How to Apply for a Liquor License

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What Is a Liquor License Application?

A liquor license application is a formal document submitted to the local government agency that regulates liquor licenses to obtain a legal permit to sell alcohol at an establishment. A liquor license is required in every state for a bar, restaurant, liquor store, or brewery, to legally serve and distribute beer, wine, and liquor.

Most states consider a liquor license as a privilege. Alcohol permits are a way for local and state governments to ensure that businesses that sell alcohol adhere to the laws regulating alcohol sales in that jurisdiction.

Liquor licenses are regulated at the state and local government levels. Usually, there is a governing agency like the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC Board) or the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco. If a state doesn't have an agency specifically dedicated to alcohol regulation, the Department of Revenue or the State Treasury may be in charge of distributing liquor licenses.

Each state will have its own unique liquor license application, requirements for submitting the application, eligibility rules for a permit, and supporting documentation submitted with the application.

Although applications will vary by state, the following information is commonly requested on a liquor license application:

  • Name of applicants
  • Name and location of the business
  • Arrest disposition of the applicant
  • Mitigation of moral character of the application
  • Fingerprints of applicant
  • Right of occupancy of the premises
  • Zoning of the building and a sketch of the premises
  • Information about partners, stockholders, and officers
  • Acknowledgment of laws

If you are thinking about applying for a liquor license for your establishment, it is essential that you understand the state and local laws that regulate the application process and the additional requirements necessary to apply for a permit. It is recommended that you consult with a business lawyer experienced with liquor licenses before beginning the application process.

Types of Liquor Licenses

Liquor licenses and local alcohol regulations will typically dictate the following details regarding the service of alcohol:

  1. Where alcohol can be served
  2. How much alcohol can be served to each patron
  3. The prices of alcohol
  4. How alcohol can be served
  5. The times which alcohol is served
  6. How alcohol can leave the premises

Depending on the type of establishment and their sales goals, there are different types of liquor licenses available for business owners. Each license dictates the type of alcohol that can be served, who can serve the alcohol, and whether the alcohol will be consumed at the establishment or somewhere else.

The four most common liquor licenses offered by almost every state are beer and wine permits, restaurant licenses, bar licenses, and server permits.

  1. Beer and Wine Liquor License: A beer and wine liquor license is generally easier to get than a full liquor license because it restricts an establishment from selling alcohol other than beer and wine.
  2. Restaurant Liquor License: Restaurant liquor licenses are more difficult to obtain because they are essentially unrestricted. When a business has a restaurant liquor license, also called a general liquor license, it can serve any type of alcohol.
  3. Bar Liquor License: When a business makes more than 50% of total sales from alcohol, like a bar or tavern that only serves alcohol and not food, they need a bar liquor license.
  4. Server License: Some states will require employees who serve alcohol to have their individual server license; however, this is rare and only needed in a couple of states.

Choosing which license best serves a business's needs comes down to the business plan and goals. A liquor store that sells alcohol to be consumed somewhere else will need a different permit than a bar or restaurant in which patrons drink alcohol onsite.

A business like a brewery often serves alcohol to drink onsite and alcohol to be taken home. Some states will require this business to obtain both types of liquor licenses.

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Requirements for a Liquor License

Liquor licenses are regulated at the state level, so applying for a liquor license will vary by state. Sometimes, local counties also pass regulations that bar and restaurant owners must follow to obtain a liquor license.

Often, a business owner will have to hold additional business permits before applying for a liquor license. Many applications require business owners to provide proof or supporting documents to show they have the permits necessary to apply for the alcohol permit.

Licenses and permits usually required before applying for a liquor license include:

  • Business license
  • Health permit
  • Sales tax permit
  • Building permit
  • Zoning permit
  • Code compliance certificate
  • Signage permit
  • Alcohol tax permit
  • Food handlers permit

In addition to these permits, business owners will also have to include the following supporting documents with their liquor license application:

  • EIN for taxes
  • Certificate of incorporation
  • A current or proposed food menu
  • Floor plan
  • Building title

Due to the complexity of the application and the number of permits and supporting documentation required, it is recommended to consult with a business lawyer specializing in liquor licenses to help you with your application. An experienced attorney will know what you need to apply for a liquor license in your area.

How to Apply for a Liquor License

Although the application process will vary based on state, the following steps will help you with what to expect when applying for a liquor license.

Step #1: Gather your documentation

Liquor license applications require a lot of supporting documentation. This can include zoning permits, floor plans of the establishment, a proposed menu, and the applicant's fingerprints. Before even starting your application, find out what documents you need and make sure you have copies of everything.

Step #2: Fill out the application

In most states, you can find the liquor license application online. Some jurisdictions allow you to fill out the application, attach supporting documents, pay the fee, and submit the application completely virtually.

Other jurisdictions may require that the application, documents, and fees are mailed or submitted by hand at the designated government office.

You can contact your local alcohol control agency to find out the requirements surrounding submitting your application.

Step #3: Defending your proposal for an alcohol permit

In some states, when a business applies for an alcohol permit, it is public knowledge. This allows members of the community to protest issuing liquor licenses to companies in that community. If someone wishes to protest the issuance of your liquor license, you will have to attend a public hearing to defend your proposal for an alcohol permit.

Step #4: Approval of the application

As long as there aren’t any issues with your application, there are no protests to the license, and there are available licenses in your jurisdiction, you can receive approval for your license in as little as a few weeks. If you are approved for a permit, you will have to pay your state's license fee.

Liquor License Cost

Depending on your state, liquor licenses can be costly. While the average cost for a liquor license in the US is around $1,500 , in states like California, it can be upwards of $15,000 .

Fees that you will be responsible for are the initial application fee, the fee for the actual permit, and renewal fees. Some states require annual renewals, while other states issue liquor licenses for a couple of years at a time.

If you choose to hire an attorney to assist in the liquor license process, or if you need to pay for additional permits to meet your state's requirements for a liquor license, your costs will increase.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Liquor License?

The liquor license application process can take as little as a few weeks. However, some states have a quota on the number of licenses that are issued. If the quota is maxed, you could end up waiting years for a permit.

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