Once you decide to open a restaurant or bar, you should expect much more planning than choosing the perfect location and interior. You will need to take care of all legalities if you want to offer your guests a quality drink choice.
At some point, you will wonder how much is a beer and wine license. The answer to this question depends on several factors. Let’s discuss them.
Liquor License Types
Laws regarding alcoholic beverages vary from one US state to another, and each state has its own ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) board that controls alcohol sales. Remember that you need to comply with both local alcohol law and ABC regulations to get a license to sell beer, wine, and liquor.
The local ABC agency determines the name, license purpose, and fee you need to pay. All liquor licenses fall into one of the following categories:
- On-Sale General – It is the most expensive license type that can cost several thousand dollars. If you want to open a restaurant, you need to apply for this document. That way, you will get the right to sell and serve all alcoholic drinks on the establishment premises.
- Off-Sale General – It is a license that allows you to sell all alcohol types, including wine and beer, but restrict customers from drinking on the spot. So, you will need it when opening a liquor store or a small grocery store.
- On-Sale Beer and Wine License – This document limits alcohol choice to these two types of drink, plus allows drinking in your store or cafe.
- Off-Sale Beer and Wine License – This doc allows you to sell only these two beverages, but your customers need to take their drinks elsewhere. Gas stations and similar service shops often hold this license type.
Besides the primary On-Sale and Off-Sale licenses, there are additional categories of beer and wine documents that describe the service your business provides more accurately.
Be prepared to pay a certain annual fee that will cost you fifty to a few hundred dollars, depending on the state where you live. For example, the California ABV board distinguishes the following On-Sale license types:
- Restaurant license – You will apply for this document if you serve both food and drinks.
- Beer and wine license – This document is necessary for restaurant owners who don’t serve hard liquor.
- Tavern license – If your bar or pub has more than 50% sale on drinks without offering full-course meals, you will need this license.
- Brewpub license – It is the obligatory document for pubs that serve homebrew beers.
Plus, many states define special conditions for nightclubs, golf courses, and other activities that offer a selection of wines and beers as an added benefit. For instance, Private Golf Clubs Beer, Wine, and Liquor Consumption License in Florida cost $400 while the caterers pay $1,820 for the same privilege.
License Differences by State
As I mentioned before, US states use different systems for assigning and classifying liquor licenses. Some of them use the population data per district to determine the number of liquor licenses they issue per year, while others don’t have that limit.
It is impossible to say in advance how much a beer and wine license for your bar or store will cost. For example, you need $2,000 for the beer and wine license in Austin. Plus, you should pay a $300 to $550 surcharge, depending on the district you live in. On the other hand, the Tavern license will cost you $4,400 plus a $40 publication fee if you live in Chicago.
Liquor license cost per state
$100 to $15,400
|$145 to $345|
$1,000 to $6,000
|$1,500 to $10,500|
$250 to $600
$950 to $5,850
Imagine that you plan to simultaneously open three identical restaurants in Washington DC, California, and New York City. On-Sale General Licenses you need have the same purpose but different names, documentation, and prices. Therefore, you will apply for:
- On-premises Retailer Class C/Rlicense for the restaurant in Washington
- Type 47 license for the restaurant in California
- OP 252 license for the restaurant in New York City
Factors Affecting License Cost
All the different licensing rules and regulations can be overwhelming and confusing to someone who opens an alcohol-serving place for the first time. Unfortunately, that is not all. You need to know that other factors affect final license costs besides the area where you live.
- Place type you open – Restaurant, bar, or liquor store.
- Working days and hours – In some states, you need to pay extra fees for selling alcohol on weekends and past midnight.
- On/off-site consummation – The privilege for your customers to enjoy their drinks right away will influence the price you pay for your license.
- BYOB (bring your own bottle) policy – The license cost will be different if your guests can bring their drinks to the restaurant.
- Brewing and selling homemade beer – Pubs selling their homebrewing beers pay higher fees than others.
Don’t forget many states have so-called dry counties that entirely prohibit alcohol sale. For example, almost half of Mississippi’s counties don’t issue liquor licenses, while others raised their fees to up to $9,000.
Once you know what beer and wine license type you need, it is necessary to provide the ABC agency with specific documentation. Besides the required license type, you will need the following:
- Employee info, including SSN (social security number)
- CUP (conditional use permit), local zoning permit
- Sales tax permit
- Business license
- Food serving permits
- Health permits
If necessary, the agency will ask you to provide additional financial or other documentation. Unfortunately, preparing this pile of paper requires time and money.
Not only do you pay the licensing fee your state requires, but you will also have the extra expenses of obtaining the necessary documentation. They can sum up to more than $500.
In some cases, you will get a temporary beer and wine license once you submit the documentation required by the agency. Then, the process of obtaining a permanent license begins, and it can take up to six months.
The local ABC board notifies the police department, city planning department, and city council while simultaneously investigating whether you meet all the required requirements.
Plus, you need to put a Public Notice of Application on your restaurant and publish it in the newspaper or on your website. You have a 30 days-deadline to do this, counting from the date of application for a beer and wine license.
In this way, you inform the public and the local community that alcoholic beverages will be sold in your bar. Keep in mind that local schools, churches, and similar institutions have the right to file an appeal on your request for licensing.
The relevant services will take their potential objections into account, so there is a chance that your license won’t be granted even though you meet all other conditions.
If you don’t want to give up the license, you may fight the agency’s decision. However, that often leads to a laborious and time-consuming process that requires additional costs.
Typically, a beer and wine license last between one and three years. Renewal fees are much less than the cost of issuing the license itself, and they don’t exceed $1,000 in most cases.
However, local authorities have the right to revoke your license before that deadline. The main reason can be a violation of local laws, such as serving alcohol to minors or selling drinks after hours.
Once you want to renew your license, you need to take your existing license and proof that you have paid for required fees to your local ABC agency. You will need to provide additional documentation if there are any complaints about you in the past.
Shortcuts to Get a License
Many new business owners give up on acquiring a beer and wine license personally once they start researching all the tips and tricks on local alcohol laws and regulations.
The license obtaining process is often tedious, expensive, and time-consuming, so most people choose to pay professionals to do this job.
If you decide to take this step, you will do your best to inquire at local attorneys and mediation agencies. You want to hire someone experienced in acquiring liquor licenses.
However, there is one more possibility. It is not uncommon for someone to get a license only to give up a business after a year or two. In that case, you can buy that liquor license and transfer it to your name. While this can be an expensive move, you will save yourself months of waiting for a permit that you may not get in the end.
Each US state has its own Alcohol Beverage Control agency that defines local types of liquor licenses and their cost. You need to inquire well about the category licenses you want and the documents you need. A liquor license attorney can help you make this process as quick and comfortable as possible.