Snapping up your liquor license can cost you anywhere from $50 to over $300,000, depending on the type of license and the state you’re in. But that’s a small price to pay for selling alcohol that can generate a profit margin of 75% to 80%.
As alluring as these margins are, getting your license can be a lengthy and daunting process: determining which licenses you actually need, waiting five to six months, plus putting in many hours researching and filling out paperwork. But there are ways to make the process much smoother.
We’ve collected all the information you need to determine what a liquor license costs and how you can put your best foot forward to get yours. You should walk away from this piece knowing:
- The most common types of liquor licenses
- The cost to sell wine, beer, and liquor on site for your state
- Where to get liquor license cost information by state
- Detailed costs and information for New York, Chicago, Austin, Toronto, LA, and Miami
- The simple 4-step process you can follow to get your liquor license
- How to renew your license
- Reasons why your license might get rejected
Let’s get started.
Different Types of Liquor Licenses
The two main types of liquor licenses are on-license and off-license. Selling alcohol on site requires an on-license liquor permit, while selling alcohol off site, requires an off-license liquor permit. As a restaurant owner, you’ll likely be interested in getting an on-license.
There are also more specific liquor license classes, depending on the type of establishment and what state you’re in. To simplify your life, here are four most common types:
- Beer and wine license: for restaurants that only serve beer and wine
- Restaurant liquor license: for restaurants that serve beer, wine, and spirits (also known as an “all liquor license”)
- Tavern Liquor License: for restaurants that offer food, but alcohol accounts for 50% of sales
- Brewpub Liquor License: for establishments that make and sell beer or wine
The details, specifics, and definitions of these licenses will vary by state, so you can get more details by contacting your local Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board – the board responsible for liquor laws in your state. There is a full list of the ABC agencies further along in the article, when we discuss how to get your liquor license.
Now that you have a broad understanding of the type of licenses, you’re likely wondering, “How much does a license cost in my state?”
Liquor License Cost in Your State
Below are the approximate liquor license costs by state, plus more detailed costs and license information for New York City, Chicago, Austin, Toronto, LA, and Miami. Keep in mind many of these states also require you to pay an application processing fee (state, local, or both) on top of the range listed below, which can be anywhere from $40 to $1,000.
The final cost varies depending on:
- The type of license. In Delaware, for example, you pay $500 to sell beer or wine, $1,000 to sell liquor, and $2,000 to sell beer if you’re a brewery pub.
- The number of licenses you need.
- Whether it’s a quota state. Although each state sets specific fees, they cannot control the market price of licenses in quota states. In New Mexico, for example, the average cost of a license is $381,000.
- Your local area. For example, Nevada’s fee structure differs per county – below is a liquor license cost range across Clark County and Washoe County.
- Alabama: $300–$1,000
- Alaska: $500–$2,500
- Arizona: $1,575–$1,650
- Arkansas: $40–$1,000
- California: $100–$15,384
- Colorado: $351–$750
- Connecticut: $300–$1,450
- Delaware: $1,000–$1,500
- Florida: $280–$1,820
- Georgia: $150–$1,000
- Hawaii: $150–$1,000
- Idaho: $800–$180,000
- Illinois: $750–$6,600
- Indiana: $50–$6,000
- Iowa: $300–$1,690
- Kansas: $500–$2,000
- Kentucky: $520–$2,580
- Louisiana: $145–$345
- Maine: $100–$135
- Maryland: $480–$1,200
- Massachusetts: $200–$3,500 (note: the city of Boston is much higher because of quotas)
- Michigan: $250–$600
- Minnesota: $240–$2,000
- Mississippi: $450–$925
- Missouri: $50–$300
- Montana: $400 (plus a one-time application fee of $5,000–$20,000 based on seating)
- Nebraska: $50–$650
- Nevada (Clark County and Washoe County): $908–$4,000
- New Hampshire: $480–$1,200
- New Jersey: $2,500
- New Mexico: $1300–$381,000
- New York: $960–$5,850
- North Carolina: $400–$1,000
- North Dakota: $500–$2,020
- Ohio: $376–$2,344
- Oklahoma: $500–$1,005
- Oregon: $400–$500
- Pennsylvania: $125–$700
- Rhode Island: $500–$2,000+
- South Carolina: $325+
- South Dakota: $900–$1,200 or $1 per capita within city limits (depending on municipality class)
- Tennessee: $300–$4,000
- Texas: $1,000–$6,000
- Utah: $825–$2,750 (excludes bond)
- Vermont: $230–$1,000
- Virginia: $145–$1,430
- Washington: $200–$2,000
- West Virginia: $250–$1,000
- Wisconsin: $50–$10,000
- Wyoming: $1,500–$10,500
New York Liquor License: The Details
Type of liquor licenses in New York
The liquor authority for New York State provides definitions of over 20 license classes in New York, including Drug Store Beer, Restaurant Wine, as well as Hotel Wine to On-Premises Liquor, Restaurant-Brewer, and Supplemental Restaurant Brewer.
