Just as restaurants must comply with laws regarding food safety, wages, and other aspects of operation, certain laws and regulations control their distribution of alcohol. A restaurant wine (RW) license permits on-site consumption of beer and wine in a place where food is prepared in greater quantities than alcohol, and the sale of wine and beer is not the restaurant’s primary source of revenue. Restaurant wine liquor laws vary by state, and sometimes among counties and towns. It is important that restaurant owners understand their local laws, as the penalties for violating liquor laws can be significant.
Restaurants that are considering offering beer and wine to customers should consult first with their state’s Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) agency to get basic information such as what types of liquor a restaurant can sell, during what hours it can be sold, qualifications that must be met to get a liquor license, and the cost of the liquor license. Applicants should remember that since liquor laws can vary by town and county, they should consult with the state ABC before relocating. Individuals opening multiple restaurants in other locations should not assume that the liquor laws will be the same for the new establishments. Some states impose liquor quotas, meaning that they only give out a certain number of liquor licenses based on population size. The application process for a liquor license can take up to a year to finish, so it is a good idea to start as soon as possible.
Since liquor license requirements are generally strict, it is a good idea to consult with RW liquor license lawyers to ensure all the requirements are met. In general, applicants must be at least 21 years old. Some municipalities have residency requirements, which means that an applicant must live somewhere for at least 90 days before applying. Applying for a license with a criminal background can be difficult, as the chances of getting approval with a criminal history are not good. Some states mandate a beverage server training course before issuing a license, and applicants must get a seller’s permit from the State Department of Revenue before getting a RW liquor license.
It can take a while for a restaurant to get an RW liquor license, but it doesn’t take long to lose it. There are several ways that restaurants can get into legal trouble through serving alcohol. Overserving patrons is one. This means that a bartender or staff member continues serving liquor to a patron who is already inebriated. The consequences can be catastrophic, as intoxication that leads to a personal injury, a drunk driving accident, or death can result in the restaurant’s bar, server, and owner being held liable and forced to pay damages, and quite possibly lose the liquor license. Patrons who engage in disorderly conduct including unlawful gambling, public intoxication, disturbing the peace, and violence can cause a restaurant’s liquor license to be revoked.
Serving alcohol to minors is another issue. In most states, the legal drinking age is 21. But people younger than 21 can usually handle and sell alcohol. In most states, that age is 18, with a few exceptions. In Maine, a person who is 17 can serve alcohol if a supervisor age 21 or older is present. In Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Indiana, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, and North Dakota, individuals must be 19 to handle alcohol. Nevada and Utah require restaurant staff to be 21 to serve.
In some locales, training is mandatory for staff who will be serving alcohol. If restaurants are caught having untrained staff give liquor to patrons, they can face fines and even license revocation. Staff should also be aware that most laws restrict where on the premises patrons can consume alcohol. Typically, bathrooms, food preparation areas, stairwells, hallways, and storage areas are off limits to alcoholic beverages. Lastly, a liquor license usually defines sale times. If governing laws state that no liquor can be sold after 1:00 a.m., for instance, a restaurant that sells its last drink at 1:05 a.m. can get into big trouble.
Whether you are planning to serve liquor in your establishment and need help navigating RW liquor laws, or if you are facing legal problems for alcohol distribution, RW liquor lawyers can help.