How to serve alcohol at a semi-private event?
March 5, 2012 1:40 PM   Subscribe

I'm throwing an advertised dinner party for which guests will pay a fixed price. How can I serve alcohol?

I have a catering license but not a liquor license, so I know it's technically illegal for me to sell alcohol. But is it possible to structure the event so that the alcohol portion of the dinner is paid for by suggested donations?

Alternatively, if we decide to partner with a non-profit and throw the event as a benefit, does that change anything?
posted by pieliza to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The answer is likely highly location specific, so you'll need to add your location.
posted by ssg at 1:43 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

You get your guests to pay corkage. Fixed fee per drinker (better) or per bottle.

If you don't have a liquor license you really don't want to be getting into the business of selling it.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:44 PM on March 5, 2012

Explicit BYOB. Maybe with a list of suggested wines. You don't provide the alcohol at all.
posted by gauche at 1:49 PM on March 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

This is likely managed by your local county government. Give them a call and they can tell you how to get a temporary permit or direct you to the right people.
posted by munchingzombie at 1:50 PM on March 5, 2012

Here in Massachusetts, you would be subject to meeting both state laws and your municipality's ordinances.

gauche's idea really is the best and safest. Create a list of BYOB and have the guests B those B.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:23 PM on March 5, 2012

Call your local liquor store. They will know, and that is what I have been told to do in the past. I've helped with a lot of events that did banquets at various locations, and were able to bring in a bar tender and/or serve beer and wine. They each had a temporary liquor license (I believe they got it through the local liquor stores). This is WA state.
posted by markblasco at 2:39 PM on March 5, 2012

As you see from the responses here, this is going to vary widely by country/state/county/municipality. markblasco's suggestion about calling a local liquor store is quite good; calling other caterers whom you know serve wine and beer (because your locality may have different laws about wine and beer vs. spirits) at their functions is also an option. Finally, calling the office(s) responsible for certification, licensing, and enforcement and getting a layout of what laws are and aren't relevant seems pretty important.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:49 PM on March 5, 2012

Also, here in Massachusetts, the for-profit vs. benefit status doesn't at all affect the licensing issues around alcohol as long as admission is charged. I know that in other states things are different in that regard.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:50 PM on March 5, 2012

In San Francisco, you can get a single-night permit, which is what my non-profit has done in the past. Your city may or may not allow the same.
posted by judith at 4:50 PM on March 5, 2012

You'll also want to look into dram shop laws and social host liability in your jurisdiction to find out what kind of liability you might have if someone drinks alcohol at your party and then hurts her/himself or others. Depending on where your event is located, liability can range from none to responsibility for alcohol consumed on your premises even if you aren't the one providing it.
posted by decathecting at 6:03 PM on March 5, 2012

Response by poster: Oh man, sorry, I forgot to mention that I'm in Maine! Thank you for all the responses so far, y'all.
posted by pieliza at 6:40 PM on March 5, 2012

Here in Washington, I think it's actually called a Banquet License. Not sure what it covers, but wine and beer for sure. In the case I've personally experienced, the dinner was at a restaurant but the host provided the wine and paid corkage to the restaurant. So it still may be BYO.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:25 AM on March 6, 2012

I've had alcohol served to me at not-for-profit events under a "club liquor license" by which I bought a $5 membership to their social club, and was then allowed to buy drinks for myself and up to 3 guests. This was not in Maine.
posted by aimedwander at 9:28 AM on March 6, 2012

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