How Long Does It Take to Get a Liquor License?


The process of applying for and obtaining a liquor license for your bar or restaurant varies from 90 days to five or six months, depending on your state. The timing is dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to:


• Additional licensing requirements as determined by state laws (such as zoning permits)

• Liquor license availability in your state

• Failure to supply necessary documentation upon time of application submission

• Objections towards your liquor license from local community members

• Existing felony convictions regarding license applicant(s)


In some states, it is even required by law that any business looking to acquire a liquor license cannot be granted the license for a minimum of thirty days after filing, regardless of how prepared you are and how quickly your liquor license application is processed.


The best way to ensure that you are as prepared as possible for the liquor license application process is to research which class of liquor license you will need, as well as liquor license availability in your area. If your state has a license quota and it has been reached, then you may not be able to receive your license right away, or may have to purchase it from an existing vendor of beer, wine, and/or hard liquors in your area.


Licenses available for purchase include beer and wine licenses,  retail licenses, restaurant licenses, otherwise known as “all-liquor licenses,” and more.  


Some towns and cities may be “dry” or “zoned,” and thus prohibit the selling of alcoholic beverages of any kind. Be sure that the location of your business does not fall under that category.


The Process of Acquiring a Liquor License


Understanding your local government’s role in the distribution of liquor licences, as well as being able to identify the liquor license authority in your state/county who will be reviewing your application and proposal, will contribute to a potentially shorter wait as a license recipient.


Reviewing liquor license availability in your area.


Each state in the U.S. has its own Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), which you can consult with to determine local liquor license availability. Depending upon a state’s population, only a set amount of liquor licenses may be issued per capita. Visiting or getting in contact with the ABC in your state will give you a clear idea of how many licenses—and which types—are available for purchase at the time of your application submission.


If your area has already reached its license quota or is near that threshold, you may find yourself paying a larger sum of money to obtain that harder-to-get license. In states without quotas, a liquor license can cost a few hundred dollars, but in states with more strict liquor laws—such as Utah, which only allows one new liquor license per 5,000 residents—a liquor license could run into the thousands or even top $1 million.


You may also find yourself in need of a liquor license broker in order to purchase a restaurant license, beer and wine license, or tavern license from another business that already owns the class of license you need.


How to search for and acquire a liquor license.


Once you are well-informed about your license class, availability, and local laws regarding alcoholic beverages, it is time to determine the best way to acquire your liquor license.


Generally, applying for a quota or new license is more expensive than obtaining an application in a state with more lax liquor laws, or an application for the transfer of a pre-existing license. Bars, restaurants, and liquor stores in your area could be good businesses to purchase a license from.


Your state’s ABC likely also has resources regarding available licenses for sale, and can assist you in connecting with the appropriate vendor. Liquor License Advisor can help guide your choices as well, keeping in mind the alcoholic beverage and sales market in your village, town, city or county.


The process of applying for an existing license requires much of same documentation as the application for a new liquor license. Documentation you may be asked to provide in your state include:


• Alcohol tax permit or sales tax form

• Business License

• Certificate of incorporation

• Employee Identification Number

• Health permit

• Zoning permit


Most license applications also require a detailed description of the type of business you own. Writing and reviewing this information will also better inform your specific liquor license needs.


Making an offer on an existing liquor license.


When your state has reached its liquor license quota, is it likely that you will need to get in contact with a business in your town that already owns the license you need. In this case, you will either need to match the asking price of that business for a transferral of their license, or need to make an offer on the liquor license.


Your geographical location, as well as the competitiveness of your town or county’s liquor vending, will likely affect both the vendor’s asking price and your offering price. States reaching their quota, or states that have multiple transferrable liquor licenses available, may have more expensive rates. License transfers can cost anywhere from  $2,500 to $250,000. Liquor license advisors can offer guidance on how to best obtain an alcoholic license from another business.


Understanding your state’s ABC  local liquor license authority.


The structure of liquor license authority in the United States differs by individual state. Each state has its own Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), which regulates beverage sales. A state’s ABC has jurisdiction over regional sales, importing, and manufacturing of alcohol; this includes withholding licensing where necessary.


Your state is legally entitled to regulate alcohol sale. For some states, these local laws are even more so restrictive than what is expected on a federal level. Even so, is it expected that in order to successfully close a liquor license you abide by both local liquor license authority and state laws.


In addition to following expectations of your state’s ABC, in some regions liquor licenses are granted by both a city and that city’s state licensing authorities. Some city councils have appointed boards just for the monitoring and reviewing of liquor license applications.


These governing bodies may be part of a city or state’s:

• Licensing Department

• Department of Commerce

• Department of Revenue


You will be expected to abide by local liquor laws, in addition to both the standard national and state regulations. Keep everyone happy, and your customers will be happy too.


How to receive liquor license state approval.


Many states see ownership of a liquor license as a privilege, not a right. Once you have completed your application and submitted all necessary documentation and information regarding your liquor license application, it is then up for review by the state’s ABC and the local committee.


In addition to review by the committee, some communities offer an opportunity for other institutions—such as schools or places of worship—to submit an objection or protest to your application if they feel that it is not appropriate for you to hold a liquor license. Other considerations such as felonies and criminal records of applicants are also held under consideration and can affect the state approval of a licence.


Once your application has been processed and barring any objections, the local committee will likely request a background check for all persons involved with your application. In addition, your business may be required to inform local authorities and governing bodies of this submission, and you will need to prominently display in a storefront window notice that you have applied for a liquor license. Needs for notice include if the building your business is located in has yet to have obtained a liquor license.


Following the announcement of your application, you may be asked to host an inspection at the address of your bar, restaurant, or liquor store, as to ensure that your business functions in compliance with the information you have supplied in your application. Furthermore, you maybe asked to present and prove your case of license issuance to local liquor license authority.  


On average, local liquor license authority will take five to six months to respond to your application request with a confirmation or rejection. If within this time you pass the aforementioned inspection and your application is in order, state liquor license authority will grant a temporary liquor license.


Issuance and closing of your liquor license.


Once your liquor license application has been reviewed and processed, it can take between three months to one year for your business to receive its official liquor license, depending upon your ability to address local legislative needs and supply the necessary documentation and background checks for the class of liquor license for which you’ve applied.


Provisions to a liquor license might include the times at which you may be able to sell alcohol. Weekends, federal holidays, and daylights saving time may be included as days under which the jurisdiction of your liquor license would not fall.


If all goes as expected, you will be supplied with a “Closing Form for New License or License Sale” document by your state, which will verify that all the information you supplied in your application process is true and accurate and acknowledge that you are the individual(s) purchasing said liquor license.


Your license may be revoked if after receiving a business liquor license of any class, business behavior fails to comply with federal, state, and local law. Keep everything above board and the drinks will keep flowing!

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