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How to Sell Alcohol in a Restaurant

If you want to open a restaurant, one of the first things you need to do is secure a license to sell alcohol. Use this guide to help you sell alcohol responsibly and ensure a successful restaurant.


  • : The drinking age in the United states is 21. Be aware of the legal drinking age in your area and never sell alcohol to a minor.
  • Step 1: Get a lawyer Hire a lawyer who has experience dealing with state and local governments. Ideally, your lawyer should have experience specific to liquor license issues.
  • Step 2: Determine the type of license you need Determine the type of license you need. In most states, if your restaurant sells food, but the alcohol sales are more than half of your revenue, you may be able to apply for a tavern license. If you make your own beer or wine, you may be able to apply for a brewpub license.
  • TIP: Depending on your state, you may have to maintain a minimum alcohol-to-food ratio in order to qualify for a restaurant liquor license.
  • Step 3: Get bonded Contact your insurance company and get a bond. Every state requires that liquor license holders be bonded to protect them and the wholesalers from any possible liability resulting from alcohol sales.
  • TIP: You will have to provide your insurer with an estimate of your annual alcohol sales in order to get bonded. The lower your sales, the lower the cost of the bond.
  • Step 4: Post your license Post your liquor license, as well as any other documentation from government agencies, such as the ATF, in the restaurant or bar area of your restaurant.
  • Step 5: Stock supplies Stock your supplies, including glassware, garnishes, mixers, and ice. You will also need equipment like straws, cocktail napkins, glass racks, and refrigerators.
  • Step 6: Set up an alcohol selection Set up an alcohol selection and place your orders. Your needs will depend on your clientele, but every restaurant should offer a "call" and a "well" vodka, gin, rum, tequila, whiskey, scotch, and bourbon. You may also want cordials, such as triple sec and curacao, as well as specialty brands. In most states, liquor is ordered through state agencies, while beer and wine are ordered from distributors.
  • Step 7: Determine light and music levels Consider the type or style of your restaurant. Your particular theme will determine the brightness of your lighting and the volume and type of music you play. Studies have shown that diners in restaurants that play loud music eat less, but drink much more.
  • Step 8: Train servers Require your waitstaff and bartenders to attend TIPS, or Training for Intervention Procedures, seminars or take the seminar over the internet so that they know how to prevent customers from having too much to drink. If someone gets drunk at your restaurant and causes an alcohol-related accident, you may be liable. Selling alcohol responsibly is an important step toward running a successful restaurant.
  • FACT: It takes the average adult body one to two hours to break down the alcohol contained in one standard drink.

You Will Need

  • Lawyer
  • License type
  • Bond
  • Supplies and equipment
  • Alcohol selection
  • Light and music levels
  • TIPS training
  • Alcohol sales estimate (optional)

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