How to get a liquor license in New Mexico
On July 1, 2021, legislation changed the entire landscape of the alcoholic beverage service industry in New Mexico. Some have argued that the new laws have had the most significant impact since the time right after prohibition. And one thing is true: more liquor licenses are available to more businesses than ever.
While the overall licensing process is similar, for every venture, the difficulty level depends on the type of business you wish to start. For example, getting a restaurant license is relatively easy; however, receiving a liquor store or gas station license might be much more challenging and costly.
No matter what type of company you’re launching, this quick read will help you navigate all the rules, regulations, and red tape.
New Mexico liquor license requirements and laws
The Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Division, formerly the Alcohol and Gaming Division, issues New Mexico liquor licenses.
The Liquor Control Act (LCA), per New Mexico Annotated Statutes (NMSA), authorizes the director to make and adopt such rules necessary to perform the division’s duties and maintain public safety.
The director and division have the power to fine licensees for violations of the Liquor Control Act. For example, serving “intoxicated persons” can cost a licensee up to $10,000. Also, ABC mandates that "all licensees must keep a copy or have access to the LCA Rules and Regulations, including all amendments, at all times."
Fingerprinting and background checks
The ABC states that “all liquor license applicants, license holders, managers, all principal officers, directors, shareholders, partners, and members, and any of the following that own 10% or more in the business, partnership, or company: stockholders, partners, owners, members, must obtain fingerprint clearance before obtaining a liquor license in the State of New Mexico.”
The State of New Mexico requires anyone selling or serving alcohol to get an alcohol server permit. The ABC says, “this includes all liquor license owners, leaseholders, managers, the designated resident agent for the license, bartenders, bouncers, waiters, waitresses, and convenience or grocery store clerks.”
In addition, only state-approved providers can administer alcohol server education. You can find a list of New Mexico alcohol server training providers here.
Service of alcohol and hours for sale
According to the ABC, the state now allows Christmas Day and Sunday Sales. Therefore, you’re no longer required to complete a Sunday Sales Application, Stamp, or Fee. Regular sales hours for:
- Package Sales are from 7:00 am until midnight
- On-Premises Licensees are from 7:00 am to 2:00 am
- Restaurant Licensees are from 7:00 am until 11:00 pm or when food service stops, whichever is earlier
The hours apply to the entire state, except for local option districts (or local governing bodies) in McKinley County, which may enact ordinances restricting package sales between 7 am and 10 am.
Other state and local regulations
New Mexico requires businesses with 3 or more workers to provide workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ comp protects your employees if they ever get sick or injured because of a work-related accident.
Specific cities may require you to have small business insurance. Retail insurance, catering insurance, or restaurant and bar insurance may be appropriate depending on the venture you start. Furthermore, zoning regulations may restrict where you can set up shop. For example, your licensed premises can’t be within 300 feet of a school or church.
And, of course, you have to pay taxes. As a result, almost every business must file with New Mexico’s Taxation And Revenue Department (TRD).
Liquor license application process
The process should take 120 to 150 days. When the ABC receives your application, it is sent to a hearing officer and carefully reviewed. The ABC wants to collaborate with candidates to make licensing run smoothly.
So, here is the contact info to help you speak with a hearing officer:
New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department
Alcoholic Beverage Control Division
2550 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, NM 87505
5500 San Antonio Dr., Albuquerque, NM 87109
505 South Main Street, Las Cruces, NM 88001
Phone (505) 827-7066
Types of New Mexico liquor licenses
Licenses fall into 2 broad categories, non-dispenser and dispenser licenses. Non-dispensers are outside the quota system, whereas dispensers are under the quota system. Dispenser licenses have sold in the past for several hundred thousand dollars.
Non-Dispenser license types
- Craft distiller
- Public service
- Small brewer
Restaurants also obtain non-dispenser licenses. Restaurant licenses saw some of the most significant changes from the legislation made effective in July 2021.
Restaurant License Types:
- Restaurant A: Needs a beer and wine license
- Restaurant A +NM Spirits: Serves beer, wine, and New Mexico spirits
- Restaurant B: Serves beer, wine, and spirits (produced locally or elsewhere)
Your business must comply with the LCA’s standards when seeking a restaurant license. ABC will not grant a license to a company that only serves soups, salads, sandwiches, and other fast food items. Restaurants must meet the following requirements:
- Licensees must submit a menu showing hours as well as days of operation.
- The license is only granted to full-service restaurants whose primary function is food sales and service.
- A commercial kitchen and personnel are required to prepare, cook, and serve meals.
- Photos of your establishment’s kitchen, prep, dining, alcohol storage, and patio areas are needed.
- To be eligible for a restaurant license renewal, at least 60% of gross receipts must originate from food sales, with no more than 40% coming from alcohol sales.
The state also allows alcoholic beverage delivery with a minimum $10 food order. Restaurant licensees can get an alcohol beverage delivery permit by meeting the following criteria:
- Licensees must make purchases during regular business hours.
- Delivery employees must be at least 21 years of age and have a valid server permit and driver’s license.
- Licensees may use third-party delivery services such as DoorDash, Uber Eats, or Grubhub.
New Mexico is a quota state with a limited number of dispenser licenses. The ABC has issued all liquor licenses the law allows, so you must buy one on the open market. The ABC will then approve the transfer to your business. And the ABC advises you to contact a liquor license broker or attorney.
Businesses that require a dispenser license are bars, full-service restaurants and bars, nightclubs, wine bars, and retailers such as convenience stores, gift shops, grocery stores, and packaged liquor stores.
Can I get a one-day liquor license in New Mexico?
Yes and no. Yes, you can snag a one-day liquor license if you already hold a dispenser license. But since dispenser licenses can cost several hundred thousand dollars, New Mexico’s one-day liquor licenses are practically unavailable to most businesses.
Under the state rules, special dispenser permits (SDP) for those with dispenser liquor licenses can do functions such as community fiestas, gallery openings, and wedding receptions. The cost is $25 per day for private events and $50 per day for public events.
How much does a New Mexico liquor license cost?
For restaurants, the cost ranges between $1,550 to $10,000 per year. For dispenser licenses on the quota system, the price can be several hundred thousand dollars, with an ongoing yearly fee of $1,300. You can find prices for various license types if you search for “annual fees” in the LCA Rules and Regulations. Annual renewal is necessary because licenses expire a year after issuance.
Jumping through all the hurdles of New Mexico law can be tedious. So here’s one thing you can quickly check off your to-do list if you’re starting a new business or growing an existing one: