How to Get a Liquor Server License
In the United States, liquor licenses are approved by your state and local governments. In order to get a license, you need to find the appropriate government agency and complete an application. After submitting the paperwork, you may have to meet for an interview. Each employee who serves alcohol must also get a “server permit,” which is different from the liquor license.
Fulfilling the Requirements for a Liquor License
Find your local Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) board.Before your servers can get a permit to serve liquor, the business owner needs to get a license to serve liquor at the bar or restaurant. These licenses are granted by state and local governments. You should find your state or local ABC board.
- Type “your state” and “ABC board” or “alcohol license” into a search engine. Your state’s ABC website probably has links to local boards.
- Write down the phone number and email address. You can contact them with questions.
Check if there are residency requirements.In some places, you can only get a liquor license for your establishment if you have lived in the area for a certain amount of time. For example, in Harford County, Maryland, at least one person on the application must have resided in the county for at least a year before applying.
- There are probably age requirements as well. For example, Kentucky requires that you be at least 21 before applying for a license to sell liquor.
Identify the license you want.Most states offer a variety of liquor licenses. You should identify the one that best fits your needs. For example, most states probably offer the following:
- Restaurant license. This license is for establishments that primarily sell food, but sell alcoholic beverages as a secondary product. Alcohol must be consumed on the premises.
- On-premises or tavern licenses. Bars that do not primarily sell food can get a tavern license or its equivalent.
- Hotel liquor license. Hotels can get this license, which allows them to sell liquor that is consumed on the premises and in hotel rooms.
- Club license. This license is for fraternal clubs that has a membership and hold regular meetings.
Meet with the ABC board for help.If you don’t know what license to get, you should contact your ABC board, which should be willing to answer any questions that you have. In Chicago, for example, you can meet with a business consultant.
Submitting Your Application
Gather required information about your business.The application process for a liquor license is quite extensive. You will need to provide a lot of information about your business, so you should gather it ahead of time. For example, you will probably need the following information:
- corporation or LLC paperwork
- birth certificate
- driver’s license
- federal tax identification number
- state tax license
- lease or deed to the premises
- approval of your local governing authority
- health permit
- other documents
Advertise your intent to get a license.In some states, you might have to advertise that you want to get a liquor license. In Kentucky, for example, you must run at least one advertisement in a newspaper of general circulation stating that you intend to get a liquor license.
- Be sure to hold onto a copy of the advertisement, since that serves as proof that you ran it.
- The newspaper might also need to complete an affidavit stating when the advertisement ran.
Complete an application.You can usually get an application directly from your local ABC board, or you can download it from the state’s website. The application should be quite extensive, and will include forms for background checks.
- The application will probably ask for information about your business and the people who will manage the business.Fill out the application as completely as possible. If you have a question, you should contact the ABC board.
- Enter your information neatly, using a typewriter if one is available. If the application is in PDF format, then you can usually type your information directly into the form before saving it and printing it off.
Pay your fee.The amount of the application fee should be stated on the application or on other materials that came with the application. The amount will depend on the type of license you are seeking.Remember to include your check with your application.
Submit your complete application.Gather all required supporting documents and make a copy of the complete application packet. Then slide all of the application materials in a secure envelope. Mail it to the address provided.
- Depending on your state, you might have to submit the application to your local ABC board for approval. The local board will then forward it on to the state agency.
- In other states, you will send your application directly to the state.
Have a background check performed.Before getting approved for the license, you will probably have to undergo a background check. Depending on your state, you may also have to give fingerprints at the police station.
Attend a meeting with the ABC board.Your state might require that you meet with an ABC representative to go over your application or to enter it into the system.You will have to schedule an appointment. Be sure to take your copy of the complete application with you.
- Processing times vary depending on the state and the county. You should ask your ABC board for an estimate of when they will make a decision.
- As a reminder, you can’t sell liquor until you receive your license. You also can’t order liquor from a distributor.
Obtaining Server Permits
Check if you qualify.States set certain restrictions on who can get a server permit. If you are the owner of a bar or restaurant, then you should check to make sure your servers qualify before hiring them. Each state will have different requirements, so get a checklist from your ABC board. In Tennessee, for example, all permit applicants must meet the following requirements:
- Cannot have a felony conviction within the previous four years.
- Cannot have a felony conviction related to the sale of alcoholic beverages or controlled substances within the previous eight years. You also cannot have a conviction for embezzlement or a sex-related crime during the same time period.
- Cannot have had a server permit revoked in a different jurisdiction within the previous five years.
- Cannot have had any ownership interest in any beer license or permit revoked over the past eight years. This includes wholesale or retail licenses.
Take a required class.Most states require all servers to take an Alcohol Server Education class from an approved vendor in order to get a server permit. Depending on your state, you can take it before or after submitting an application. The following people generally must take the class:
- owners of the liquor license
- designated resident agents for the license
Complete an application.Your state or local ABC board should have an application to complete. You should fill it out completely and keep a copy for your records. The application may need to be notarized. If so, wait to sign it until you appear before a notary public, which you can find in most large banks or at the courthouse. The ABC board may also have a notary public.
- You probably have to pay an application fee, so remember to include that with the application.
Find out when you can begin serving.Many states grant servers a grace period during which they can begin serving before receiving the permit. In Tennessee, for example, servers get a one-time grace period of 61 days. You get this grace period once in your career, not once with each new employer.
Keep your permit on the premises.In case you are audited by an ABC representative, you should keep permits on the premises. If you don’t, then your establishment could be found in violation of state rules.
- As the owner of the establishment, you should get a copy of each server’s permit. Make sure that your servers have their original card on them during all business hours.
Renew your permit.Permits last only for a certain length of time, which will differ depending on your location. In Tennessee, for example, a server’s permit lasts five years.You should renew permits before the expire, otherwise you will be serving alcohol illegally.
- In New Mexico, you need to re-take an approved class every three years in order to renew your permit.Check your state’s requirements.
Video: Alcohol Server Training
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