Liquor license cost in New York City
Here are the most common liquor license costs:
- $960 for beer and cider (plus a $100 filing fee)
- $960 for wine, beer and cider (plus a $100 filing fee)
- $4,352 for on-premises liquor (plus a $200 filing fee)
- $5,850 for restaurant-brewer (plus a $200 filing fee)
How to apply for a liquor license in New York
Refer to these links for the application process and more information on getting a liquor license and abiding by the laws in New York.
- Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC): Complete Laws
- Alcoholic Beverage Control License: Frequently Asked Questions
- Liquor Authority – Retail Price Lookup (login required)
Chicago Liquor License: The Details
Type of liquor licenses in Chicago
Chicago has six major liquor license classes: Tavern License, Packaged Goods License, Club License, Caterer’s License and Caterers Registration Permit, and the Consumption on Premises-Incidental Activity License (COP).
The COP license is a broad license that allows you to sell liquor on site. It requires a renewal every two years. You can also get secondary and special liquor licenses if you host promotional or special events, such as Outdoor Patio/Cafe and Late Hour Liquor License (which lets you serve alcohol past 2:00 am).
Liquor license cost in Chicago
Here are the various liquor license costs, which are each good for two years only:
- Tavern license: $4,400 (plus a $40 publication fee)
- COP License: $4,400 (plus a $40 publication fee)
- Caterer’s License: $4,400 or $2,200 if you already have a COP License (plus a $40 publication fee)
- Outdoor Patio License: $1,760 (plus a $40 publication fee)
- Late Hour License: $6,000 (plus a $40 publication fee)
Take note: After getting a Chicago liquor license, you’ll also need to obtain the State of Illinois License for $750.
How to apply for a liquor license in Chicago
Refer to these links for more information on getting a liquor license in Chicago and the documentation you need:
- Required permits and licenses for restaurants
- Step by step guide for the liquor license application process
Austin Liquor License: The Details
Type of liquor licenses in Austin
The Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission provides two broad classifications and definitions: beer licenses and liquor permits.
- Wine and Beer (BG) Retailer’s Permit: You can sell beer or wine to be consumed on or off site.
- Brewpub (BP) Licenses: You can manufacture, brew, bottle, and sell to customers on the premises.
- Mixed Beverage (MB) Permit: You can sell mixed beverages from unsealed containers.
- Mixed Beverage Late Hours (LB) Permit: You can sell mixed beverages between 12:00 and 2:00 am.
Liquor License cost in Austin
Here are the liquor license costs in Texas:
- BG License: $2,000 plus a $550 surcharge (Bexar, Dallas, Harris, and Tarrant counties); $350 plus $553 surcharge (all other areas)
- BP License: $1,000 plus a $426 surcharge
- MB Permit: $6,000 plus a $602 surcharge (first renewal is $4,500, second is $3,000, third and all subsequent renewals are $1,500)
- LB Permit: $300 plus a $327 surcharge
So, if you want a full liquor on-premises license, including late hours, you’ll pay: $6,000 + $602 + $300 + $327 = $7,229.
