Is it Difficult to Get a License to Serve Alcohol?

Bartender Covering DrinkUnless a business is located where there’s no functioning government, or in a region where there are very lax laws regarding alcohol, then an establishment needs a license to sell booze. Since alcohol has been known to cause a few problems over the decades, and generate a ton of money in sales, governments are pretty interested in keeping tabs on how it’s served.

Now, of course, that doesn’t mean you have to go out and get a license to sell booze. However, if you don’t want to get dinged for a huge fine, or worse, then it’s probably a good idea. So is it difficult to get a license to serve alcohol? If you’re planning to open your own business or restaurant, will you have to jump through a bunch of hoops just to serve a few beers? It depends on several different things.

Where do you live?

One of the biggest determining factors in how difficult getting a license will be is where you live. If you’re trying to open a bar in a nation or district where alcohol is illegal, you could end up waiting for what seems like forever.

The reality is that some jurisdictions have more stringent laws than others when it comes to serving liquor. If you live in a region where the sale of alcohol is tightly controlled and no one is allowed to serve drinks after 9:00 p.m., then getting a liquor license could be very complex. You may need to fill out extensive paperwork and explain why you need to serve that troublesome booze.

Another hurdle a business might face is that some cities and communities put a cap on how many liquor licenses they give out, period. The idea being, of course, that if anyone can get a license, it won’t be long before the neighborhood is overrun with drunken hordes of people. So, if you live in a jurisdiction where no more establishments can be granted a license, you could be out of luck.

In situations like this, people are forced to either buy a business with a pre-existing license that be “grandfathered” in, or purchase a license from another establishment. If that sounds like it could get pricey, you’re right. Even failing restaurants that are complete dives can make a pretty penny off their liquor license. If you’re opening a business in a community that’s growing, however, or at a time when several establishments have gone belly up, then getting a license might not be hard.

What type of business do you have?

Another key factor that can affect how hard it is to get a liquor license is the type of business you’re trying to open. While regulations vary from state to state and city to city, restaurants often have an easier time getting a license to serve booze. Since eating establishments are, in theory, supposed to feed people rather than get them hammered, there is usually less red tape to get a liquor license.

If you’re hoping to open the “baddest” nightclub in town, however, getting a liquor license for the club could be much more difficult. Since most nightclubs are open until the wee hours of the morning, and typically produce extremely intoxicated and loud people, most jurisdictions aren’t eager to hand out licenses for them. It also doesn’t help that plenty of folks think of the word “shooting” when they hear the term “nightclub.”

If you want to open a convenience store or liquor store, then getting a license will likely depend on whether there are a lot of other establishments nearby that sell booze. If there are already eight stores on the block where people can buy liquor, then you might want to look elsewhere.

Lots of jurisdictions also have regulations regarding what kinds of businesses can open in a specific neighborhood and where. For example, if you’re hoping to open a brand-new bar right beside a church or school, you might have a bit of problem getting a liquor license for it. As a case in point, in Missouri any establishment with a liquor license must be at least 100 feet away from a church or school.

In other words, before you approach your bank about taking out a loan for your “can’t fail” business, be sure to thoroughly research the laws in your region regarding liquor licenses. In certain cases, you may even need to hire an attorney who specializes in laws regarding alcohol.

Do you have a clean record?

While where you live and what type of business you’re looking to open are pivotal, your background could be the deciding factor in whether you can get a liquor license. If you or any of your business partners have gotten into some legal troubles before, getting a license to serve booze could be pretty difficult.

For example, if you’ve already owned a bar in the past and lost your license for illegally serving shots of vodka to high school students, you might want to come up with a different business idea. Or, even if you’ve been convicted of a serious offense that has nothing to do with alcohol, you could be facing an uphill battle getting permission to sell booze. In the State of New York, for example, your record must be free of convictions in order for you to apply for a license.