If you are starting a hospitality business and want to sell beer, you are going to need to understand the ins and outs of getting a beer permit. Getting a beer permit is complicated by the fact that the sale and distribution of beer is governed by beer boards organized by city and county governments. In this article we’ll focus on selling alcoholic beverages of less than 10.1% ABV (i.e. hard ciders, sodas and beer), and we’ll also explain some of the specifics of getting a beer permit in Nashville, Tennessee.
If you are also wanting to sell liquor (i.e. wine, spirits and high gravity beer over 10.1% ABV), you will need to get a liquor license. Click here for details about obtaining a liquor license in Tennessee
Step 1: What kind of hospitality business are you starting?
Are you starting a bar, nightclub, restaurant, retail store, wholesaler, catering company, bed & breakfast, cigar shop, nail salon or barber shop? These are some of the types of businesses that serve beer in Tennessee. In addition, if you are planning on hosting a special event such as a festival, you might be able to serve beer.
Depending on what type of business you are starting will determine which permit you will need. In Nashville there are three categories of permits: on-premises, off-premises and on and off-premises. Depending on where your customers plan to consume beer determines which permit you need. For example, if you are a restaurant, you are more than likely only going to need an on-premises permit as your customers should be consuming their beer on your premises. If you are a retail store such as a grocery store, chances are your customers will purchase their beer to consume at another location. If you are a growler filling shop, it is possible that customers will consume beer on your premises if you have tables and seating or if they just want to sample your product, and they will also take the beer to go.
Step 2: Beer Permit Application
Once you determine which category of permit you need, you will need to complete your application. It is EXTREMELY important that all questions are answered properly. A few things to note:
- The name of your business is vitally important to this application and the required documents. The name of your corporate entity and the name of the establishment may not be the same, it is important to know which name to put where on the application as all your subsequent required documents will have to show that name and address (note: spelling is CRITICAL)
- Each owner’s FULL name, DOB, SSN address, phone number and percentage interest must be included. If any of them are married, the spouse’s information is also required
- If you have a lease document, you need to know specifically when your lease starts and ends.
- If you plan to serve beer outside, you need to note that in the areas covered under the permit. Failure to do so will require you to get a second permit for an outside patio if you do not include it in the initial application.
Step 3: Beer Permit Requirements
Two major requirements to note about beer permits:
- If your customers are consuming beer on the premises your establishment must have a minimum of 16 seats to qualify for a beer permit.
- An establishment must be at least 100 feet from a schools, churches, or other places of public gathering. If your establishment falls within 100 feet from any of the above, the Metro Council will need to approve your location as eligible for a beer permit prior to your application being heard before the Beer Board. You can call the Beer Board and have an inspector come out for a measurement if you are unsure whether or not your business has a 100-foot issue.
Step 4: Trip to the Beer Board
Once you have your application complete, signed and notarized, you will need to take it to the Beer Board office located in the Howard Building on 2nd Avenue. Note: if you are not the principal in charge of the business, you will need to get whomever takes the application to the Beer Board to sign a short statement authorizing them to speak on your behalf and make changes to the application on your behalf. Once your application is accepted, the following will happen:
- You will be placed on the agenda for the Beer Board’s next meeting. Here is the calendar of when the beer board meets. You will want to attend that meeting so put it on your calendar.
- You will be required to pay the $250 application fee in cash or credit, NO CHECKS!
- You will be given a sheet that outlines the required documents you need to provide to the beer board and when they are due (more on this below).
- You will be scheduled for an inspection (more on this below).
Step 5: Beer Permit Required Documents
The following documents are required to be submitted prior to your beer board meeting:
- Health inspection
- Fire inspection
- Certificate of Existence
- Certificate of Registration
- Business License
- Lease or Deed
- Zoning Approval
- Final Use & Occupancy
- Beer Inspection approval
- If any of the owners of the business are not citizens, they will need to present their green card or other applicable documentation.
Step 6: Beer Permit Inspection
The following are required to be installed and operational when the beer inspector visits:
- A minimum of 16 seats
- Hot and cold running water
- Bathrooms operational
- Beer coolers installed and operational
- Cooking appliances installed and operational
Step 6: Beer Board meeting
The Metropolitan Beer Board is comprised of individuals appointed by the Mayor of Nashville. The Beer Board meets every two weeks, and they alternate between a Wednesday night meeting and a Thursday mid-afternoon meeting. You can find the agenda for an upcoming beer board meeting here.
The meeting will start with the Chair calling the meeting to order and addressing any business from the previous meeting. Next, the Chair will go through applications that are in order and ready to be granted, applications that need to be deferred and applications that are able to be grant and delayed. Finally, at the end of the meeting the Board will address any citations or public hearings.
If you have all of your documents submitted to the Beer Board before 3:00 pm on the Monday before your scheduled meeting, your application is likely to be granted. If your application is heard on a Wednesday night meeting you will be able to pick up your permit the next day. If you are missing documents, your application will either be deferred or grant-and-delayed. If you are missing your lease or deed document your application will most likely be deferred to the next meeting. An application can be deferred up to three times before it is deferred indefinitely. If you are only missing one or two documents (and it is not the lease or deed), you most likely can request a grant-and-delay. This means your application is granted pending receipt of required documents. This means you will not have to wait until the next meeting to get your beer permit, as soon as you submit your documents you will be able to get your permit.
Once your permit is granted you will be required to pay the remaining tax for the calendar year. This amount changes daily so it is advisable to call the beer board office to inquire how much to bring in tax. Bring credit card or cash in exact change when paying your tax.
Step 7: Beer Permit Maintenance and Renewal
There is no renewal required for your beer permit. However there is a $100 tax required each year. The Beer Board will send notices out in November about the tax, it is advised to pay this as soon as you receive it.
Some other things to keep in mind while maintaining your permit:
- Your license must be publicly displayed in the establishment along with your business license and certificate of registration. Make sure your business license is current.
- Check IDs of EVERYONE! While TN law states that a server is not required to check the identification of a person who “reasonably demonstrates an age of fifty (50) year or older”, the law is written in such a way as to expose a business to liability should they not check the identification of someone due to their age.
- If 50% or more of the ownership of the establishment changes, a new beer permit must be obtained.
- You must familiarize yourself with the beer laws. Here is a link to the beer laws, you can also request a physical copy from the Beer Board administrative staff.
For assistance in obtaining a beer permit, please call or email Schaffer Law Firm PLLC.