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In order to serve alcohol at your business in the state of North Carolina you will need to be an ABC permit holder or colloquially a liquor license. You will be happy to know that in North Carolina you can apply to the state for the privilege to serve alcohol with a simple application and a few inspections. Depending on the size of the city you are opening a restaurant in you can expect to spend 1-3 weeks completing the steps in the application.
Know the Basics About Selling Alcohol in North Carolina
Rapid fire pointers about what you need to know before you apply for an ABC permit.  -You can only serve alcohol to adults aged 21+ -Happy hours and limited time reduced drink prices are not allowed in North Carolina -You can sell alcohol Monday to Saturday 7am – 2am and Sunday 10am-2am; subject to local city and county rules -Permits are not transferable, they are for a specific person at a specific location. If there is any change the permit must be cancelled and reapplied for -Owners must keep alcohol invoices and receipts for 3 years and have them available for inspection at any time -Owners are responsible for the actions of employees -2 bathrooms are required to obtain an ABC permit -Owners must recycle with a recycling contract or self-haul -Businesses cannot display any brand name advertising outside in the public view -Retail permit holders can only purchase alcoholic beverages from licensed wholesalers -Liquor is purchased from a single location assigned NC ABC store -Every bottle of liquor must have a tax stamp on it -Mixed beverage tax stamps must be defaced as soon as the bottle has been emptied -Refilling liquor bottles is illegal -Pre-mixed beverages may be sold with ABC commission approval and recipe submission -On Premise beer and wine permit holders can sell off-premise beer and wine -Business may only serve one drink at a time with the exception of a beer and a shot of liquor served together -A pitcher can only be served to two or more people -ABC Permits expire on April 30th every year. You pay the full price at application and the dollar value is not prorated.
Restaurants versus Private Clubs Bars don’t exist in North Carolina. You will be regulated as a restaurant or private club(among others i.e. hotel, brewery etc.). Restaurants  -Have at least 36 seats -Food sales must exceed 30% of combined food and beverage sales -Food must be available during all business hours Private Clubs -Not open to the general public. Only open to members and their guests -A membership roster of who is a member must be kept on file at all times -Membership card as proof of membership must be issued to the member, kept in their possession and used as proof of entry to the club -Membership cannot be solicited at the door when the general public arrives. No house guests are permitted Types of Permits

  • On-Premise Malt Beverage This allows the sale of malt beverages (beer) to be consumed on the permit holders premises, and it also allows the sale of off-premise malt beverages in the original container.
  • On-Premise Unfortified Wine This allows the sale of wine less than 16% ABV to be consumed on the businesses premises, and it also allows for the sale of off-premise wine in the original container.
  • On-Premise Fortified Wine This allows the sale of wine 17-24% ABV such as stronger port and dessert wines commonly served in fine dining restaurants to be consumed on the businesses premises, and it also allows for the sale of off-premise wine in the original container.
  • Mixed Beverages Restaurant This allows for the sale of mixed beverages containing liquor to be sold on the premises of the restaurant.
  • Mixed Beverages Private Club This allows for the sale of mixed beverages containing liquor to be sold on the premises of the private club.

Who Must File For the ABC Permit? Individuals – Any individual owners of the business General Partnerships – Each General Partner Limited Partnerships – General Partners file, Limited Partners do not Corporations (Not a Current Permit Holder in NC) – Each 25% or more stockholder and each officer must file separate applications  Corporations (Current Permit Holder) – An officer of the corporation files LLCs (Not a Current Permit Holder) – Anyone owning more than a 25% interest must file. If no one owns a 25% interest only the managing members must file. You also need to know what the criteria the state will judge the merit of your application against. These are the factors considered by the North Carolina ABC Commission when issuing a permit:

  1. The reputation, character, and criminal record of the applicant;
  2. The number of places already holding ABC permits within the neighborhood;
  3. Parking facilities and traffic conditions in the neighborhood;
  4. Kinds of businesses already in the neighborhood;
  5. Whether the establishment is located within 50 feet of a church or public school or church school;
  6. Zoning laws;
  7. The recommendations of the local governing body; and
  8. Any other evidence that would tend to show whether the applicant would comply with the ABC laws and whether operation of his business at that location would be detrimental to the neighborhood.

Complete the ABC Permit Application and Additional Forms
Download forms from the NC ABC website. Instructions on the application must be followed exactly.

  • NC ABC Permit Application + Notary

This is the main form. Everyone who is required to submit this form will need to complete it, and sign in the presence of a notary.

  • FEIN SSN Verification Form

This form is completed in the name of the applicant. Most likely it will be a corporate entity and FEIN. You will also enter the trade name and address of the business and sign.

  • Authority for Release of Information

This form authorizes the state to use your fingerprints in search of the state and FBI database to check your criminal history. Even if you have done this for a firearm or professional license background check, you will have to do it again. 

  • Ownership Document + Notary

This form lists the owners/members of the corporation or limited liability company and the stock/membership interest percentage they own. It is signed in the presence of a notary.

  • Recycling Compliance Form

One of the requirements of ABC permit holders is recycling of spent liquor, beer and wine bottles. This form notes how you comply with that statue. There are basically three workflows here. You may have a recycling contract similar to a trash contract. You will fill in the information for the service provider and attach a copy of the contract. The second method we have seen is when the landlord is responsible for trash and recycling service in the conditions of the lease you can complete the form and write in “See lease section 5.55” or similar where it notes this. As your lease will be submitted with this package. The third option is that you submit a form certifying that you will be self hauling the recycling to a proper recycling facility and sign in the presence of a notary under oath that you will be taking the recycling yourself. 

