How do I know if I should apply for a tavern or restaurant license?

How do I know if I should apply for a tavern or restaurant license?

The same application is filed for both tavern and restaurant licenses. Selecting the wrong license type and code on page 1 of the retail application can result in a denial of the application and loss of the application fees and at least a month of processing time. A new 30 day waiting period may be necessary since the municipality will need to be notified of the change in information and intended license type with either a letter or amended municipal notice.

I am often asked about the difference between the two license types. The application is the same, the supporting documents are the same, the processing time is the same and neither is easier or harder to obtain than the other in most circumstances. The fees are somewhat less for restaurant licenses and they tend to be subject to less disciplinary investigation and oversight (undercover agents and sting operations) than a typical bar or nightclub because of the primary purpose to sell food with only incidental and complementary alcoholic beverage sales. Thus, if a premise qualifies based on how it intends to operate, a restaurant license can be the more strategic option in the long run. A fairly good litmus test for restaurant licenses:

  • Sells more food than alcoholic beverages;
  • Has a separate kitchen;
  • Has a full time cook/chef;
  • Serves entrees appropriate to different meal times throughout the day; and
  • Serves meals (entrée with sides) not just a la carte items.

Other factors:

  • No cover charge for entertainment
  • Waiter service

Some businesses clearly fall in one category or the other. Pizzerias and fast-casual can be in the “gray area.” an experienced professional can help you identify the proper category and facilitate timely processing of the application.


             About Tracy Jong

Tracy Jong has been an attorney for more than 20 years,      representing restaurants, bars, and craft beverage manufacturers in a wide array of legal matters. She is also a licensed intellectual property and patent attorney.

Her book Everything You Need To Know About Obtaining and Maintaining a New York Retail Liquor License: The Definitive Guide to Navigating the State Liquor Authority will be available next month on as a softcover and Kindle e-book.

Her legal column is available in The Equipped Brewer, a monthly publication giving business advice, trends, and vendor reviews to help craft breweries, cideries, distilleries and wineries build brands and succeed financially.

She also maintains a website and blog with practical information on legal and business issues affecting the industry. Follow her, sign up for her free firm app or monthly newsletter.
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