Alcohol is an intrinsic feature of the food and beverages side of the hospitality industry. Namely in bars, restaurants, pubs and lounges but also in other associated businesses. Wherever alcohol is involved a business must comply with federal and state licensing laws.
The US liquor laws are federal and are administered by each state. Each state has a legislative body known as the Alcohol Beverage Control Board (ABC). They interpret and administer the laws and regulations and also issue the licenses.
Laws may vary slightly as do licenses by state. However, in general, there is a standard set of licenses applicable to the whole of the USA. If you are going to operate or set up a new business in the food and beverage sector, you need to know which license is relevant for your business.
Whatever type of restaurant you want to run whether it’s a diner or fine dining, if you want to sell alcohol, you need a liquor license. A restaurant liquor license enables you to sell beer, wine, and spirits by the glass and bottle. There is, however, a restriction applied to a restaurant license. This relates to the ratio of income from food and drink. It differs from state to state, but generally, no more than 40 percent of sales value can be from alcohol.
The most common liquor license for bars is a tavern license. The basic premise of the tavern license is that the business makes the majority of its income from the sales of alcohol. A tavern license also enables the bar to sell food.
If you want to open a wine bar where you don’t sell spirits, the applicable license is a Beer & Wine license. With this license, you are not allowed to sell hard liquor.
The three licenses mentioned above - restaurant, beer, wine, and tavern – are collectively known as on-licenses. These licenses cover businesses that sell alcohol for consumption “on” the business premises.
For businesses who wish to sell alcohol for customers to consume “off” the premises, there is the off-license. An off-license is used by liquor stores, supermarkets, and local convenience stores. There are no specific limitations on what kind of store can sell alcohol, they just must hold a license to do so.
The rules will differ by state. So, if there is ever an occasion where alcohol is a consideration for your business, check your local laws. Find out if you require a license before starting out. A couple of examples to illustrate the breadth of business and alcohol are:
In California, if you are a barbershop or hair salon, you can apply for a license to serve a complimentary glass of beer or wine in small quantities. Oregon is one of the few states where you can drink alcohol at a farmers’ market. Stallholders simply need to apply for a special one-day license.
These examples are just an illustration of how alcohol regulations differ by state. Finding the information you need is easy enough. You can go to the website of your state or click here for more information.
The most important thing to remember is that US liquor laws are strict and stringent. Any business involving alcohol in any way in their operation, even temporarily or as a one-off should not fall foul of them either by accident, avoidance, or ignorance.