Manner Matters: Can I Bring My Own Tonic Water?


What if I'm not into the house-made gin and tonic? [Photo: Vicky Wasik]

Dear Molly,

My go-to drink is a gin and tonic. Many restaurants and bars are making their own tonic these days—these tonics can be really interesting, but sometimes they're not quite what I'm craving. Would it be rude to show up at a great local restaurant with an unopened bottle of store-bought tonic to use in my pre-dinner drink? I'd be happy to pay full price for the cocktail, but I'd just prefer to use regular tonic and not the house concoction. They don't stock any other tonics at their bar.

People bring wine to restaurants all the time, so I can't help but wonder if there is a way I can bring my preferred tonic without being rude? Are there any rules: does it need to be fancy Fever-Tree or Q Tonic? Could it be Schweppes or Canada Dry?

Thanks, Tom Q. Whynine


[Photo: Robyn Lee]

Dear Tom,

I hear you on the go-to drink. I can't help but see it as a mark of true adulthood. And since if there is even a hint of sunshine or warmth about my own go-to order is a gin and tonic, I sympathize with your plight.

Unique, homemade tonics are, indeed, interesting and I like to try them. I must say that I'm particularly fond of them when they're used in cocktails that aren't straight-up gin and tonics.

Why might that be? Because when I'm craving a gin and tonic, I want it made with what I'm going to dub 'classic' tonic water. I'm a fan of Fever-Tree (the lower sugar version is pretty darn close to perfection, at least if anyone wants to bother to ask my tastebuds), but I'm cool with Canada Dry, too. Classic tonic water has a very specific flavor and its affinity for gin is divine.

And yet... it would never occur to me to bring my own tonic water to a restaurant. Not so much because it would be rude so much as I don't like to think of myself as someone who is so fussy that I can't either 1) get down with a different type of tonic for an evening or 2) just order something else.

But you didn't ask what I would do, you asked if bringing your own tonic water would be rude.

Would it be rude? No. If you're willing to pay the regular price and ask nicely—perhaps even mocking yourself for being so set in your ways as to need to go to such lengths in the process—it isn't rude. Depending on how dedicated to his (or her) craft the bartender is, he may feel insulted and may even refuse your request. Personally, I would find that as small-minded of him as I find it a wee bit nutter-butters of you to make the request in the first place, but I wouldn't blame either of you.

If you're a regular at this restaurant, why not start off with requesting that they stock a few bottles of a classic tonic water for when you stop in? The worst they can say is no.

Were I to go this far in the name of my own gin and tonic affection, I might well simply ask for a shot of gin in a tall glass on the rocks with a wedge of lime and just add the tonic at the table myself. It would be odd. Other diners may stare. But it wouldn't be rude.

Please note: The fact that you're not trying to get out of paying for something the restaurant provides is an important part of this equation. Like the oenophile willing to pay a corkage fee to drink a specific bottle of wine with their meal, you're not trying to somehow do an end-run around the restaurant running in the black.

Oh, and no, how fancy-pants or low-brow the tonic is makes no difference. It is your action, not its object, that are in question.

I'll be curious to hear what others think...particularly servers and bartenders. BYO tonic, totally fine or not ok?

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