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Alcohol and Beverage Control: What You Need to Know When Opening a Bar or Restaurant

alcohol and beverage control when opening a bar

Getting started with a new bar or restaurant is a wildly complicated process. And we don’t just mean hiring staff, planning your menu, stocking your inventory, and deciding what kind of decor theme to go with, although those all contribute. (Provi can help you with the inventory part.)

Alcoholic beverage control laws have been through a lot in the US, and although we’ve finally gotten to a mostly-stable place in terms of who can and can’t drink and sell alcohol, there’s still a lot of paperwork to contend with if you’re a bar or restaurant intending to sell beer, wine, or spirits. 

Provi has been around the alcohol industry for a while now, and we want to help make your vending experience as smooth and streamlined as possible, so we’ve put together a guide that will help you navigate the world of red tape that is opening a wet bar or restaurant. 

Here is a list of permits, paperwork, and checklists that will help you to make it through. 

Alcohol and beverage control: permitting

The first thing to know before you dive headfirst into the cocktail business is that you need an alcohol drinking license to do so. A liquor license or beer and wine license is a piece of paper issued by your state government which demonstrates that you understand the laws and regulations you must follow, and thereby grants you permission to serve alcoholic beverages to your patrons. 

Because liquor laws are defined at the state level and not the federal, different states have different peculiarities which establishments must adhere to in order to legally sell alcohol within the state in question. But the application process is essentially the same in most states, and would-be proprietors can apply either online or in person. 

The process is generally as follows:

Step 1: Submit an application to your state’s alcoholic beverage commission, (Liquor Control Commission,) including all relevant paperwork, zoning permission, and an endorsement from a government official, where required.

Most commonly the application will ask you to provide information regarding your business, including goods you intend to sell and whether you are applying for one of the following license types:

  • Individual
  • Partnered
  • Corporate
  • LLC 

Zoning information and permission can be found via your county’s official website.

Step 2: Pay any relevant fees. The amount required will change depending on the state, county, even city where you plan to sell alcohol. In addition, the amount may vary depending on whether you are expanding your license, taking over ownership of a pre-existing establishment, or opening a new one altogether. For example, fees for liquor licensing by the Beaverton, Oregon alcoholic beverages control commission are:

  • $100 for licensing a new establishment.
  • $75 for changing ownership.
  • $75 for greater privileges. 

Step 3: Wait to receive your license. This can take up to 6 weeks in some counties, depending on the demand and load of local government. Once you have received your license, all you need to do is obey your local liquor service laws to the letter, and renew your license when needed. 

Alcohol and beverage commissions by state

Some states have strange laws that alcohol proprietors must adhere to if they are to keep their license. Here are some of the weirdest we could find:

  • Maine has made it illegal for bars and restaurants to host happy hours: don’t even think about offering cheap Mimosas at Sunday brunch. 
  • Alaska disallows patrons from buying any alcoholic beverage on an election day until after the polls close. So next time there’s a vote, no alcohol for Alaska voters until the 5 PM rager.
  • Pennsylvania exclusively sells spirits through government-run stores, allowing stricter regulation of the types of liquor being bought and sold in the state.  
  • North Carolina has banned the creation of signature cocktails at bars and restaurants. So if creativity is the reason you got into the game, NC might be the wrong state for you. 
  • Utah has some of the strictest liquor laws in the country, including a mandate that alcohol must be served alongside food, cocktails cannot be mixed within 10 feet of children, and beer sold in stores must be below 5% ABV.

Additional licenses to serve alcoholic beverages in your establishment

In addition to your liquor license, there are a few more pieces of paperwork you will need to keep your establishment above ground. 

  • Federal/state business license. Some states require that you have a general license which defines the kind of establishment you run in order to do business. Check your state’s government website to see if they require one for bars and restaurants.
  • Certificate of occupancy. City zoning laws designate different areas within a locale as either residential, business, among others, and may restrict where a bar or restaurant may set up shop. A CO states that the building you are occupying is suitable for the kind of establishment you wish to run.
  • Resale permit. A resale permit entitles the holder to sell already branded goods to their customers. For bars and restaurants, this paper is what allows you to sell branded beers, wines, and liquors.
  • Food service/handler license. This piece of paper shows that you know how to safely handle food so as not to make any of your patrons sick through improper storage and interaction. You can obtain one online by taking a food handlers licensing course through your state’s government website.  

What Provi has to offer

Provi is a comprehensive alcohol ecommerce platform that allows you to take a break from the everyday stuff like ordering and inventory and spend more time coming up with inventive new cocktails (if you’re not in North Carolina) and talking to your customers. So once you have all your licensing paperwork out of the way, you can sit back and relax with Provi’s easy and efficient ordering service that tracks past purchases and projected inventory levels so you can restock with just the click of a button. Sign up for free today. 


Hiring for a new bar? Check out our other post, How to hire kitchen staff, to learn more.

The Provi Team


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