One of the biggest money makers for restaurants is the sale of alcohol — including beer, wine, and liquor. But obtaining a liquor license can be expensive and isn’t always as straight forward depending on where your restaurant is located.

Liquor laws vary by state to state, county to county, and even town to town. This means it’s important to know a few things before you start the application process. Here we’ll look at what you need to know and do to get a liquor license for your restaurant no matter where you live.

Applying For A Liquor License

Any restaurant, bar, or club owner wishing to sell alcohol will have to go through these steps and you’ll want to be familiar with certain aspects that are required. So, let’s begin.

1. Know Your State and Local Laws

Every state has its own governmental agency which approves and disapproves alcohol licenses. What is regulated is as follows:

  • Age limits on who can purchase alcohol
  • When (time of day) alcohol can be sold during
  • Types of alcohol (beer, wine, or alcohol; some only or all)
  • How much alcohol can be served
  • Permission to manufacture (brew or distill) alcohol for sale
  • Liquor license application fees and then costs upon approval

2. Is There A Liquor License Quota In Your State

Some states use liquor license quotas, meaning only so many can be sold at any given time or in any given year. This means there could be a waiting list to even apply, let alone to receive a liquor license. 18 states have liquor license quota laws so it is typically more difficult to obtain a liquor license in these states.

3. Know Your States Laws Regarding Classes of Liquor Licenses

Different states have different levels or classes of liquor licenses you can apply for based on your business and how you intend to sell alcohol. They are as follows:

Beer & Wine – these licenses are for businesses who will sell only beer and wine

Art License – for galleries and art theaters where they can only sell alcohol a set number of days in any calendar year, usually 20 days or less.

Brewpubs – for pubs who also brew their own beer. May have set times of the year in which alcohol can be produced.

Private Social Club licenses – where private social clubs receive a license to serve only their own members alcohol.

Hotel licenses – hotels that serve alcohol either via room service or an in-house bar or restaurant

Deli’s & Eating Establishments – where food is typically purchased to go but alcohol can also be bought, there is usually a restriction on the amount of alcohol that can be sold.

Retail Licenses – for liquor stores, convenience stores, grocery stores, etc.

Delivery Licenses – for businesses who deliver alcohol to customers

BYOB – typically BYOB establishments won’t need a license but some may depending on the local laws

4. Getting Ready To File Your Application

You’ll need to get some documents ready to apply for the liquor license. First, know which type of license you need, then contact your local government agency to find out what specific documents are required. You’ll likely need:

  • EIN number from the IRS
  • Local business license
  • Sales tax permit
  • Alcohol tax permit
  • Food handler’s permit
  • Building permit
  • Signage permit
  • Health permit
  • Zoning permit

You’ll also need:

  • a floor plan of your building
  • copy of building title
  • code compliance certification
  • copy of lease if renting
  • food menu
  • other documents may be required, so be sure to ask your local ABC what you need specifically

5. What Does A Liquor License Cost?

This amount will vary greatly depending on your state and counties individual laws. You’ll want to ask your government agency because it can be more or less expensive depending on where your business is located. You may also need more than one liquor license. One for federal, state, and local will also increase your cost.

6. Filing Your Application

When you have gathered all the required documents, you’re ready to apply. Visit or mail the documents (be sure you have copies of everything, as you should send copies and keep original documents for most items unless otherwise noted) to the proper government locations. Some states and counties allow people and businesses to contest liquor license applicants, so you may need to be prepared to defend your right to sell alcohol.

Finalizing Everything & Keeping Your License

When you’ve gotten everything submitted and approved and a hard copy of your liquor license is framed and posted in a conspicuous place you’ll be ready to sell alcohol. Remember some states require that you re-submit your liquor license application after a set amount of time. Or there may be a probationary period in the beginning where all laws and stipulations of the liquor license must be obeyed. Be sure to follow the rules.

Have staff ID every single person as sometimes young people may look older than they actually are. Avoid this issue by having a 100% proof policy. Keep staff informed about the regulations of your specific liquor license as well and keep your business profitable by maintaining your liquor license.

The most important thing is to make absolutely sure you have every document required by the liquor board. If you are missing one minor document required your application will be rejected and you will virtually have to wait for your approval as if you were starting from scratch.

Also, there are companies and lawyers that take care of these applications but make sure you get a viable, reliable recommendation from somebody you know who has experienced the process and received their license in a reasonable amount of time say 2 to 3 months.

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