how to get a liquor license

To open a bar is about a little more than choosing the perfect beer and liquor list. In fact, there are a ton of restaurant licenses and permits that you need to get out of the way before you can open your doors for business.

Although alcohol laws will vary from state to state, attempting to open a bar without a liquor license is going to lead down a road of penalties, fines, and shut doors.

Here’s how to get a liquor license, no matter where your bar or restaurant is located.

1- What Is A Liquor License?

A liquor license is a permit to sell alcoholic beverages. But believe it or not, there are different kinds of liquor licenses. The first thing you’ll need to do is understand what type of liquor license you’ll need.

  • Know your state’s alcohol laws. Each state has it’s own laws and requirements regarding the supply of liquor licenses. In fact, some states even limit the number of locations that can sell alcohol at any given time, which can make it difficult for new bars and restaurants to get a license immediately.
  • Each state has its own Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board. This agency is in charge of regulating the sale of alcohol. This is who you will contact to understand your state’s laws and the process of how to get a liquor license in your specific state.

Attempting to open a bar without a liquor license is going to lead down a road of penalties.

2- Determine Liquor License Classifications

There are two main types of liquor licenses: on-license and off-license.

  • You will need an on-license liquor license if the liquor you sell is intended to be consumed on the premises of your business – for example, a bar or restaurant.
  • You will need an off-license if the liquor you sell is intended to be consumed off the premises – for example, a liquor store or grocery store.

As a bar or restaurant owner, you’ll always be looking to obtain an on-license liquor license; however, in most states, there are different classes of liquor licenses still to keep in mind.

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.

Get The Guide
  • Restaurant license – This license has a limit on what percent of a restaurant’s earnings can come from alcohol. There is no limit to what type of alcohol you sell, but you do need to keep the financial limit in mind. This percentage is usually in the region of 40%
  • Beer and wine license  – If you don’t intend to serve “hard” liquor, this is what you’ll need.
  • Tavern license – If selling alcohol is your primary source of business, this is the license you’ll need.

3- Managing The Liquor License Application Process

Once you understand the laws around how to get a liquor license, you’re ready to apply. There are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.

    1. How long does it take to get a liquor license?  It’s important to start as early as possible, this process can take time, in some states as long as a year.
    2. How much does it cost to get a liquor license? The cost of obtaining a liquor license can vary greatly depending on the state. Full liquor licenses can range from $12,000 to $400,000. Beer and wine liquor licenses can cost as low as $3,000.
    3. How old do you have to be to get a liquor license? A person must be 21 years of age to work in a bar or obtain a liquor license.
    4. What information is required to get a liquor license? In addition to personal information, you may also be required to provide additional restaurant licenses and permits you’ve obtained, as well as a certificate of incorporation, employee identification number (EIN), a partnership agreement, a proposed food menu, your company constitution, and a copy of the certificate of title for the premises.

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Once you’ve had your liquor license approved, keep in mind that you will be required to renew it yearly, which does involve a fee. (If you stay in good standing with your local agency throughout the year, you may be entitled to a reduced fee).

What other restaurant licenses and permits do you need to open your bar? Check them out here.

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In a perfect world, Theresa would spend her days reading good books and writing all the time... and she'd own all the shoes her heart desired. When she's not on the hunt for shoes, you can find this Rhode Island transplant on the hunt for food that comes close to "Long Island". Her favorite? Caffe Dolce Vita in Providence's historic Federal Hill.