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Bar License Process

bar license costs

There’s a lot of paperwork that goes into running a bar or restaurant. As a regulated substance, alcohol requires particular care and know-how in order to be served responsibly and ethically to your patrons, and this means filling out applications and documentation for a number of mandated licenses and certifications. And that’s not to mention adjacent requirements like food handler’s licenses, building safety certs, etc. 

To further complicate an already pretty complicated matter, different states in the U.S. have different qualifications you must hold and conditions you must adhere to if you want to serve alcoholic beverages in your establishment. However, regardless of a few significant quirks in individual state regulation, the flow of licensing applications is relatively consistent. Here’s what we know about the bar license process. 

Liquor license process

First things first: what is a liquor license?

A liquor license is essentially a piece of paper that demonstrates that you, as the owner and proprietor of an establishment that sells alcohol, are aware of the regulations and restrictions you must adhere to in order to do so safely and legally. 

Depending on where you are in the world, your liquor license may tell you who you can sell alcohol to, when, what kind, and how many units per person in a given service period. It may also stipulate requirements such as how often you need to renew, and what you can and cannot do with the half-fulls and empties once your doors are shut for the day. 

The application process is not always straightforward, and will differ greatly depending on where you are in the world. Here are a few critical things to keep in mind. 

Applying for a liquor license

To get a liquor license in most states, you will need:

  • An application fee, ranging from $50 - $400,000. (Depends on the state and license type.)
  • A filled out bar license application for the specific license which your establishment requires. (Restaurant vs. bar, beer and wine only vs. liquor, etc.)
  • An in-person appointment with a representative of your state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) board. (Not all states have this requirement.)

Most states will also require an amount of personal information from the proprietor, and a background check is almost always mandated. 

Information you should expect to provide on your application includes: 

  • Your business license.
  • An employer identification number.
  • Information regarding other owners/stakeholders.
  • Information regarding company governance. 
  • Location.
  • A menu including food and beverage options. 
  • Documentation proving occupancy (a lease or deed title.)
  • Visual documentation of the establishment (floorplans, photographs, etc.)

Most states require regular bar license renewal, which will involve similar (very pared down) paperwork and fees. 

Know your state’s liquor laws

Different states and even county governments have very different relationships to alcohol and alcohol service which determine when, where, and what types of alcohol you can sell, if you can sell them at all. 

There are currently 83 “dry” counties in the U.S. in which the purchase and sale of alcohol is prohibited. However others allow alcohol consumption on public streets, and there exists a range of regulations or lack thereof in between at the county level, and all have different policies regarding the qualifications you must hold and stipulations you must meet in order to hold a liquor license of any kind. 

Get in contact with your local bar licensing unit to learn more about specific requirements in your area. 

On and off bar licenses

On-licenses are distributed to establishments where alcohol sold is meant to be consumed on the premises, such as bars and restaurants. Off-licenses are given to stores where alcohol is meant to be taken home, such as liquor and grocery shops. 

A typical restaurant or bar generally will need an on-license to serve alcohol to their patrons. Mobile establishments, such as food trucks, can obtain temporary or event licenses which also allow them to serve alcohol, depending on the state. 

Liquor and license classifications

Some states have upwards of 20 different classes of liquor license you might apply for. In general, however, there are 3 baseline distinctions you should be paying attention to:

  • Tavern license. This covers the bases of any establishment whose primary output is alcohol, such as a bar, nightclub, or other drinks-based venue. A tavern license allows you to sell a variety of alcoholic drinks without the inclusion of significant food options.
  • Beer and wine license. This kind of license will work for any establishment which does not serve hard alcohol. It will work for wine bars, beer-only pubs, and restaurants.
  • Restaurant license. A restaurant license allows a food-primary establishment to serve any kind of alcohol, however typically limits what percent of sales can be alcohol-based. 

Other important licenses

It’s not just liquor that’s regulated in most public-serving bars and restaurants. To be absolutely above-board, here are a few final certificates you need to have on hand. 

  • Music license. Copyright law stipulates that bar and restaurant owners must have the right permissions in place before they play any music which exists outside the public domain. If you have a specific vibe you’re trying to set, you can obtain a personalized license through BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC. If not, specific services exist which will provide you with a more generic soundtrack for a lesser fee.
  • Health and food safety. If you’re going to serve food alongside your liquor, you need to prove to the local health inspection team that you know how to do so safely. A food handler’s card – required for everything from multi-course meals to the peanuts on your bar counter – can be obtained once you have taken the correct courses and demonstrated that you know how to store, serve, and dispose of edible items in a hygienic manner. 

How Provi can help

The list of applications, certifications, documentation, and order forms you need to fill out as a bar or restaurant owner seems to stretch on and on forever. Provi can’t make all of these bureaucratic problems go away, but we can make it easier to track inventory and restock your bar. 

Provi is an all-in-one inventory management and ordering system that allows you to keep tabs on liquor levels in your stockroom, and order your most popular beverages from a multitude of distributors with the click of a single button. Provi makes ordering simple so you can get back to providing your patrons with winning service. 

Learn more about what Provi can do for you today.

The Provi Team


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