How to apply for a liquor license in Austin
For details on how to apply for a liquor license, visit the Alcohol Beverage Permit Process.
Toronto Liquor License: The Details
Serving and selling alcohol in Toronto requires a liquor sales License from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO).
Liquor License cost in Toronto
A Toronto liquor license will cost you $817.36.
How to apply for a liquor license in Toronto
LA Liquor License: The Details
Type of liquor licenses in LA
The five most common types of liquor licenses in California are:
- Type 20: Off-Sale Beer and Wine sales only – no liquor
- Type 21: Off-Sale Full Liquor, so beer, wine, and liquor
- Type 41: You can serve beer and wine with food
- Type 47: For full-service restaurants, you can serve beer, wine, and liquor alongside food (at least 50% of profits must come from food)
- Type 48: For bars and nightclubs, you can sell liquor (over 21 only)
Liquor License cost in LA
While the cost to purchase a license varies from $100 to $15,384, you can expect to pay more for it on the open market due to quotas.
How to apply for a liquor license in LA
Visit LiqourLicense.com – Los Angeles County Liquor License – for full details on how to apply.
Miami Liquor License: The Details
Types of liquor licenses in Miami
Here are three most common liquor license types:
- 1COP: for a bar or restaurant to sell beer only
- 2COP: for a bar or restaurant to sell beer and wine on-premises
- 4COP: for a bar or restaurant to sell beer, wine, and spirits on-premises
Costs of a liquor license in Miami
- 1COP: $280
- 2COP: $392
- 4COP: $1,820
How to apply for a liquor license in Miami
Visit the Alcohol Beverages & Tobacco Board to apply:
How to Get a Liquor License
No matter what state you’re in, here are the general guidelines that will show you what to expect before, during, and after the process of applying for a liquor license.
Step 1: Come to grips with the law
Start by understanding the laws on a state and local level because these can differ widely. The two main things you’ll want to consider are if:
- Your area is zoned for selling alcohol
Most states are zoned to sell alcohol, but specific areas have stricter zoning laws (like near schools or places of worship). In fact, some areas in states like Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky, have “dry” ordinances that prevent the sale of alcohol entirely – leftovers from the prohibition era.
- You live in a quota state
While many states offer unlimited licenses, some have quotas, meaning there are only a limited number. When they’re gone, they’re gone. Below are quota states:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- South Dakota
For more information by state, consult the Alcohol Beverage Control Board in your state:
- Alabama: Alabama ABC Licensing Information
- Alaska: Alaska Alcohol & Marijuana Control Office
- Arizona: Arizona Department of Liquor
- Arkansas: Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control
- California: California Alcoholic Beverage Control
- Colorado: Colorado Liquor Licenses
- Connecticut: Connecticut Liquor Control Division
- Delaware: Delaware Office of ABC
- Florida: Florida Division of Alcohol & Tobacco
- Georgia: Georgia Alcohol Licensing
- Hawaii: Honolulu Liquor Commission
- Idaho: Idaho State Liquor Division
- Illinois: Illinois Liquor Control Commission
- Indiana: Indiana Alcohol & Tobacco Commission
- Iowa: Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division
- Kansas: Kansas ABC Licensing
- Kentucky: Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control
- Louisiana: Louisiana Alcohol & Tobacco Control
- Maine: Maine Alcohol & Lottery Operations
- Maryland: Maryland Liquor License Renewals & Transfers
- Massachusetts: Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission
- Michigan: Michigan Department of Licensing & Regulatory Affairs
- Minnesota: Minnesota Alcohol & Gambling Enforcement
- Mississippi: Mississippi Alcoholic Beverage Control
- Missouri: Missouri Alcohol & Tobacco Control
- Montana: Montana Liquor Control
- Nebraska: Nebraska Liquor Control Commission
- Nevada: Nevada Alcoholic Beverage Control
- New Hampshire: New Hampshire Liquor Commission
- New Jersey: New Jersey ABC Licensing Bureau
- New Mexico: New Mexico Alcohol & Gaming
- New York: New York State Liquor Authority
- North Carolina: North Carolina ABC Commission
- North Dakota: North Dakota Alcoholic Beverage License
- Ohio: Ohio Department of Commerce
- Oklahoma: Oklahoma ABLE Commission
- Oregon: Oregon Liquor Licensing
- Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board
- Rhode Island: Rhode Island Liquor Enforcement
- South Carolina: South Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Licensing
- South Dakota: South Dakota Alcohol Licenses
- Tennessee: Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission
- Texas: Texas Liquor License
- Utah: Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control
- Vermont: Vermont Department of Liquor Control
- Virginia: Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control
- Washington: Washington State Liquor & Cannabis Board
- Washington, D.C.: Washington, D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation
- West Virginia: West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration
- Wisconsin: Wisconsin Alcohol Beverage Laws for Retailers
- Wyoming: Wyoming Liquor Division
Step 2: Determine what licenses you need
To determine the type of license(s) you need for your restaurant, make sure you know the answers to these questions:
- What type of establishment are you opening? (i.e. restaurant vs. bar)
- Will guests consume alcohol on or off site?
