Essential Mobile Bar Liquor License Q&A

How do I get an alcohol permit? Is this crucial to starting a mobile bar?


Launching the Bar in your mobile bar business can be the biggest headache of them all! But these are the questions we help answer time and again for our Tap Truck Family. Another fun one is building out your Tap Truck mobile bar Vehicle, but this is a story for next time! Just to put this out here in the beginning, this is link to begin the conversation with us to join the forever growing Tap Truck family: Tap Truck Business Opportunities 


We have compiled a list of questions we face with some insight to beginning the process of being able to buy and sell alcohol as a catering business. Enjoy!


We wish it was an easy answer. It would be nice if there was a national answer as a whole, however liquor laws are interpreted and broken down by states.




Question: How / Where do I get a liquor license?

“Good question! Often times it is quite a lengthy process which starts at the ABC. Here are some different state names for what the office might be called. ABC (alcohol beverage control) TLC (Tobacco and Liquor Control). Other names can be Liquor Board or even the ATF (alcohol, tobacco and firearms). Whatever branch name runs alcohol permits within your state, these are the folks who work with or against you in getting you permitted. You have to remember these laws surrounding the control of a once nationally banned substance begins with making sure you/ yourself are legal. This can be a life scan to make sure you are not a convicted felon. A life scan is fingerprinting to make sure you are who you are as paperwork gets filled out and submitted through your ABC.”


Question: Do I need a location to have a liquor license? 

“Sometimes no, but usually yes! We hate to say it, but this can be a major roadblock. So sorry if it might not work! And if just beginning a spot, it can take a bit to pass inspection with other local offices when open to the public. In states where you need a location, this hunt can begin, and is not much fun. You could need to have a location permit just in order to have a separate catering alcohol permit which gets added on to this as a supplemental. What that means is different categories, like beer and wine license plus catering would be different from hard alcohol plus catering permit. Again, it carries by state, but this can be a number of pages and double or triple that for each partner and their spouses when applying for the permit. State or cities can have their own regions where offices clearing a permit can take months at a time. Months at a time can be in getting your permit. Additionally, filling paperwork for each individual event maybe needed and this can include law enforcement sign off. Time to pick up the phone to the local sheriff! That is how it is in strict states!”


Question: What type of liquor license do I need? 

“It depends on your business model as well as state laws. Hate to bring it back to the legality on the local level, but it is always the case. There are different basics within alcohol permits: Manufacturing, distributing, or Retail. These are the three categories across the board that say what the business does primarily. Fun fact is that you cannot have a monopoly with your hand in each pie as an owner. State laws break down these rules to create different permits so this develops the route you might choose to operate your business. To make that a little simpler, you couldn’t be distilling whiskey, selling it to your distributor that you are a partner in and then back to your restaurant.”


Question: Could I pick up kegs and deliver for a catering?  / Could I purchase and re-sell alcohol to a client?

“The answer would be yes as a distributor! which means you hold license to drop deliver kegs, cases, beer wine cider, it you have hard alcohol too then that as well. *Note - this might be a little different when working with a brewery vs distillery.”


Question: Could I purchase and serve alcohol to a client? Can I buy and sell alcohol to a client? 

“The answer would be yes as a retailer! Just like a restaurant does as they have everything ready to serve their guests.”


Question: What liquor license do I need in my state as a mobile bar?

“There is quite a variety from simple states such as: Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, that may be as easy as yearly paperwork. 


Most states might require a restaurant or retail location such as these: Tennessee, California, Colorado, North Carolina, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Arizona, Delaware, New Hampshire, Texas, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and New Jersey.


Some states need a food catering company and commissary to work with the sale of alcohol: Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Georgia, Hawaii.


There are states that just need only individual permits pulled each day: New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and New Mexico.


Lastly, there are states that have no real permitting: Alabama, Wyoming, Iowa, Kansas, Alaska, Utah, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Arkansas.”



Question: How do I get an alcohol catering license? 

“Some states need correct filling paperwork and the supplementals. Others require a location (open to the public) to proceed and then paperwork for the separate catering license as well.” 


Question: How do I get a beer garden permit? 

“This could be a simple one-day event that anyone could pull with the right paperwork in place! For example, nonprofits do this all the time at venues or sporting events. With that no other alcohol permits needed for these one-day events. Pretty awesome I would say. But after all this would be on behalf of a nonprofit so money should be going toward the cause.”


Question: Do you need an alcohol permit to bartend?

“No, you do not need a permit to bartend but what bartenders might need is a L.E.A.D or Servesafe program certification.   So no to an alcohol permit to bartend but yes there is a certification that might be needed. This can be a 2-hour course online to educate the certificate holder on legal and safe serving of alcohol beverages. There is a lot of liability with such responsibility so having all staff and partners certified is wise. There is allot of good information in such classes to help scope out tricky situations in advance.”


Question: Do I need an alcohol permit to operate a mobile bar? 

“Actually no! as you could be a simple rental and bartending. This could keep things simple, but you miss the sales of alcohol and the service in handling that for your client. It’s always nice as a caterer to pick up the phone as a one stop shop ready to professionally handle the task from start to finish.”


Question: What do I need for a beer and wine alcohol license? 

“A lot less then hard liquor!  Another trick too is that hard liquor is a game changer when it comes to insurance liability as well. It costs a lot more! … but I guess it could yield a bit more…  Beer and wine are a lower risk and smaller asset based on the area.”




In the beverage catering realm, there are many directions to take when servicing the client. Working with them, understanding and creating what they think they might need is what this business is all about!  A simple Tap Truck Rental? Ordering up some bartenders with it? Maybe they just need the polish of a professional. All in all, alcohol can be a dangerous substance. Some can harm themselves but more often than not harming others is worst case. Subsequently this is what has shaped a lot of laws we see today, and these laws are all built around liability. Who is liable when things go wrong? Maybe serving a bunch of bad malt! Maybe over-serving guests or minors. All these factors are what have built the systems we see today. We have to thank the systems that keep us safe. 


Creativity, know-how and teamwork is what Tap Truck brings to the table regrading tackling liquor licensing. It’s just one of the things we help save time and money in being able to legal serve and sell alcohol. Partnering with us helps aid as all our knowledge and resources are in your back pocket!  Another reason Tap Truck keeps popping up across the world.  Learn more about our licensing immediately.  It never hurts to chat : Tap Truck Business Opportunities