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Q: Restaurants Opening Without Liquor Licenses

To anyone in the restaurant business, I'd like to know a little bit about something. I have been to three restaurants this month which had each been open for a few weeks. They all had liquor menus, but once I tried to order something I was informed that they did not have their liquor license yet.

Do restaurants ideally wish to get the licenses in time for opening, or is there a "it'll come when it comes" attitude? If it takes such a long time to get a license, why not get on it immediately? Are delays common?

Gotta say, it irks me a little to go out and not be able to have some wine or whatnot. I almost wish I would be told when coming into the restaurant "we don't have our license yet", so I could go somewhere else and then come back when I can get the full experience.

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  1. In some states in the US (e.g., Oregon) getting the license is difficult and expensive.

    1. Here in PA it's also very expensive to get a license. My understanding of it is that here in PA, there are a limited number of liquor licenses available in the state of PA. Through the laws of supply and demand these licenses are sold at high prices and not everyone opening a new restaurant can afford the license.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Rick

        That is correct. It costs upward of $150K to get a liquor license, there is a quota, and we can't transfer licenses from one county to another. They do not make it easy for smaller restaurants!

      2. liquor laws vary from state to state, and even within the state itself. in boston a liquor license costs about $250,000 and there are a finite amount. so a proprietor has to find one that's available, before even applying to the city. a wine and cordial license is easier and less expensive, but still no cake-walk. i'm in the business, and you want to have that license in place opening day to maximize revenue.

        that being said, rents are so high here that any serious restaurant cannot make enough money just being byob. it's one of the reasons dining out in boston is so costly.

        1. Probably the main question to be asked here, from the consumer's point of view is: are we talking of a license to SELL alcohol, or a license to CONSUME in the premises?
          In the first case (and only then) BYOB should be OK.
          In CA my feeling is the license refers to consuming, irrespective of where the bottle was purchased.
          However, many restaurans without license allow patrons to BYOB anyways.

          1 Reply
          1. re: RicRios

            here in massachusetts, if a place has a license, it's totally illegal to bring your own. even without, not every town allows byob, so you can be completely out of luck.

          2. Here in PA if they don't have a license BYOB requires no license. You'll sometimes find places offering a free drink with dinner. They're allowed to give away alcohol, just can't sell. Last year before a local Mexican place got their license, they had patio parties with a few free margaritas included with the price of dinner.