The BYO boom in Victoria started slowly, but gathered momentum year on year, really hitting its stride in the early ‘70s. Being able to take your own liquor to restaurants suddenly made dining out a lot more affordable. And while the BYO licence arguably also meant that a lot of people opened restaurants who shouldn’t have, there’s no arguing with Stephen Downes’ assertion (in Advanced Australia Fare) that it led to the development of a “middle rank of restaurants of amazing diversity, quality and value for money”.
BYO permits made civilised dining possible in Victoria. Although restaurant licences had been introduced in 1960, they were difficult and expensive to obtain and generally limited to the top tier of restaurants. To obtain a BYO permit restaurateurs only had to be over 18, deemed a suitable person to hold a liquor licence, conform with the relevant planning permits and pay a modest fee.
During the 1970s, the number of restaurants in Australia exploded. In One Continuous Picnic, Michael Symons quotes the figures: around 1000 licensed restaurants in Australia in 1970; 3000 by 1980. And, he says, if you add in the BYOs it would be more like 5000. Many of the new restaurants were dreadful, especially the proliferating neighbourhood BYOs. The décor usually ran to exposed brick and wooden beams while the menu was a cliché of chicken liver paté, something approximating coq au vin and chocolate mousse. Invariably accompanied by garlic bread.
The relaxation of liquor laws in Victoria in 1987 made full licenses easier to come by and the number of BYOs began to decline. In 1994, there were 2285 BYO permits in Victoria; in 2004 there were only 1514. With more licensed cafés and restaurants at the less expensive end of the market, there was less call for the BYO.
Today there are still some restaurants that are exclusively BYO and some that are licensed but will allow diners to bring their own wine and, occasionally, beer. In most cases there’s a corkage charge if you want to take a favourite bottle with you, and those charges can be hefty.