What Is an Alcohol Serving License?

Lainie Petersen

An alcohol serving license, also known as a liquor license, is a government license that is issued to commercial businesses that serve alcohol and, in some cases, to individuals who manage alcohol service or who directly serve alcohol to customers. The requirements to obtain an alcohol serving license vary according to a number of factors, including jurisdiction, the type of alcohol being served and the type of establishment that is selling the alcohol. Laws governing the sale of liquor may often be extremely localized, thus resulting in very different requirements existing even in towns that may be geographically quite close to each other. The requirements to obtain an alcohol serving license may include passing a background check, completing a licensing course and paying a significant fee. Jurisdictions may strictly enforce the terms of a liquor license, and may regularly authorize undercover investigations to ensure that establishments and their employees abide by the appropriate laws.

Businesses that serve alcohol need an alcohol serving license.
Businesses that serve alcohol need an alcohol serving license.

Many jurisdictions have strict rules regarding the selling and serving of alcohol. These laws apply in the context of hotels, restaurants and bars that serve alcoholic beverages to their customers. In some areas, different types of serving licenses are available, such as those that permit a business to only serve limited categories of alcohol, such as beer, hard cider and wine, while others may permit a business to serve a full range of beverages, including spirits and other high proof liquors. Other restrictions may be placed on the types of activities that can take place in a business that serves alcohol, such as dancing or live music. In some areas, an alcohol serving license is only available to establishments that serve food as well as beverages.

Restaurants, hotels, and bars must all have a liquor license in order to serve alcohol.
Restaurants, hotels, and bars must all have a liquor license in order to serve alcohol.

Since many businesses obtain a significant percentage of their revenues from alcohol service, obtaining an alcohol serving license is important. Owners of these businesses may need to complete an exhaustive application process before receiving a license. Many jurisdictions are also quick to revoke the liquor license of any business that demonstrates a pattern of disregarding laws regarding the proper and legal serving of alcohol.

Restaurants need to receive an alcohol serving license before hosting a wine tasting.
Restaurants need to receive an alcohol serving license before hosting a wine tasting.

Some jurisdictions require individual employees to also hold an alcohol serving license. The laws on who is required to hold the license can vary, but bartenders, managers and waitstaff are often targeted by these laws. In order to obtain an alcohol serving license, the individual may need to pass a background check and complete a training course. The course curriculum typically addresses issues of alcohol safety, learning how to identify someone who is intoxicated and offers a review of pertinent, alcohol-related laws. After the employee completes this course, he or she can receive alcohol serving license and participate in the serving of alcoholic beverages to customers.

Companies that serve alcohol at social gatherings need proper licensing.
Companies that serve alcohol at social gatherings need proper licensing.

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