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Frequently Asked Questions About Illinois Liquor Licensing

Chicago liquor license application and violation lawyer FAQ

Chicago Attorneys Answer Questions About Liquor License Applications and Violations

+What licenses do I need to sell alcohol at retail in Illinois?

You need a local license from your city, village, or unincorporated licensing authority first, then after you receive that, a state license from the Illinois Liquor Control Commission (ILCC).

+Are there any steps I need to take before applying for a retail liquor license?

Yes, there are many things you need to think about in setting up your retail business to be ready to apply for a liquor license. These include: whether the location allows the type of business you want to start, whether the city has available licenses, the legal entity you want to hold the license, and registering with the IRS and the Illinois Department of Revenue for Tax ID numbers.

+I want to Import or Distribute beer, wine or spirits. What licenses will I need?

You will need a Federal Basic Permit, and then a State of Illinois License. You will not need a liquor license from your local municipality, but in some instances, a local business license may be required.

+Are there any restrictions for what types of alcoholic beverage products I can distribute?

Yes. In Illinois, as a distributor, you are required to be registered by the manufacturer for the products you are allowed to distribute and the territory in which you will be allowed to operate. Your distribution agreement with your supplier should be reviewed for compliance with the laws to ensure that it achieves your goals and needs for your business.

+I want to manufacture beer, wine or spirits. What licenses will I need?

As a manufacturer, you will need a Federal Basic Permit or Federal Brewer's Notice and then a State of Illinois license. The type of product and method that you want to use can determine exactly the category of license that will be required.

+Can I receive a liquor license if I have a criminal history?

Having a criminal history is not an automatic bar to getting a liquor license. The type of violation, when it occurred, the facts surrounding the matter, and the disposition of your case can all be crucial in determining whether you would qualify for a license. We can assist you in reviewing your criminal history and working to potentially overcome any issues it may present in applying for your license.

+Can a liquor license be transferred?

No. Liquor licenses are not transferrable in Illinois. However, we can assist you with ensuring a smooth transition in any sale/purchase of an existing liquor-licensed establishment through the appropriate legal methods.

+What if I want to buy an existing business with a liquor license?

Depending on the municipality, you may be able to report changes in ownership or officers, but you may also have to get a new license. Checking the existing legal requirements is crucial before you enter into any purchase agreement. There are things to consider if you are a sole proprietor, partnership, corporation, or LLC, such as Secretary of State and tax registration reporting.

+What if another operator at a location I am interested in had its liquor license revoked? Can I open a business there?

Whenever a license is revoked, the premises remains ineligible to be issued another license for one year, unless certain conditions are met. It is important to know the history of any location before you commit to running a business there or applying for a license.

+What if the local authority comes and closes my business without a hearing or notice?

In general, before any license can be fined, suspended, or revoked, a written notice and hearing are required. There are some limited exceptions. It is important to contact a knowledgeable liquor law attorney to review any action by the local or state organization which closes your business.

+What if my application for a local liquor license is denied or my existing license is fined, suspended, or revoked?

You have the right to appeal any such action to the Illinois Liquor Control Commission or to the Chicago License Appeal Commission, but the time to do that is restricted to 20 days after notice of such action. It is important to review any such orders with a knowledgeable liquor attorney as soon as possible so that your appeal is properly evaluated, filed, and pursued.

+Can my business remain open and selling alcohol after an order imposing a penalty?

Depending on the municipality, the penalty, and whether or not you file an appeal or have prior violations, in most instances you may remain open, but this is not true in every case. It is important to have any such order reviewed as soon as possible by a knowledgeable attorney to ensure the best possible outcome.

+What are the most common violations found at a retail location?

Retailers are frequently charged with contaminated liquor, sale to minors, Illinois Business Tax (IBT) certificate not available, pregnancy warning sign not displayed, 90 days of invoices (or waiver) not available, revenue certificate not attached to coin-operated amusement devices, state license not displayed, unsanitary taps or improper log of tap cleaning not kept/available, liquor purchased at retail, state license not valid, personnel not BASSET certified, Secretary of State Not Good Standing status, Human Trafficking Public Notice not posted, and pre-mixed alcoholic beverages not destroyed weekly. We can assist with creating policies for your business to avoid these violations or defending you if you have received a citation for one of these issues.

+What if I get a violation notice?

It is important to understand that being found guilty of a violation or pleading guilty can have consequences beyond the immediate incident, depending on the facts of the case. Multiple violations within a certain time frame can cause an escalation of the penalty. It is important to consult with an attorney who can advise you of the consequences of having a violation on your record and how to try to avoid future violations. It is important to review the circumstances of each incident, even if it is your first offense.

+Can I offer "Happy Hour" promotions in my establishment?

Yes, but there are specific requirements and restrictions that you must be aware of in order to be in compliance with state law. Additionally, your municipality may have restrictions above and beyond the state requirements. You should have your promotions reviewed for compliance before you begin to offer any such promotions.

+Can I give away alcohol for free?

No. It is prohibited to give away alcohol for free except in very limited situations. Crafting your promotions in a legal way is important in order to avoid being cited for a violation. We can review any proposed promotions to make sure you are in compliance.

+What if I want to sample an alcoholic beverage for my customers?

