Skip to Content

Can Catering Companies Serve Alcohol Without Liquor License?

Yes, catering companies in the United States can serve alcohol. Although their business priority is food service, alcohol and drinks can also be an important facet of your business. Clients may desire bar service in addition to the food and these companies can handle cash bars efficiently and professionally with basic organization and planning.

Requirements You Need to Serve Alcohol as a Caterer

However, when looking to serve alcohol, you will need to obtain whatever liquor licenses your local and state governments require. A liquor license gives a business the legal right to serve alcohol as well as the responsibility of serving and selling liquor in compliance with local regulations.

a. Liquor License

In the United States, each state and even certain municipalities have their own liquor laws and requirements for procuring a liquor license, so it is important to research and understand the liquor laws in your state as you prepare to serve alcohol.

Liquor License Laws regulate things like types of alcohol a business is allowed to sell, the cost of alcohol, what containers alcohol can be served in, and times when alcohol is allowed to be sold. They can also designate whether discounts on liquor are allowed or if unfinished wine bottles can be taken out of an event.

b. Liquor Liability Insurance

Caterers looking to serve alcohol are also advised to acquire liquor liability insurance to cover themselves against the possibility of alcohol – related lawsuits. Your insurance policy will cover costs incurred if someone makes a legal claim against your business. If you use independent contractor bartenders, it is imperative to check each contractor’s proof of liability insurance prior to beginning a work shift.

c. Catering Contract

Also create a contract with every client, especially one that separates the food service and the alcohol service. Take your time to analyze what your operating expense will be to set up, staff and operate the cash bar. Once a client decides to include a cash bar for an event, ensure that you will receive all the proceeds collected at the cash bar to cover your inventory expenses.

It is also advisable to understand the amount of alcohol you are required to stock in a bar for an event. For instance, average alcohol consumption at an event is three glasses of wine or three hard liquor beverages, but this average may be more or less depending on the event type, geographic location and length.

Also offer recommendations to client for specific alcoholic beverages to offer in the cash bar – well drinks (all – purpose liquor – brandy, whiskey and bourbon, for example), call drinks (premium liquor brands that customers request by name), wine, and beer, soda and drink mixers. Stock the cash bar with alcohol according to the client’s desires.

How to Obtain a Liquor License for your Catering Business

First, contact your state Department of Revenue to find out what licenses you need to obtain to operate a catered cash bar in your state. You may need to complete special training to acquire licensing. Learn the laws and guidelines that govern serving liquor to ensure that you operate your catered cash bars within the law.

1. Research your state’s liquor laws

Take your time to look into whether there are additional requirements in your city or county as well. You can find this information by consulting your state’s ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) board. In addition, if you are still on the fence about what type of license you will need, your state’s alcohol or liquor control agency may also be able to help.

2. Apply with your local alcohol control agency

After finding out the requirements of your local laws and have determined the type of license you need to serve alcohol, you can apply directly with your local alcohol or liquor control agency.

3. Acquire all other business permits needed

In the United States, you might likely need some other permits first (business license, building and zoning permits, health permit, and sales tax permit), so definitely check out the application ahead of time. You will also want to give yourself some additional buffer time. It may take several months for your application to be completely processed.

4. Defend your proposal

Also note that you may even need to defend your proposal to sell liquor at a public hearing if a member of your local community protests your application. Always be prepared to point out your reasons and stand firm when defending them.

5. Remember to renew licenses and permits

Finally, do not forget that getting a liquor license is not a one – time task. You will need to renew your liquor license every one to three years, and if you are found to be in violation of liquor laws you could have your license revoked completely.


Caterers are allowed to serve alcohol in the United States, and although obtaining a liquor license may seem complicated, thorough preparation and knowledge will put you well on your way to selling alcohol at your business. Offering beer, wine, and liquor at your events will help you increase your profits with very little extra effort and can also help attract more customers.