed someone else’s mobile phone. I assume someone must be buying the Greek whites and Lebanese reds or they wouldn’t stock them. I returned home and read Nicholas Lander in the FT/ One of the restaurants he mentioned was a place that has opened not far from Lewisham called Peckham Bazaar. I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting a bit of it:

“John Gionleka is the Albanian-born chef at Peckham Bazaar. His repertoire extends, however, across the cooking of his native country to Turkey, Greece and Iran and he is ably supported by his sommelier, Florian Siepert , who has carefully put together an unusual wine list from Greece, Croatia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Hungary and Turkey.”

Sounds good doesn’t it? About my two favourite things are grilled Ottoman things and East European/ Levantine wines so immediately I went to their website to find out more.

On it was the following statement:

“Free BYO Saturday lunch only. Please no supermarket wine. Please.”

No supermarket wine. Seems on odd sort of instruction. I love the second ‘please’ as if even the idea that someone might argue with them is too painful to contemplate. You can see the owners closing their eyes and shaking their heads wearily as they utter these words. It’s not going to be an easy one to police. When someone comes in with a bottle of Wolf Blass Chardonnay are they going to be given a grilling (pun intended) about whether they bought it from a cornershop or the local Tesco’s Metro?

It’s hard to know why they have this instruction. Is it on aesthetic grounds? Would a bottle of commercial Malbec upset their carefully constructed flavours? I rather think though it’s on ethical grounds perhaps with a side order of snobbery thrown in. The owners think that supermarkets are a bad thing.

I don’t want to get into an argument about the ethics of supermarkets. On the whole I think they’re a good thing for the customer. Moreover, people like them. I’d say that nearly 100% of Peckham Bazaar’s potential clientele are supermarket shoppers. If they want to serve all the local community rather than just the dedicated foodies then they are going to have to put up with people who don’t share their views on supermarkets.

And this is the odd thing about it: they’re trying to impose their personal morality on their customers. It’s like a vegetarian restaurant not letting people in who wear leather shoes. Either have a BYO day or don’t, but don’t have one and then tell people where they can or can’t buy their wines.

The sad thing is that you can sort of see what they’re getting at. Support your local shopkeeper. If you are lucky enough to have good local shops, then for God’s sake use them as much as possible. If there is a good local wine shop why not ask them to offer a small discount to your customers on BYO day? It’s really not that complicated. You can spread a little bit of happiness through the community without having to resort to passive-aggressive diktats.

I’m still planning to go because the food sounds too good to miss. If i’m feeling brave I might even try to smuggle a bottle of M&S Xinomavro past the door police. As they open it, I’ll feel like I’m striking a blow for the ordinary folk of South East London.






About Henry

I’m a drinks writer. My day job is features editor at the Master of Malt blog. I also contribute to BBC Good Food, the Spectator and others. You can read some of my work here. I’ve done a bit of radio, given some talks and written a couple of books (Empire of Booze, The Home Bar and the forthcoming Cocktail Dictionary).
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11 Responses to Passive aggressive BYO policy

  1. Hear, hear. That is so passive aggressive. You can’t run a restaurant and police the BYO, that’s incredibly uptight!

  2. Henry says:

    Isn’t it amazing? It’s like they only want customers who share their views. What an odd way to run a business though to be fair apparently they’re packing them in at the moment. Perhaps when your food it that good you get to be dictatorial. A lesson there for all of us.

  3. Worm says:

    It doesn’t really make sense anyway – what if you were to go to lidl or aldi and buy a bottle of really good wine that they had in on special offer?

  4. SewingElle says:

    I so hope you do that. And take a wolf blass. Platinum label of course!

  5. Dave says:

    Classic straw man argument here: you make out that they are anti-supermarket in general, or don’t wish to serve customers who shop at supermarkets, when there’s no basis for doing so.

    They’re not “trying to impose their personal morality on their customers”. They just place some restrictions on BYO. Pretty much all restaurants that offer BYO do this. Typically elsewhere there’s a one bottle per person restriction, or an insistence that you don’t bring a wine that’s already on their list.

    By saying ‘no supermarket wine’ they’re just saying, ‘make a bit of an effort’, or ‘bring something interesting’. They don’t say, ‘bring an expensive bottle’, which would be objectionable.

    They’re wine lovers. I went on Saturday and took three bottles; we gave the staff a taste of each and they reciprocated with tastes of a few of their wines they thought we’d like. The food is brilliant, and fantastic value.

    There’s still plenty of snobbery and elitism surrounding wine. Good on you if you want to tackle it. But this isn’t the obvious place to start.

    • Henry says:

      Thanks Dave

      I’m not sure it’s a classic strawman in that I’m not misrepresenting their argument. They don’t have one. Instead I’m conjecturing as to why they might have a certain policy. My conjecture might be wrong. You have given me your own conjecture.

      You’re guilty of your own strawman arguments as I didn’t say that they didn’t want to serve people who shop at supermarkets. I said they would have to put up with people who didn’t share their views on supermarkets. There’s a difference.

      • Dave says:

        “You’re guilty of your own strawman arguments as I didn’t say that they didn’t want to serve people who shop at supermarkets.”

        You said, “It’s like a vegetarian restaurant not letting people in who wear leather shoes,” and made reference (in jest, I realise) to “door police” which suggests a far more draconian policy than is actually the case.

        “I said they would have to put up with people who didn’t share their views on supermarkets.”

        But we’ve no idea what their views on supermarkets are. All we know is they’re not keen on supermarket wines.

        p.s. not nearly enough references to The Orbit of late. It was an old haunt of mine too.

  6. Wow!! To mix metaphors, you’ve uncorked a fascinating can of worms.

    Their own wine list is genuinely interesting and thought-provoking, with some really unusual Greek and other wines: They’ve obviously gone to a great deal of thought and trouble to compose it. Perhaps that’s behind their plea? If someone really makes an effort to pair their food and wine list, it must be depressing to get BYO customers whose sole objective is to drink something as cheap as possible instead.

    Is the key here that they are not so concerned about wine bought FROM a supermarket, which can be good, as with wine BY a supermarket, which is generally shoddy?

    It’s still absurdly dictatorial though, even if, as Henry rightly observes, you can sort of see what they’re getting at. And there’s something about the ethos of the place which suggests their intentions are good (whereas if it was in some trendy Shoreditch place it would be completely unacceptably arrogant).

    Would love to hear their opinion of the piece…

  7. Henry says:

    I agree. I think there hearts are probably in the right place and wine list does look superb. I realised after I wrote the article that I vaguely know one of the owners which could lead to awkwardness at Wine Establishment meetings in future. It would be interesting to hear their take but I imagine they’re much too busy running a successful restaurant.

  8. Florian says:

    Hello, Florian from Peckham Bazaar here.

    I would of course have been available to comment at any time pre-publishing, but very happy to do so now. Our main reason behind the BYO “no supermarket” request (and it is just that, a request) is the change in our area. Independent retailers here are under pressure as chains etc. are discovering the high streets of South London and as we happen to have some amazing wine shops around us, we want to support them with this.

    London restaurants are full of rules, from dress codes to, as Dave rightly points out, BYO policies in other places. Peckham is important to us and this is one way of showing it.

    You’re always welcome here Henry, do bring a Wolf Blass Jeroboam by all means, but it’d be even nicer if you could pop in to Toast or Caves du Bruno or Bambuni on your way.

    • Henry says:

      Thank you for taking the trouble to reply. Looking forward to trying the food and your the wines from your list. Now I just have to find a sitter.

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