State law allows retailer, distributor, importing distributor, manufacturer, and nonresident dealer licensees to conduct product sampling for consumption at a licensed retail location. Up to three samples, consisting of no more than (i) 1/4 ounce of distilled spirits, (ii) one ounce of wine, or (iii) two ounces of beer may be served to a consumer in one day. However, the local municipality may have stricter requirements or may not allow sampling at all on a retail premises. Some locations might also have a sampling license requirement. A review of those laws is important to ensure compliance with all laws.

+Can I make and sell infusions at my retail licensed premises?

Yes, infusions (which consist of a spirit where ingredients including but not limited to fruits, spices, or nuts are added to naturally infuse flavor into the spirit) are allowed, as long as certain rules are followed. You may age an infusion only for up to 14 days and serve it to customers only for 21 days after aging it. You must label it with the production date, the base spirit of the infusion, the date the infusion will finish aging, and the date the infusion must be destroyed. You may only sell infusions for on-premises consumption and cannot sell them to-go. You may only infuse spirits and not beer or wine.

+Are there rules for selling pre-mixed drinks such as margaritas and sangria?

Yes. All pre-mix dispensing containers and systems must be drained, have their contents disposed of, and thoroughly cleaned at least once a week. You must keep a record on your premises of the dates that cleaning was done, with this record being signed by the person who performed the cleaning. Failure to do so can lead to a violation being filed against your license.

+Are there restrictions on what an Industry Member (distributor or manufacturer) can give to a retailer or that a retailer can accept?

Yes. There are restrictions at both the Federal and State levels. In general, Industry Members cannot provide to a retailer and a retailer cannot accept from an Industry member anything "of value." There are specific items that can be provided under both federal and state law, but this can be a long and complicated list. Whether something is a thing of value is not a straightforward analysis and should be discussed and reviewed prior to giving anything away or accepting anything to ensure compliance.

+Can a retail licensee purchase alcohol from another retail licensee?

No. A retailer can never legally purchase alcohol from another retailer. All products purchased by a retailer must be purchased from the legally registered distributor covering the territory and products allowed by the registrations filed with the ILCC by the supplier. There are certain case-by-case exceptions, usually surrounding a business changing hands or going out of business, but they must be approved and have limited application. Any such agreements should be reviewed for compliance to avoid a violation.

+Can a retailer combine bottles or refill bottles with the same or different product?

No. Only original bottles and product may be used to sell alcohol at retail.

+Are there certain signs or items which must be posted at my retail licensed business?

Yes. Retailers must post the Government Warning Sign alerting patrons to the dangers of drinking while pregnant, a copy of their liquor licenses, and their Illinois Business Tax Certificate in a conspicuous place within their premises. Additionally, you may be required to post concealed carry signage or a Human Trafficking Notice depending on your operations, and your local municipality may have additional signs that must be posted. We can assist in reviewing your operations and ensuring you post all required signs to avoid a violation for failure to post.

+Is there a minimum age for my employees to be able to sell/serve alcohol?

Yes. Under state law, all servers/sellers must be at least 18 years of age. However, your local municipality may have stricter requirements. It is important to have your local requirements reviewed to make sure you are in compliance with all of them.

+Are there requirements on who must be carded for the sale of alcohol?

It is your responsibility to make sure that you do not sell alcohol to someone under the age of 21. While there is no legal requirement of who to card, we can assist in developing policies for your business that are in line with industry best practices and meet your business operational needs to ensure you do not sell alcohol to a minor. Issues including but not limited to accepting vertical IDs and out-of-state IDs should be analyzed to make sure you do not receive a violation.

+Will I be responsible for the actions of my employees/agents?

Yes. Every violation committed by any employee/agent is the responsibility of the licensee as if they committed it themselves. It is important that employees are trained and monitored properly. An employee handbook or operations manual can be a useful tool. We can help draft or review your procedures to develop good policies and practices that can help mitigate any violations.

+What training is required for my employees who sell or serve alcohol?

For all on-premises license holders, Illinois law requires all servers/sellers or employees who are responsible for carding persons when determining if they are 21 or older to take and pass Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training (BASSET), which must be updated every three years. Additionally, your local municipality might also have requirements above and beyond the state requirements. Copies of your employees' BASSET cards must be kept on site at all times to avoid a violation.

+One of my employees lost their BASSET card. How can I get a replacement?

The employee can print a new copy of their BASSET card by going to the ILCC's Basset Card Lookup page and clicking the option to "Print my BASSET Card." They will need to provide their name, date of birth, and Training Class Student ID where prompted. If they do not have all of that information, they can follow the alternative instructions on the page to get a copy. You should make sure you have a current valid copy of your employees' BASSET cards at all times.

+Can my employees take their BASSET class online?

Online BASSET classes are permitted under state law, but your municipality may not accept them. It is important to review your local requirements to make sure you are in compliance with their particular rules. We can assist in reviewing all requirements for your specific location.

+Is BASSET certification required for package store operators and employees?

Under state law, package stores are not required to have employees be BASSET trained. However, your local municipality may require it. It is important to have your local requirements reviewed to make sure you are in compliance with all relevant laws.

+What if the regulations of the state and my municipality conflict?

When the local and state laws conflict, you need to comply with whichever are stricter, so you can be in compliance with both.

Disclaimer: The information on this page is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Reading this page does not create an attorney-client relationship between yourself and the Bahr Anderson Law Group, LLC. Specific facts can cause the answers listed on this page to change, so it is important to have your specific matter reviewed to ensure compliance with all relevant laws and regulations.

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