How to get an ABC License for Your Business to Sell Alcohol Legally

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ABC Permits

An Alcohol Beverage Control license gives an establishment like a restaurant or bar the ability to serve alcohol to customers. The process of applying for a business license can be confusing or daunting for many new business owners, and as a result, they may never apply for one.

What is an Alcohol Beverage Control License?

In this article, we’ll explain what it is and walk you through the process all the way through to submitting your ABC license application.

What is an Alcohol Beverage Control license?

This is the first thing you need to understand. You are legally allowed to sell alcohol from your establishment with this license. There are two general groups of licenses: On-Sale or Off-Sale. The type of alcohol determines the category of the license.

On-sale refers to alcoholic beverages that are consumed on the premises where they are purchased, like a bar, while off-sale refers to prepackaged beverages that are not available for consumption on the premises where they are purchased, like a convenience store. Minors are not allowed on-premises in each category.

What alcohol is sold is specified by the other part of the category. Typically, “general” means that all alcohol, including distilled spirits, is sold. The limit for beer and wine is either beer and wine or just wine. Your first task will be to figure out what you intend to sell, as there are 80 different types of licenses you can apply for. Type 41 On-sale Beer & Wine license holders may sell beer and wine on their premises, even if minors are present. An example of this would be a restaurant. It allows for brandy, rum, and liqueurs to be used in cooking only.

The Department of Alcohol Beverage Control provides a handy roadmap of the process of applying for your ABC license.

How to file the ABC application

The local ABC office can provide you with basic information on the business, the license you want to apply for, and the correct forms to apply for your license before you even apply. If you wish to merely transfer a current license to a new owner, this will kick off the application process by identifying zoning, establishing an escrow, or starting a Notice of Intended Transfer. The next step is the notification step.

How notification works after applying for your ABC License.
A copy of your application will be sent to local officials where the establishment is located. This will include the police department, city hall, and zoning if you are in a city. This will be sent to the county supervisors, sheriff’s department, and district attorney if your establishment is on county property. The most common setbacks when applying for a license are:

  • If created, this would be a public nuisance.
  • Would increase crime in the area.
  • Violate any zoning laws.
  • The area is not safe or it has too many licenses and would not be beneficial to the public.

If item 4 above is the case, your City Council or Board of Supervisors has 90 days to determine this and notify the ABC. If the City Council or Board of Supervisors does not make a decision within (generally) 90 days, and the applicant demonstrates to ABC that it would be in the public interest, then ABC may issue the license.

The Business Alcohol License Investigation

The first visible sign to the public that businesses have applied for an ABC license is this. ABC undertakes a comprehensive investigation to determine if the application and the premises are eligible for a license, as required by law.

The issue of a license can be objected to by anyone. Generally, a written protest must be filed in writing within 30 days of either of the following events:

  • The date when public notice of application is first posted on premises
  • The date of the first posting of the public notice of application on the premises, website, or other location.
    of the premises
  • The applicant must submit the Notice of Intention to Engage in the Sale of Alcoholic Beverages to persons living within a 500-foot radius of the premises

The Department may issue an Interim Operating Permit to ABC if a retail license application has been contested and the department has recommended approval of the license.

An application is generally ineligible if:

  • The applicant provided false information on the application
  • Any of the applicants are found to have a disqualifying criminal background
  • If the person has a history of persistent inebriation, they aren’t the rightful owner, or they aren’t at least twenty-one years old


If any of the following scenarios apply, the location may be unsuitable for a license:

  • The location of the proposed development is too close to a school, church, hospital, playground, nonprofit youth institution, or residence, and would cause disruption to the facility or residents.
  • The location is not serving the public good because it is in a high-crime area.
  • Zoning for alcohol sales is not appropriate for your establishment.

You may be restricted in how you can use your license based on the investigation and your application if there are some special licensing conditions.

Application responsibilities include:

The applicant is responsible for submitting all required information for the application and any additional information the ABC asks for.

The applicant is generally responsible for notifying all residents in a 500 ft radius by posting the notification of application in the newspaper and getting the zoning permits from the local government.

Application Process

The application document is what we need to find and download.

We have found consistent results finding the ABC licensing documents and specific requirements in each state with a specific google search, “alcohol business license (your state name).”

Once you begin your alcohol license, you will likely need to know the structure of your business before beginning the application process, which is broken down by business type.

Let’s examine a typical application:

  • Name and license type are both required.
  • You typically start with your personal name if you are a sole proprietor, LLC, or corporation.
  • Next, you’ll usually need to determine the license type you intend to apply for and the license transaction type, e.g. new, renewal, or transfer.


The cost of a license and location information

The location information for the applicant location or a temporary permit requested for transfers tends to come next in the process. The costs associated with the license type on the application are typically somewhere near the end or at the top of the alcohol sales and service business license application for your state.

Criminal Background Checks

A criminal background check is a check done on an individual’s criminal history.

In most states, there is a section for disclosing any disqualifying felony convictions. If the criminal punishment is served in county jail, it is a misdemeanor. If it is served in state prison, it is a felony. A rehabilitated felon may still be granted a license by the ABC. Just don’t lie on the application.

If this is a transfer application with the same location but there is a change in ownership in the process, the transferror’s information will be required so have that ready.

Financial Info on the ABC Business License

Usually a section within the application asks for financial information related to the purchase or transfer of the business including escrow, landlord, accountant, and leasing points of data that are required to move forward.

Sign, Print, and Submit or Mail

The applicant will need to certify all the information on the application is true and correct to the best of their knowledge. You will need to print this application out and sign it. There will be submission instructions on the webpage where you downloaded the application or on the ABC application itself.

Final Things to Keep in Mind

Although the process of obtaining an ABC license can be complex, it will likely be worth it to increase revenue for your restaurant, bar or other venue. If you have all the necessary documents and your application is not contested, the entire process generally takes 60-90 days.

The ABC business application process can take more than 6 months and can be arduous if there is a need to appeal. Your local SBA (Small Business Association), is usually available to help with applying for licenses and permits like the ABC license to get or keep your business running smoothly with alcohol sales.

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