Obtaining a liquor license can be a labyrinth-like process filled with red tape, legalities, and hidden pitfalls. It’s a critical component for businesses like bars, restaurants, and clubs, yet many entrepreneurs underestimate the challenges involved.

The Labyrinth of Liquor Licensing

Getting your liquor license isn’t like getting a driver’s license. You can’t just spend a few minutes preparing, take a quick test, and pay a couple of bucks to get it. The process can be time-consuming and challenging (and is highly dependent on your location, local laws, and other factors). As you start this process, brace yourself for what could be a rather complex ordeal filled with multiple layers of bureaucratic red tape. 

While you don’t need to be a lawyer yourself, you likely will need to hire one during this process. (More on that in a bit.) You’ll also want to make sure you have a cursory understanding of the nuances of liquor laws, as non-compliance can lead to license denials, fines, and even legal action. 

This journey has tons of potential traps and pitfalls if you aren’t careful. A failure to pay close attention to the rules could put you in a compromising situation. An incomplete application, a misunderstanding of local sentiment, or even a misstep in communicating with community stakeholders can have far-reaching consequences. 

Businesses must proceed with caution, recognizing that even a single poor decision can set you back significantly.

Zoning Laws and Location

Want to know the truth? Not all businesses have the same chances and opportunities when it comes to obtaining a liquor license. As unfair as it might seem, so much is dependent on the type of establishment you have and, more importantly, your location. Zoning laws often dictate what is and is not possible in different areas. 

Without taking a deep dive into the legal complexities of zoning laws in this article, you should know that every region divides real estate into different zones for different purposes (e.g. residential, commercial, industrial, etc.). For a business seeking a liquor license, the type of zone you’re in matters, as some zones might be more permissive in granting licenses. Others could have restrictions due to their proximity to schools, places of worship, or residential neighborhoods.

If you’ve never dealt with zoning before, you’ll want to do plenty of research and exploration before going too far down this path. This means researching the regulations in your area, consulting local zoning authorities, engaging with the local community, and seeking legal counsel.

Community and Public Hearings

Local communities have a vested interest in the establishments operating within their neighborhoods. As a result, the opinions and concerns of community members carry weight in the decision-making process for liquor licenses. Regulatory authorities often take into account whether an establishment has the backing of the community it aims to serve.

With that being said, it’s necessary to build relationships and network with people in your community. The more people you can get on your side, the better. Many jurisdictions require a public hearing as part of the liquor license application process. Having people there who support your application and are 100 percent behind you will go a long way toward giving you a chance.

Required Documentation and Paperwork

Once you have some degree of confidence that obtaining a liquor license in your location is (a) practical based on the existing zoning and laws, and (b) has the support of the local community, you can move on to the required documentation and paperwork to start making it happen. 

While every jurisdiction is different, you’ll likely need to fill out an application, provide detailed business plans and financial statements, submit to a background check, and provide detailed layout and design of your establishment. You may also need to take an alcohol sales training course. On top of all of this, there are the licensing fees and taxes (which can be quite high).

The Role of Alcoholic Beverage Law Attorneys

As you can tell, there’s a lot that goes into getting a liquor license. And that’s why having an alcoholic beverage law attorney is invaluable. Alcoholic beverage law attorneys possess in-depth knowledge of the laws, regulations, and requirements specific to liquor licensing. Their understanding of the intricacies ensures you’re well-prepared to navigate every step of the application process.

A good attorney will assist in compiling and preparing the required documentation, ensuring that every aspect of your application is thorough and accurate. And in situations where the community sentiment isn’t exactly on your side, your attorney can advocate on your behalf and negotiate with the people that have the most influence. 

Final Tips and Suggestions

We’ve already said it a couple of times, but every situation is different. That means you have to really learn about the regulations, rules, and requirements in your area before starting the process. 

The biggest tip? Start early. This process can take several months (or more). Delays are incredibly common and should be expected. Build a strong business plan, win over the community, and get moving!