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The world of restaurant licenses and permits is fraught with peril. But obtaining a liquor license is usually key to most restaurants’ (and all bars’) success. With food margins so thin thanks to spoilage and waste, booze is where most establishments make most of their profit. So if you lose your bar license—especially if you get fined as well—it could be game over for your business.

Be meticulous: learn how you could lose your alcohol license.

1 – Not Properly Checking IDs/Serving Minors

If you don’t properly check photo ID as required by state law (local liquor boards will often run sting operations checking for this), and/or serve minors alcohol as a result, you can lose your license. In fact, serving alcohol to under-21-year-olds is the most common reason a liquor license is revoked.

2 – People Serving Booze Who Aren’t Allowed To

Many states require staff serving alcoholic beverages to obtain a permit or certification such as ServSmart or SmartServe before they can do so. If someone serves drinks without a permit—or if they’re a minor serving—your license can be revoked. However, minors don’t always need to be 21 to serve. The legal age for serving and handling alcohol is 18 in most states.

3 – Staff Drinking on the Job

In many states, it is illegal to allow staff to consume alcohol while they’re still on shift and can result in you losing your liquor license.


If you serve alcoholic beverages in areas such as a sidewalk or outdoor patio that you do not have an explicit license for, you can lose your license.


4 – Drinking in Unlicensed Areas

If you serve alcoholic beverages in areas such as a sidewalk or outdoor patio that you do not have an explicit license for, you can lose your license.

5 – Serving Patrons Who are Visibly Intoxicated

If you have patrons who are already visibly intoxicated before they even enter your establishment, you can lose your license.

6 – Over Serving

If a bar continues to serve a patron who is visibly intoxicated, the bar, bartender, and the license holder can all be held liable and forced to pay damages should there be any resulting personal injury, accident, or death. The license holder could also lose their liquor license, permanently.

7 – Third-Party Liability

A bar can be held legally responsible for the actions of a drunk patron, even after they’ve left the establishment. For example, if a drunk patron drives home and causes an accident, the establishment can be held legally and financially responsible for damages—and you can lose your license.

8 – Disorderly Conduct

If you have a bar that sees its share of public drunkenness, disturbing the peace, unlawful gambling, or violence, your liquor license can be reviewed and revoked.

9 – Not Preventing or Reporting Illegal Activities

If you are unaware of—or even worse—actively allow illegal activities such as drug dealing to occur either within the establishment or even nearby your premises, you can lose your license.

10 – Not Keeping Proper Documentation

If you’re found not to keep legit records, such as invoices or order sheets documenting where and when your alcohol was procured before serving, your license can be revoked.

11 – The Alcohol Permit Owner Being Convicted of a Felony

If a liquor license owner is convicted of a felony—any felony, for any reason—whether related or unrelated to the operation of the establishment, they will lose their license.

Check out Upserve’s Licenses & Permits Guide!
restaurant licensing and permits guide cover

When all is said and done, to obtain even just one of the proper licenses and permits can cost as much as 10,000 dollars. Luckily, the only resource you’ll need to open your doors with the right licenses and permits is here.

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Written by   |  
Mitchell Hall is a writer and editor living in Boston, MA. Originally from New Zealand, growing up he spent nearly ten years greedily imbibing the spirit of hospitality as a kitchenhand, waiter, and barman.
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