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How to Obtain an Alcohol License

Whether you plan to open a restaurant that serves alcohol or a liquor store that sells it, you will need to get an alcohol license. Whenever you open a new business, you are typically required to obtain specific types of business licenses, depending on the sort of business you plan to operate, as part of the Business Licenses, Permits & Tax regulations that relate to your industry.

Federal and state laws require that you have an alcohol license in order to serve or sell it.

How Long Will it Take?

Depending on the process in your area, getting your permit to sell alcohol may take as long as a year, so it’s important to keep that in mind as you plan the launch of your business. You clearly can’t open a liquor store until you get that alcohol license, and opening your restaurant without being able to sell drinks might put a damper on sales and put your business off to a bad start.

What Will it Cost?

You might get lucky and only have to pay a few hundred dollars for your selling or serving alcohol license. But if you live in an area that restricts the number of alcohol permits it issues, you will pay much more. In this case, you may choose to buy an existing license from a business that is selling or closing down. You may also be able to bid on an alcohol license through your town government. Consult an attorney with a license and permit specialization for your best option.

Types of Alcohol Permits

Depending on the type of business you plan to open, you’ll need one of the following types of alcohol licenses. These vary by state.

For Restaurants

  • Tavern: if half or more of your sales are alcohol, but you also serve food

  • Beer and Wine: for establishments only serving beer or wine

  • Restaurant: each state has different requirements on the percent of sales of alcohol vs. food

  • Club: requires membership to enter

  • Brewpub: if you plan to brew your own beer

  • Eating Place: strict restriction on serving; may allow carryout beer

For Liquor Stores or Grocery Stores Selling Liquor and Restaurants (examples from Wisconsin alcohol licenses)

  • Class A: permit you to sell any type of liquor or wine to be consumed off premises.
  • Class B: allow you to sell fermented malt beverages (beer) to be consumed on or off premises.
  • Class C: allow you to sell wine to be consumed only on the premises, as well as carrying out a single unopened bottle if purchased with a meal.
  • Temporary Class B licenses: (picnic licenses) permit beer or wine sales at temporary events like fairs and festivals.


Before you will be approved for your alcohol serving license, your state Liquor Licensing and Compliance organization will inspect your facilities to ensure they meet the requirements for the alcohol permits they issue. They will also check in periodically to ensure there are no violations. A violation might include selling alcohol you do not have a permit to sell, or selling to underage youth. A violation may result in you receiving a warning, or it can be as serious as shutting your business down if you receive numerous violations.

Before you open your restaurant or bar, make sure you have the appropriate license and permit to serve alcohol or sell it.