Many restaurateurs find the alcohol licensing process to be a taxing and laborious process, but advance planning can often reduce many of the issues that applicants and license-holders encounter. While the rules governing alcohol regulation can vary immensely by jurisdiction, below are some general tips.
Alcohol in Georgia is regulated at the state level by the Georgia Department of Revenue and at the local level by the city or county where the restaurant is located. So a restaurant must hold both a state license and a local city or county license in order to purchase and sell alcohol.
When beginning the licensing process, confirm that the premises are suitable for alcohol licensure. As an example, some jurisdictions prohibit licenses from being issued to premises that are too close to schools or churches. Other jurisdictions may impose additional zoning requirements. It is particularly important to look into these issues prior to acquiring a building or entering into a lease. Alternatively, a restaurateur could negotiate a licensing contingency clause under its lease that would allow the tenant to terminate the lease if an unsurmountable licensing issue arises.
A restaurant may need more than just one license from the state and local jurisdictions, as additional licenses can be required for bars, lounges, and patios. The question of who gets the license must also be answered. In some cases it is a corporation or limited liability company. In others, an individual must hold the license. Or sometimes it’s both. In any event, the applicant will want to ensure that all license-holders – and in some cases a company’s owners and management – meet criminal history, tax, and other fitness requirements.
Another consideration is timing. The State of Georgia has made great strides in application processing times by using a temporary alcohol license program during the investigation of an application. But each local jurisdiction has its own set requirements. Sometimes there are hearings that must be attended, and an applicant is at the mercy of a jurisdiction’s hearing schedule. Sometimes advance public notices must be advertised. License applications also often require inspection approvals from the local fire, health, and building departments, so those items should be worked into any grand opening timeline.
Once licenses are issued, there are more requirements than simply preventing alcohol sales to minors. The licenses must be renewed on an annual basis. In some cases new filings are required if the restaurant undergoes an ownership or management change. Some jurisdictions require that employees maintain their own individual pouring permits. Finally, restaurants must adhere to day-to-day regulatory alcohol code compliance by being familiar with practices related to hours of operation, happy hour promotions, carding policies, and others.
The world of alcohol regulation is complex – but it is much more manageable if one knows what is required on the front end.
Dan Plevak is an attorney with Taylor, Feil, Harper, Lumsden & Hess PC who specializes in alcohol licensing and regulatory matters.