Knowing whether or not you need a California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Liquor License and Event Permit for catering and special events in California can be confusing.
One can be easily misguided regarding the laws regarding liquor licenses, alcohol service and permits for catering and special events. In addition, the ABC has become increasingly strict with the types of events they approve for alcohol service and the enforcement of the law. Not complying and maintaining proper licenses and permits can result in both legal and financial consequences to the both the hosting party and venue.
Common questions we get are: When do I need an ABC permit? Do I need to hire a licensed caterer? Can I hire a licensed bartender? We have put together some commonly asked questions and answers to assist in the professional, compliant and legal service of alcohol for your next event.
Who governs the service of alcohol at events?
The Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) is a state-run government agency that oversees the licensing of alcohol service in the State of California for all restaurants, bars, hotels, retail stores, caterers and events. (http://abc.ca.gov/)
When must I have an ABC event permit in place?
Under one or more of the following circumstances, an ABC event permit is required at an event.
• The event is open to the public, i.e. no private guest list or someone can walk in uninvited
• There is any admission cost for the event, i.e. ticket price, donation or door charge
• Any other fundraising activities are being held at the event, i.e. silent auction
• Drinks are being sold at the bar, i.e. no-host or “cash” bar
• A licensed caterer is providing the alcoholic beverages
• The event venue requires an ABC permit to be in place for the event
When do I NOT need to have an ABC event permit in place?
An ABC event permit is not required if ALL of the following are true.
• The event is private, i.e a bona fide guest list restricts access to invited guests ONLY
• The host is providing all of the alcohol
• All drinks are complimentary, i.e. hosted bar
• There is no admission cost for the event, i.e. no ticket price, donation or door charge
• The event venue does not require an ABC permit
Do you need to own a Liquor License to cater alcohol at an event?
Yes. The first step to cater alcoholic beverages anywhere in the State of California is to own a Type 47 or 48 (full liquor license) or a Type 41 or 42 (beer & wine only license). These licenses are typically held by a restaurant, hotel or licensed caterer. With one of these licenses, the licensee must then apply for a 58 License (sometimes referred to as a “Caterer’s Permit”) which then allows the licensee to apply for event permits (see below) to serve alcohol outside their licensed premises.
What is an ABC event permit?
An ABC event permit (also known as an ABC 218) is required whenever a licensed caterer serves alcohol at a catered event. The ABC license owner files a request and pays a fee to the ABC with the event date, location, event sponsor, hours and guest count for the specific event. Once approved, the permit must be on-site during the catered event.
Who may file for an ABC 218 event permit?
You must be an ABC license owner as described above to file for an ABC 218 permit.
How long does it take to get an ABC event permit?
It is very important to plan ahead. The ABC requires the permit to be filed at least 10 DAYS prior to the event. I see it happen time and time again with frantic last minute requests. Event planners don’t take the ABC requirements seriously or simply don’t think it applies to them. They are then scrambling a day or two before the event to find someone who can permit the event. By that time, unfortunately it is too late.
Can I get an event permit for my private party without hiring a licensed caterer?
You must either hire an ABC licensed caterer or if your event is a fundraiser and your organization is a registered and certified Non-Profit Organization (501-C3), then you may apply for a 1 day event permit (ABC 221) directly with the ABC. Keep in mind that you still may want to hire a caterer or licensed event staffing company to staff, serve and manage the alcohol service.
Can someone other than the ABC provide permits to serve alcohol at an event?
No. The ABC is the only organization that is authorized to approve alcohol event permits.
How many ABC event permits can be issued at an event venue per calendar year?
The ABC limits the number of event permits that can be issued at a single event location to 24 per calendar year.
Can multiple ABC event permits be obtained for the same event?
No. The ABC only allows one event permit to be issued for an event so only employees of the licensed company can serve under that permit.
How can I be sure that the caterer I hire is ABC licensed?
Ask your caterer to provide you a copy of their ABC liquor license and 58 Caterer’s Permit.
Is an ABC liquor license transferable for an event?
No. Liquor licenses and event permits are not transferable and cannot be “borrowed”. The only staff authorized to serve alcohol under an ABC liquor license and event permit are the employees of the company that owns the license. Always check to make sure the name on the liquor license is the same name as the company you are hiring.