  • Proof of Alcohol Seller Server Training

You are required to take alcohol seller/server training as the owner of a business with an ABC permit. You can sign up below: The best way to complete the seller/server form is by filling in Section A with your information and attaching a copy of your Certificate of Completion from the course.     Complete the Other Required Items There are a handful of non-form ancillary items required in the application. Note that they vary by the type of establishment whether it is a hotel, private club or restaurant. In this example we will complete the requirements for a restaurant as that is the most common.

  • Payment via Certified Check

Be sure that the check submitted is not a personal check. The state requires certified funds. You can get this from your bank and make the check payable to the North Carolina ABC Commission. A restaurant getting all of the permits would get MBOP, UWOP, FWOP and MBR. Don’t forget to include the fee for your fingerprinting. If you’re applying just before the change it may be prudent to send your application after the beginning of May.  

  • Copy of valid photo ID

Both sides. Valid non-expired driver’s license will do the trick.

  • Fingerprint card + Processing Fee

You must get fingerprinted at your local Sheriff’s office. Not all locations offer fingerprinting. Call ahead.  

  • Copy of the lease (or deed)

At this point you have already engaged a commercial real estate broker to serve as your tenant rep and source and negotiate a retail space for your business. A lease in most cases will be required for the NC ABC permit application. Include a copy of the lease in its entirety. The entity that has the leasehold interest in the real estate MUST match the entity that is applying for the NC ABC permit. If you purchased the property you should discuss with your attorney the benefit of structing a lease in two difference special purpose entities(i.e. Billy’s Bar Property Owner LLC and Billy’s Bar Business Operator LLC). One corporate entity that owns the building and one that owns the business and leases the property; even if you are the owner of both. There would be pros and cons for using one or two entities.  

  • Diagram of the premises

A simple hand drawn 8×10 building plan detailing the property is typically sufficient. I would also suggest writing in details of all of the picture items below, the bathrooms and any outdoor space with fencing. 

  • Copy of the food menu
  • Alcohol price list
  • Photographs of the premises

Outlined in the instructions on the main permit application form you need to attach some very specific items in your pictures including the below: “(1) The front exterior of the premises. (2) All the dining areas, including patios and outdoor areas, where alcoholic beverages may be sold or consumed. (3) The bars, counters and mixing stations. (4) The storage area(s) for alcoholic beverages. (5) The entire kitchen with all equipment.”     Complete inspections and Local Government Opinion Most of the above can be completed in a day or two. The required inspections detailed in this section can take up to 2-3 weeks in the most metropolitan jurisdictions and as short as a couple days in smaller satellite towns. It is very important to go in order with the inspections. Be prepared to bring a copy of your entire package for the Local Government Opinion as they often want to ensure that you have completed the other items to prioritize their workflow to people who are ready to apply with this final sign off. 

  • Inspection Zoning Compliance Form

Zoning Compliance – This is the easiest inspection. The form is taken to the county (or municipality i.e. City of Cornelius, NC or City of Belmont, NC) planning department and they sign off that a restaurant or private club is a permitted land use at the site. Building Department Compliance – Next you will call the county building department and schedule a time for a building inspector to come out and sign off that building is in compliance with the building code. County Fire Marshal Compliance – Last, you will schedule an inspection with the fire inspector to confirm that the property is in compliance as it relates to fire code. Some of these inspections cost money, so be prepared. The price can vary between departments, but expect something in the range of an hour’s labor for a white collar worker. ±$100-$200.    

  • Local Government Opinion

This is the last hurdle before you get an ABC permit. In a smaller town this is typically signed by the chief of police. They may want to meet with you to learn about what your plans are for the town. If you are in a bigger city like Charlotte there is a dedicated ABC team, and you need to reach out to them and schedule the inspection with the ABC Sergeant. These guys are really great to work with, but have a lot of work already scheduled and it can take 2-3 weeks to get the Local Opinion signed off in a larger city. For reference the link to the Charlotte unit is below:
Review Checklist of the Completed Package
A quick roundup checklist of everything that needs to be in the package for a restaurant: -NC ABC Application -Cashiers Check payable to North Carolina ABC Commission -FEIN/SSN Verification Form -Authority for Release of Information -Fingerprint Card -Ownership Document -Articles of Incorporation/Organization + Operating Agreement for LLCs(per C1 and D2) -Appropriate Recycling Form -Proof of Alcohol Seller Server Training + Certificate of Completion -Inspection/Zoning Compliance Form -Local Government Opinion -Copy of Drivers License -Copy of lease in matching applying entity name(or deed if real estate is owned) -Diagram of premises -Photo of premises *Private club applicants need to submit additional information in regard to their membership policies outlined in section K. 3. Of the instructions on the NC ABC Permit Application.
Apply for the permit with NC ABC
I have recommended that everyone send the package including a cover letter with your contact information via FEDEX to complete your application. If you’re in Murphy, NC or the Outer Banks driving to Raleigh for the day is going to take up a lot of your time for a rubber stamp. If you take the package in person, go early in the day, but under no circumstances arrive later than 3PM or they won’t see you. The FEDEX instructions to the Raleigh office are on the last page of the NC ABC Application Form. You should get your temporary license the same day if you go in person or you can ask them to mail/email it to you if filing by mail.
Contact the NC ABC Commission for additional information you should know about the permitting process and responsibilities of permit holders. Be sure to read over everything carefully and know what you’re signing. This article is for information purposes only and the entire process is subject to change at any time at the discretion of the NC ABC Commission or by law via the North Carolina General Assembly. Reach out if we can help you answer any questions about the ABC permitting process, or commercial real estate questions for your venture.


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