How to Get a Liquor License


If you’ve purchased a restaurant or a bar establishment, then there’s no doubt that you would want to have a liquor license. Being able to serve alcohol means bringing in extra profit, whether it’s mealtime or in between. However, you can’t just start selling alcohol when you launch. You need to take all of the necessary steps before you can legally serve it. 

What is a Liquor License? 

A liquor license gives the holder the right to sell alcohol legally. It means that the business has met all of the requirements to show that it will do so responsibly according to the regulations in place at the local level. Even states have their own liquor control laws, and municipalities have their own as well. It is up to the business to understand and comply with those laws to sell and serve alcohol legally. 

Under a liquor license, you will have guidelines for how much alcohol you can sel, what kinds of alcohol you can sell, how much you can charge for it, what times you can sell it, and what types of containers you serve it in. For example, if you want to allow people to remove open wine bottles from your establishment to take home, you will have to have a license that reflects that. 

Once you know what type of business you want to run and what type of services you will have for liquor, you can apply for an on-license or off-license permit. On-license is for businesses that will serve alcohol on site. This includes bars and restaurants. Off-license is for businesses that will serve alcohol to be consumed in another location. This includes grocery stores and liquor stores. Here are the steps you will need to take to get your license. 

Research the Liquor Laws in Your State

Before you can apply for your license, you will need to fully understand the regulations in place by your alcohol beverage control (ABC) entity. Regulations and laws can vary from state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so make sure you look up the right information. Getting the right information will help you determine what type of license you will need to conduct your business the way that you want. Understanding the laws will also help you decide whether you are prepared to do the work necessary to meet the requirements. 

Submit Your Application

Once you know what kind of license you need, you can then go to the phase of submitting the application. You will need to do it through your local ABC board and, in most cases, pay a fee for the license. You will need to take this step well before you launch. Getting a liquor license can be a lengthy process with some back and forth between your business and the ABC board. It’s generally a good idea to give yourself at least three months in most places, but that time can vary. 

Apply for Other Business Permits

If you want to serve alcohol legally, you will also need to have all of your other business permits in place as well. Since there will be some time while your liquor license is processing, you can submit all of the necessary paperwork for them. This means registering your business name, getting your zoning permits, having a health inspection, and getting a tax permit. If you don’t have these permits in place, you will not be able to operate your business, so you won’t need to have that liquor license until everything is complete. These processes can also take several months, so check with your local authorities to get an idea of timeframes. 


Just like with permits, you will need insurance in place to operate. Serving food and drink comes with specific and heightened risk. Adding alcohol to the mix involves even more perils. You will need liquor liability insurance to protect your business from anything that might happen that’s related to serving alcohol. Drunk people can cause damage, start fights, and get injured themselves. You may also face lawsuits for damage that is caused off the premises of your business by an intoxicated person. This coverage will provide compensation for property damage, medical bills, legal costs, settlement amounts, and other related costs. Without it, even one bad incident can seriously harm your business financially. 

Respond to Any Objections

Applying and submitting your fee will not guarantee your liquor license will be approved. The ABC board may decide that you do not have the necessary components in place to serve alcohol safely and ethically, for example. Or, a member of the public may put in a protest against your application if they do not want an alcoholic establishment in the neighborhood. You can defend these objections and provide answers for the ABC board in the hopes of getting your approval. 

Follow All Requirements of the License

Once you have your license in place, you can’t rest on your laurels. You can lose it if you do not meet the requirements every day. This includes not serving minors and not serving customers who are intoxicated. There are many other standards that you need to meet, and if you fail at any of them, you could face fines along with the loss of your license. If this happens, you may be able to get your license back, but it can negatively affect your reputation and lead to a loss of customers. Plus, the customers who stop coming when you lose your license will be less likely to come back. 

Renew Your License When Required

You will have to renew your license on a regular basis, depending on your state’s or municipality’s regulations. At the time of renewal, you will have to demonstrate that you have continued to follow all guidelines, and you need to have passed any inspections that may have been made at your establishment. As long as you want to serve alcohol, you will need to continue renewing your license. 

Getting a liquor license can be a financial boost to any establishment or business. Alcohol is always in demand, and it is the product that earns the most money for most restaurants and bars. Take these steps to your license and keep it legal for as long as you own your business.


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