What is a “licensed bartender”?
Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a “licensed bartender”. Companies are ABC licensed, not bartenders, however it is always best to hire bartending staff from a licensed caterer or event staffing company. If a bartender says they are licensed, just ask to see their ABC liquor license.
What do I do if my event venue asks for proof that I am hiring a licensed caterer?
Once you have secured the services of an ABC licensed caterer, ask them to provide a copy of their ABC liquor license and event permit to the event location.
Do some event venues require a permit even for private events?
Yes. Event venues are becoming increasingly concerned about non-licensed companies serving alcohol at events and the liability associated with this. In order to insure that a licensed company is serving, a venue may require a permit even if the ABC does not.
Are there any event venues that cannot be permitted for an event?
The ABC will not issue event permits for locations that currently are in the application process to obtain a permanent liquor license, i.e. restaurant, bar, hotel or banquet facility. In addition, any property that has a history of violations or repeated problems with law enforcement agencies may not be able to be permitted.
My caterer says they can provide liquor, but don’t own a liquor license. Is this okay?
No. You must own an ABC liquor license to cater alcohol for any type of event. Contrary to popular belief, most caterers do not own liquor licenses and cannot legally cater alcoholic beverages. Purchasing alcohol at a retail store and reselling it to you or being “reimbursed by you” is illegal and strictly forbidden by the ABC. If your caterer is providing you alcohol under any circumstances, they must own an ABC liquor license.
If I provide the alcohol for my own event, can my caterer or staffing company serve?
Yes. A non-licensed caterer or event staffing company can serve alcohol providing to them by the host. Make sure that all the criteria for a non-permitted event apply if you are hiring a non-licensed caterer or staffing company (see above). Also, make sure that they provide you a copy of their Liquor Liability insurance policy (not General Liability). This way you know you are protected from any liability resulting from alcohol service.
Will a liquor store license work for my event?
No. A liquor store license, also known as an “off sale” license, is not permitted to cater alcoholic beverages and not able to apply for ABC event permits (see types of licenses required above).
Can a Beer & Wine only license owner cater Full Liquor?
No. Only the privileges extended to the license owner under their liquor license can be extended to the event, i.e. Type 41 or 42 licenses can only serve beer and wine at an event, type 47 or 48 licenses can serve Full Liquor at an event. Full Liquor includes the service of spirits, i.e. cocktails and mixed drinks.
If drink tickets instead of cash are used at the bar, do I still need an event permit?
Yes. Tickets are considered the same as cash. Either way, the ABC views it as money changing hands for drinks, so an ABC event permit is required. Also, the old fraternity party trick of “charging for the cup” and giving the alcohol away free is still considered paying for drinks.
Can I be fined for illegally reselling alcoholic beverages?
Yes. The ABC is actively pursuing the illegal service of alcoholic beverages at events, non-licensed caterers, and events operating without proper permits.
What is the legal drinking age in California?
At no time are alcoholic beverages to be served to or consumed by any person under the age of 21.
What time do you have to stop serving alcohol?
At no time are alcoholic beverages to be served between the hours of 2:00am and 6:00am. Furthermore, all drinks must be out of the hands of guests by 2:00am, therefore, it is recommended to stop alcohol service no later than 1:30am.
Is it legal to serve alcohol after 2:00am if it is in a private home?
Though it may be commonplace to consume alcohol in a private home after 2:00am, it is NOT legal for a hired company (e.g. event staffing or catering company) to serve alcohol after 2:00am, even in a private home. If they do so, they are breaking the law just like they would be if in a restaurant or bar. If you must have that drink at home after 2:00am, you will just have to get up and serve it yourself.
Is it illegal to serve someone who is obviously intoxicated?
Yes. It is a misdemeanor to serve alcohol to any person who appears obviously intoxicated and, of course, it is illegal to drink and drive…so don’t do it.
We hope this helped clarify any confusion regarding the Alcoholic Beverage Control rules and regulations regarding alcohol service. Please reference our PREFERRED VENDOR LIST for license caterers to help you with your next event!