Surviving an alcohol license inspection in Georgia can seem daunting. Most business owners have a hard enough time just making their target profits without the additional burden of deciphering the sometimes archaic alcohol laws, rules and regulations. To help, we’ve put together a checklist that highlights the most common issues you might face:
Licenses and Signage Must Be Conspicuously Posted: Applies to alcohol and business licenses, health permits, and other DOR specific signage (pregnancy warnings and the prohibition against sales to minors).
ID Checking: Compliance with alcohol (and tobacco) sales laws is often tested by law enforcement utilizing underage operatives who attempt to purchase the product either with their own Under 21 ID or by stating that they don’t have their ID. A sale by your employee will often result in a suspension/revocation of your alcohol license and significant fines.
Proper and Current Sales Permits: Although not required by the state, some local jurisdictions mandate that employees obtain an alcohol sales permit. Local inspections often check to make sure the necessary permits have been obtained and are current.
Employee Lists: Some local jurisdictions updated lists of employees to be provided at specified intervals. Proof of compliance should be maintained on the premises.
Training Records: There are no mandatory state training requirements; however, they do exist in many local jurisdictions. These requirements often include provisions regarding the subject matter of training, mandatory refresher training, and proof of compliance. Make sure you know what those requirements are for your local jurisdiction and keep records of compliance.
Copies of Alcohol Invoices: Keep these accessible onsite for at least 3 years. Remember, all alcohol on your premises must be purchased from a wholesaler, and never purchased or “borrowed” from a liquor store, grocery store, or other retailer or location. Violations could result in fines, suspensions and/or confiscation of your alcohol inventory.
Nothing Goes into a Bottle of Distilled Spirits: Everyone knows that you can’t put a cheaper brand of alcohol into a more expensive brand’s bottle. However, it is also illegal to “marry” bottles of the same brand and type of alcohol. Technically, it’s actually illegal to put anything into a distilled spirits bottle (including using it to pre-mix cocktails or even as a flower vase).
Alcohol in the Kitchen: You must have a license for every type of alcohol that can be found anywhere on the premises. For example, if you have a beer and wine license, you can’t have a bottle of bourbon in the kitchen that’s used solely for cooking.
Pay Your Taxes: In addition to monthly state taxes, don’t forget to pay the local excise taxes (typically due on the 20th of each month).
Know your Happy Hour & Merlot to Go Laws: Many local jurisdictions have unique happy hour laws relating to promotions and drink specials. Failure to comply can result in suspension/revocation of an alcohol license and/or fines.
No Open Tabs: All alcohol sales must be simultaneous; i.e. the customer must pay before they leave (no carry over to another day).
Mini-bottles Prohibited: You may not purchase or possess distilled spirits in excess of 10% ABV in containers less than 750 mL, unless the product is not sold in larger containers. In that case, you may purchase a container of that product that is not smaller than 375 mL.
Cigars/Cigarettes/Other Tobacco: If you sell tobacco products, make sure all tobacco taxes are paid, keep invoices, display your tobacco license, and post the DOR required tobacco warning signs. In addition, make sure that all tobacco brands you carry are in compliance with federal guide lines.
Pool Tables, Games and More: Coin Operated Amusement Machines (COAM) must be licensed with the Georgia Lottery Corporation. If you are not the license holder, you must have a copy of the Master license from the company/owner and all machines must have a specified decal. There is also a warning sign from the lottery that you must post about gambling. In addition, you cannot pay cash out for any COAM at your location.
The key to surviving an alcohol inspection is knowledge of the rules, regulations, and laws that govern your business; however, the myriad of laws in Georgia can make this difficult. When in doubt, call your local jurisdiction or alcohol licensing firm.
Michele L. Stumpe, Esq. is a partner at the law firm Taylor English Duma LLP and has been representing and assisting businesses and alcohol retailers for over 21 years. You may contact her at email@example.com or 678-336-7160.
Tiffanie Pittington is a Senior Licensing and Permits Specialist at Taylor English Duma LLP. Prior to joining the Restaurant, Food and Beverage, and Licensing Practice Group, Pittington spent more than 14 years in the Georgia Department of Revenue Alcohol & Tobacco Division. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 678-336-7166.