It is well known that serving alcohol is subject to regulation by California’s Alcohol Beverage Commission (ABC), but the regulatory scheme is so complicated it can be hard to understand what permits and licenses are needed for special events, 1-day events, and private parties. What are California’s liquor license rules for businesses or individuals who would like to serve alcohol, wine, beer, or spirits at a special event, for 1-day purposes, or at a private party? Our guide breaks down the rules.
California Special Event Liquor License Laws
California’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission generally requires a license/permit before alcohol can be served at a special event, unless there are certain exceptions.
Exception for Private Parties
If your event involves a “private party” within the definition of this term, then you will not need a license.
A private party is defined as an event that:
- Is not open to the public
- Cannot be attended by anyone who is not specifically invited
- Does not involve anyone paying for alcohol
- Where alcohol is furnished for the party-goers by the host, at the host’s expense
- No attendees are charged any admission fees, bar fees, cork fees, or any other type of fees
- There is no cash bar
- There are no other “fees” to be paid (like entry fee, raffle fees, etc.) that could be construed as a way of paying for the alcohol
The Starting Point: What will be Occurring at Your Event?
The best way to determine whether you need a license or not is to evaluate the nature of the event:
- The event is private, i.e a bona fide guest list restricts access to invited guests only and no members of the public can attend.
- 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, no food charge.
- The event venue does not require an ABC permit
If all of the requirements above are met, it is deemed a “private party” and you can serve without a permit.
If not all of the requirements above are met, or your guests will be purchasing their own alcohol (through tickets, cash, etc.) you will need an event permit.
How to Get a Special Event Permit (ABC 218) to Service Liquor, Alcohol, Wine or Beer at a Special Event
The easiest way to have alcohol furnished at your event is to arrange for what is called an “ABC Event Permit” (ABC 218). An ABC 218 permit permits alcohol to be furnished and served at non-private party type special events. You will need to hire a catering company licensed with the Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC) and then have the request and permit fee for the event permit submitted and paid to the ABC at least 10 days prior to the event. The catering company will be “serving” the alcohol. You can buy the alcohol on your own.
Is there any Standalone 1-Day Liquor License Permit Available for Regular Businesses (I.e., not Non-Profits)?
There is no standalone 1-day permit available for private businesses. Only nonprofit and nonprofit-type groups are permitted to apply for the 1-day permit.
Can We “Become” a Catering Company to File the ABC 218 Application?
Unfortunately, no. There is no way to “become” a catering company for purposes of being able to file the ABC 218 permit – the catering company must already have a liquor license, and then the license that permits them to cater alcohol is added to that existing license. From there the special event permit is applied for by the catering company.
What if We Have a Licensed/Certified Bartender. Do We Will Need a Liquor License?
Yes. California Alcoholic Beverage Commission does not regard the licensure/certification of an individual bartender as complying with the license/permit laws. You will still need the appropriate liquor license.
Options for Liquor Catering Companies
In the event your business or entity needs to hire a liquor catering company, below are a few companies local to the Los Angeles metro area that provide liquor catering services (not affiliated with this law firm in any way).
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