How Much Does a Liquor License Cost in California?

Written by Austin Chegini

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California law requires any business that sells alcohol to obtain a license by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. While commonly referred to as liquor licenses, these permits can be for beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages. 

If you are planning on opening a restaurant or bar in California, be prepared to spend a large amount for your liquor license. Because California places limits on the number of liquor licenses available, you might have to buy one from a private seller. 

For this reason, prices can range from under $1,000 to $400,000 for these permits.

How much does a California liquor license cost?

California has permits for a variety of circumstances, so weโ€™ll provide a brief overview of common application fees.

General licenses

  • General: Priority (Types 21, 47, 48, 57, 71, 72, 75, 83, 87, 88, 99): $15,835
  • General: Non-Priority (Types 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 76, 80): $905
  • Type 47: On-Sale General Eating Place on Public Property: $6,000
  • Type 62: On-Sale General Dockside: $2,000
  • Type 64: Special On-Sale General Theater: $1,000
  • Type 70: On-Sale General Restrictive Service: $6,000
  • Type 78: Wine, Food, and Art Museum: $12,000

Non-Profit Temporary Licenses

  • Daily Beer and Wine: $50
  • Daily General: $75
  • Special Daily On-Sale: $100
  • Special Daily Off-Sale: $100
  • Special Daily Auction: $100

Catering and Event Permits

  • Under 1,000 in Attendance: $100
  • 1,000 and 4,999 in Attendance: $325
  • 5,000 or more in Attendance: $1,000
  • Invitation Only Events pursuant to 25600.5: $200

For detailed information, please see the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control application fee schedule.

What determines how much you pay?

As you can see, California has quite a few different liquor license application fees. While this system is designed to consider intended use, it can be confusing. 

The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control says fees fall under three categories:

  • Production-based fees: Businesses must report production each year. Depending on total output, your business will fall into a tier with a specified fee. For example, Winegrowers pay an annual fee based on how many gallons they produce each year.
  • Population-based fees: Some license fees are determined by the population of your city. Luckily, California makes this easy by grouping fees into three tiers: 1) cities of over 40,000 people, 2) cities of 20,000 to 40,000 people, 3) all other jurisdictions.
  • Seasonal Fees: Seasonal businesses pay an annual fee based on how long they plan to operate. The amount due will vary based on three-month increments. Note: The California government no longer issues new seasonal licenses.

On top of these fees, you will need to pay for the license, transfer, and some other miscellaneous fees. 

As state earlier, the government regulates how many liquor licenses are available in one city. If you want to start a bar in a major hub like Los Angeles or San Francisco, you will likely need to purchase a liquor license from a private seller. 

You can visit sites like the California Department of Tax Liquor License Auction and Liquor License Auctioneers to see current asking prices.

What type of license do you need?

California has a wide range of licenses, and you apply for the wrong type, you will only end up wasting your time and money. Also, if you misunderstand the terms of your license, you will be limited to selling only certain types of alcohol.

For the most part, businesses will need one of the following options. 

  • Type 20 License: Intended for businesses that provide offer off-sale beer and wine only. Under this type, customers buy alcohol on site but cannot consume it on your premises. Most gas stations and retail stores will opt for a Type 20 License for this reason and because it is the least expensive license. However, you cannot sell liquor with a Type 20. 
  • Type 21 License: If you want to sell beer, wine, and liquor in your store, then the Type 21 is a good choice. Like the Type 20 License, customers can buy alcohol from you but cannot drink it on your property. These licenses are often more expensive than a Type 20, but they do open a new revenue stream.
  • Type 47 License: This is an On Sale General Full Liquor license, and restaurants that want to serve alcohol will need this type of permit. However, a Type 47 License only allows you to sell beer and wine. Moreover, you must show that 50% of all sales come from food or else you will need a license that is meant for bars.
  • Type 48 License: If you want to open a bar that sells all types of beer, wine, and liquor, then you will want a Type 48 License. Your customers can consume alcohol on your property and you do not have to worry about serving food. With this in mind, it should be no surprise that a Type 48 License will cost much more than any other option. You will often see these for sale in the six figures.

Epos Now - The POS built for liquor stores and bars

Once you obtain your California liquor license, you will need to choose the right software to manage your business. A modern point of sale system will be crucial for tracking purchases, processing payments, and managing your inventory. 

A liquor store POS system can keep track of bottles on display and inventory in storage, as well as automatically re-order stock when levels are low. 

A restaurant and bar POS will track all drinks with precisions, including the remaining pours in a bottle. On top of that, it can help with age verification, manage tabs, and integrate with your kitchen to process food orders. 

Epos Now offers handheld, tablet, and desktop POS solutions to match any business environment. 

Contact our representatives today to learn more about our products.

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