How to get a liquor license in Florida
Getting a liquor license in Florida can be complex. The state has strict rules and regulations you must follow to obtain one. But if you want to sell alcohol, a Florida liquor license is an essential part of your business.
How much difficulty you’ll face depends on the type of license you need. If you want a beer or wine license, the process is pretty straightforward. But if you’re going to sell hard liquor, you need a quota liquor license—which is more challenging to get.
Florida liquor license requirements and laws
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) regulates licensing of businesses and professionals—from alcohol beverages and tobacco to veterinary medicine, yachts, and ships.
You’ll visit the DBPR website to get an application or apply online for an alcoholic beverage license. But that isn’t your first step. Before you can submit your form to a district office, you must meet several requirements.
Health and H&R approval requirements
Liquor liability is a big deal—when you serve alcoholic beverages to the public, you must meet specific requirements. Your business will need approval from the Division of Hotels and Restaurants (H&R), the County Health Authority, or the Department of Health.
It depends on whether you choose to serve food in addition to alcohol:
- Businesses with food service require H&R approval.
- Businesses without food service must contact the County Health Authority or the Florida Department of Health.
For this step, you must have your license application on hand—the appropriate authority to fill in a section of the application stating whether you meet the requirements of the Florida Sanitary Code.
Local zoning approval
Your local government has a say in the sale of alcoholic beverages through zoning codes. For example, you’re unlikely to get local zoning approval for a liquor license in a residential zone.
But even if your business is in an area that’s zoned commercial, you’re not guaranteed acceptance.
Zoning regulations require specific distance separation—your alcohol sales must not adversely impact (negatively affect) the surrounding area. Typically, you must be 250 to 1,000 feet from a residential zone or school, park, daycare, or government-owned property. You must also not be near another liquor store or establishment that sells alcohol.
Sales and use tax registration
The Florida DBPR requires approval from the Florida Department of Revenue to apply for a liquor license. And to get the “okay” from the Department of Revenue, you must be registered for sales and use tax.
That’s because—as a business owner selling taxable goods—you must register to collect, report, and pay sales and use tax in the state of Florida.
Report related party information
The liquor license application requires you to list related party personal information. Related parties are anyone directly connected with the business. You don’t need to list employees, but you must include:
- Sole proprietor
- Partners, officers, and directors
- Individual shareholders (if they meet ownership requirements)
- Partners of each general partnership or limited partnership
- Members, managers, or partners of a limited liability company (LLC)
- Anyone who will receive a financial profit from the business
Each interested person should indicate whether they’ve had any arrests in the past 15 years and may need to provide certified copies of arrest records.
Register with Sunbiz
The state doesn’t allow just anyone to get an alcohol liquor license—you must have a legally registered business entity (a separate legal existence for tax purposes). The most common types of business entities are sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, or corporation.
Whichever legal structure you choose, you must register with Sunbiz. The Florida Division of Corporations administers Sunbiz, which serves as the state’s central point for business activities.
Right of occupancy requirement
Along with your liquor license application, you may need to submit a:
- Lease agreement
- Rental contract
- Warranty deed
- Other proof of occupancy
These documents can prove that you have the legal right of occupancy to your bar, restaurant, or business location. Basically, it establishes that you can legally operate a business in the place in which you’re requesting a liquor license.
Contracts and service agreements
The Florida DBPR might request any contracts and service agreements you may have. These could include management contracts, franchise agreements, concessions agreements, restaurant and bar insurance policies, or other coverages pertaining to your business.
Sketch of your location
A sketch of the premises is part of the application process for a Florida liquor license. It can be hand-drawn in ink or computer-generated, but blueprints aren’t accepted.
The drawing must label each room and show the location of walls, doors, windows, and counters.
Along with your application, you’ll also submit your fingerprints. The DBPR suggests using a Livescan Service Provider and submitting your fingerprints at least 5 days before submitting your application. Here’s why: If your fingerprints aren’t available when your application arrives, the DBPR will determine your application is incomplete.
Types of Florida liquor licenses
Like most things in life, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all liquor license. The types of liquor licenses available vary from package sales for off-premises consumption to serving beer, wine, and liquor for customers to enjoy on or off your premises (the building and property your business occupies).
For example, here are some common Florida alcohol licenses that might apply to your business situation:
- 2COP license: Short for Consumption On Premises, lets you serve beer and wine by the drink or in sealed containers. Despite the “on premises” designation, it allows you to sell alcohol for consumption on or off the premises.
- 4COP: Commonly referred to as a full liquor license, it’s good for beer, wine, and liquor. Alcohol can be served and consumed on or off the premises.
- 1APS: Allows package sales of beer only and limits consumption to off-premises.
- 2APS: For package sales of beer and wine (no liquor). Customers must also consume the alcohol off-premises.
- SFS license: A specialty license for a particular type of business, such as food service establishments, catering businesses, and culinary education programs. Allows the sale of beer, wine, and liquor—but the service area must be at least 2,500 square feet.
These are just 5 of the many liquor licenses available in the state of Florida. If you’re unsure which is best for your business, talk to the Florida DBPR or an attorney for advice.
Special considerations for quota licenses
Any license that allows the sale of beer, wine, and liquor is a quota license. This type of license is more difficult to get than a new license. That’s because Florida has a per-county cap on the number of licenses available. The state issues one quota license for every 7,500 people in the county.
To get a quota license, you can:
- Enter the quota license lottery drawing
- Apply to purchase a quota license from the open market
You can learn more about the quota license drawing on the Florida DBPR website. And remember, even if you buy an existing license, you must follow the fees and application process set by the state.
Can I get a one-day liquor license in Florida?
Temporary permits to sell alcohol are available for 1, 2, or 3-day events. However, there’s a catch—it’s only available for:
- Non-profit civic organizations
- Charitable organizations
- Municipalities or counties
Plus, the license allows alcohol sales for customers to enjoy on the premises only.
The requirements to apply include:
- An application form
- Proof of non-profit status
- Approval from zoning, the Department of Revenue, and Sunbiz
The application process sounds easy enough—complete an application, pay the fees, and get your license. However, in practice, there’s much more to it than a few simple steps. Make sure to ask for help if you aren’t sure what to do next.
How much does a Florida liquor license cost?
The cost of your liquor license depends on the types of alcohol you want to serve and the location of your business. Generally, annual license fees can range from $28 to $392 for a beer or wine license. To also serve hard liquor, you might pay $468 to $1,820 for your annual license fee.
But keep in mind the fees vary by county. The Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (ABT) has a complete listing of annual license fees. Generally, Florida counties with populations over 100,000—Dade, Broward, Pinellas, Polk, Palm Beach—have higher annual pricing than counties with fewer people.
The fees and requirements can be challenging to navigate. Some business owners hire an attorney to help with the process. But an attorney isn’t required, and you can DIY your Florida liquor license if you understand the process and requirements.
However, one crucial part of being a business owner you shouldn’t DIY is liability protection. Without proper small business insurance, you may have to pay out-of-pocket for costly damages and expensive legal claims against your company.