Here’s the lowdown on what permits and licences you’ll need to open a bar in California.
Among the most important steps for opening a bar have to do with licensing, permits and insurance. You need to acquire all the right licenses and permits, and get insured, in order to legally open a bar or other licensed premises. We’re here to help you get started on all licensing and permit requirements, and be sure to check your local area regulations or confirm with legal counsel that you have everything you need to legally open a bar in California.
The number of permits you need as well as the costs vary state to state. For California, here are the most important steps.
Complete an Alcohol Dealer Registration
Any business that sells alcohol in the United States has to register with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and file a TTB D 5630.5d Alcohol Dealer Registration. Though the form is simple to fill out, processing can take two to three months, so be sure to start on this one early!
Get an ABC liquor license
The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control regulates all liquor licenses in California. Start your application well before you plan to open, because it takes at least three months for an ABC liquor license to be issued. Common California ABC license types for bars include:
- Type 40 liquor license (On-Sale Beer): For selling only beer for consumption on or off the premises. Full meals aren’t required, although sandwiches or snacks must be available. Minors are allowed to enter and stay at the establishment.
- Type 42 liquor license (On-Sale Beer & Wine - Public Premises): A beer and wine license, allowing for their sale and consumption on or off the premises. Food service isn’t required. Distilled spirits are not permitted, and minors are not allowed to enter and stay.
- Type 48 liquor license (On-Sale General - Public Premises): For bars and nightclubs, this liquor license allows the sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits for consumption on the premises, and the sale of beer and wine for consumption off the premises. Food service isn’t required and minors are not allowed to enter and remain on the premises.
Once you apply, a notice will be posted at your location to let the public know that alcohol will be sold on the premises. The public will have 30 days to voice concerns and complaints. If there are no objections, the department will launch an investigation into the background of anyone listed in the application, the location and the business as a whole.
Learn more about how to get started with your liquor license application.
Other licenses, permits or certificates needed
Beyond the liquor license, you’ll need a variety of other permits, licenses and insurance coverage, such as:
A business license
Some cities ask that businesses have a license to operate in the area where the business is located. Check with your city to find out whether you need a business license, and whether you meet all the requirements to open your bar.
An Employer Identification Number (EIN)
Also called a tax identification number, this is a federal ID number that’s used for filings, reports and tax withholding accounts for employees. You can use this number to make estimated tax payments. It’s easy to apply on the IRS website and there are no filing fees.
Workers’ compensation insurance
In California, all employers must have workers’ compensation insurance. Any authorized and licensed broker or agent can issue this insurance, so you can purchase it directly from them. Consult the California Department of Insurance website for a full list of authorized insurers.
A health permit
Your county’s Environmental Health Department issues health permits for bars, which are permits for the sale of edible goods. This is because every city has its own specific building codes, fire department regulations and police department guidelines to follow. Contact your local Department of Environmental Health to file an application and have your facility approved.
Responsible Beverage Service (RBS) training is crucial. By law, all on-premises alcohol servers and their managers are required to have their RBS Certification by July 1, 2022. If you need training for your employees, Userve’s RBS Certification Training Program is state-approved, and can provide you with a complimentary Userve Business Account if you plan on enrolling 3 or more employees.
Food Manager Certification
In California, any facility that serves food of any kind must have at least one employee, typically the owner or a manager, who has passed their state-approved Food Manager Certification exam. If your bar includes food service, be sure that you’re meeting the state certification requirements.
Food Handler Certificate
If you’re planning to serve food at your bar, California law also requires all employees who will handle that food to have a Food Handler Certificate, also known as a Food Handler Card. A food handler is anyone who works in a facility with food and prepares, stores or serves that food.
New employees have 30 days to acquire a Food Handler Certificate from an ANAB-accredited training provider. As the employer, it’s your job to maintain records on each employee who handles food and their Food Handler Certificate.
Food service license
A food service license demonstrates that a restaurant (or bar that serves food) meets food prep, storage and safety regulations. It shows that your business is up to code and complies with all food safety laws. The city or county Health Department conducts an inspection, then issues a food service license once approved. The Health Department also conducts regular assessments to ensure standards are consistently maintained as you run your business.
Special licenses and permits
Depending on the type of bar you’re opening, you may also require a variety of other licenses and permits. For example:
- Sign permit: You could require a special license to display a sign outside your bar — the city may have signage restrictions. Check with your landlord or government officials to be sure.
- Music license: If you play music in your establishment from artists without their permission, you could face a copyright infringement suit. To cover your bases, you can acquire a license from a music licensing company, such as the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) or Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI). Though the costs can be substantial for an annual license, the fee comes with a vast library of music to choose from and protection from any liability.
- Renovation permits: If you intend to renovate the building to construct your perfect bar, you’ll need to show your plans to your region’s department of building inspection and fire department. This is to make sure your build follows safety and accessibility rules.
- Pool table permit: If you plan to provide pool tables or other games of chance for customers, you need a permit issued by your city’s government.
In short, if you plan to open a bar in California, you need to be diligent and make sure you get the appropriate ABC liquor licenses, permits, certificates and insurance. Don’t wait until the last minute to start applying for these licenses and permits — and ensure staff meet all alcohol server and food handler certificate requirements!