- Do you want to sell all kinds of liquor, or just beer and wine?
- Do you have a BYOB policy?
- How late will your restaurant be open?
- Which days of the week will you sell alcohol?
- Will you be running an on-site brewery or winery?
Once you have a better picture of the above, approach your ABC board for further guidance on:
- Permit availability
- Type of licenses
- License costs and renewal information
- Requirements for filing your application (documentation, etc.)
Note: If your state has quotas, you may need to purchase an existing license from another business. If you follow this route, the process may be similar.
Step 3: Get your house in order before filing
You need to prepare all documentation and general business licenses before filing for a liquor license. If not, you may end up delaying an already long process. Here are the basics you should have ready before filing:
- Employer ID number (from the IRS)
- Zoning permit from the local zoning commission (LZC – visit your state’s website)
- Business license from your local government
- Sales tax permit from your state’s website
- Alcohol tax permit from your state’s business taxation department
- Food service license
- Food handler’s permit from your state health commission (HC)
- Building permit from your LZC
- Sign permit from your LZC
- Health permit from your state’s HC
- Music licenses such as an ASCAP license, BMI license, SOCAN license, or even SESAC license
Also, ensure your taxes are in order and that you’ve done the necessary building inspections and upheld your building codes. Otherwise, you can expect delays.
Step 4: File your application
File your application directly with your state’s ABC board by mail (no online filing). You can get all the documentation you need to file for your liquor license directly from your state’s website.
Besides sending in the government forms, you may have to pay a processing fee and send the following documentation:
- Background check forms
- Signed lease agreement
- Financial documents for permits that require income checks
- Certificate of Good Standing from the Secretary of State to signify that your corporation or LLC is abiding by tax laws
- Copy of your food handlers permit
- Other specified documents
What Happens After Filing
The simple answer? You wait. Following all the correct steps helps the process go more smoothly and increases your chances of acceptance. Even still, expect to wait at least six months before you hear anything from your ABC board.
During the process, a notice of application will be posted at your restaurant indicating the business name, kind of license, and what you’re selling. Any community member can also contest your application, in which case you may have to present your case at a public hearing.
But if all goes well, you’ll get your license and be able to start selling alcohol, finally reaping those high-profit margins!
Two More Reminders
Make sure that you:
- Follow the details laid out in the license to avoid losing it. Easy ways to have your liquor license taken away include:
- Disorderly conduct
- Serving minors
- Selling at unauthorized times
- Drinking in unlicensed areas
- Untrained service staff
- Renew your license in the timeframe stipulated by your ABC board. This renewal usually happens anywhere from 1 to 3 years, and the fee varies by state.
While the high-profit margins more than justify a liquor license cost, the process of obtaining one can be a nightmare: complicated, time consuming, and hard to control. But, if you gather the correct information, understand your state laws, and apply for your license the right way,
you’ll rest easier knowing you’ve put your best foot forward – and before you know it, you’ll be cashing in on those high profit margins.