Getting a liquor license for your restaurant all comes down to two words: it depends. Determining how much it’s going to cost, how long it will take, and how easy it’s going to be all depend on where you’re located. That’s because liquor licensing varies from state to state and even county to county.
First, find out if a liquor license is even available in your community. Almost every municipality has a quota on the number of liquor licenses they issue, and if that quota has been reached then you’ll need to buy an existing license from someone else.
As populations grow, local governments will issue new licenses as well, so you may want to save the cost of purchasing a license by waiting for new ones to be issued. If you do buy an existing license, make sure you get a lawyer who knows what he or she is doing to help you through the transaction.
Once you have a bead on an available license, your next step is to determine what kind of license you need. The most common types are:
Restaurant. Qualifying for this type of liquor license usually requires that a limited portion of your sales come from alcohol (typically 40%). This means it’s usually easier and cheaper to acquire than a full on tavern license.
Tavern. This type of license is meant for establishments that make most of their money on liquor sales. Some states will require you to serve food anyway, so make sure you check to see if you need a menu to go along with your license.
Beer and wine. This license acts exactly like it sounds – if you want to serve only beer and wine, this one’s for you. It’s also somewhat easier to get this kind of license in most cases.
Club. Small private clubs that require a membership fee can get a special license for serving alcohol. Again, the rules on this type of license will vary greatly from state to state.
It can take days, weeks, months, or even more than a year to procure a liquor license, depending on where your restaurant is located. That means you need to jump on the ball early if you’ve got a set opening date for a new establishment.
Start by contacting the Alcohol Beverage Control agency in your county to start the process. Naturally there will be many hoops to jump through so make sure you follow requirements strictly to avoid unnecessary delays.
After you’ve gone through the process and paid the processing fee, you’re ready to serve alcohol in your establishment, which is the perfect time to send your employees through alcohol service training.