Despite its reputation as a party state for spring break antics, Florida has alcohol sales laws just like every other state. If you go into the alcohol business there, Florida law limits what you can sell, to whom and when. Local laws matter too; Florida has three dry counties that don't allow alcohol sales at all, for example.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Florida law says you can't sell alcohol without a license, and you can't sell to anyone under 21. Beyond that, most rules are decided at the local level, including the hours of operation, where zoning allows alcohol sales, and whether you can sell on Sunday. Your city or county government should have the information available on its website.
Florida Alcohol Sales Laws: Licensing
You can't sell any alcohol in Florida without a license. You'll need to choose the right one for your business because, like many states, Florida offers multiple license categories.
- Selling beer in sealed containers for off-premises consumption
- Selling beer and wine for off-premises consumption
- Beer container sales or by the drink for on-premises consumption
- Selling beer and wine in sealed containers plus by-the-drink sales
- Package sales of beer, wine and liquor — quota licenses with only a limited number allowed per county, based on population
- Package sales or by-the-drink sales of beer, wine and liquor — another quota license
- Restaurant licenses for alcohol sales
- A special license for cooking schools that also sell food and drink
- Hotels and motels
- Special vendors including hospitals, horse breeders, bowling alleys, airports, county facilities, cruise ships, symphonies and performing arts centers
- Lodges, fraternal clubs, beach clubs, tennis clubs, racquetball clubs and golf clubs
- A sacramental wine permit for religious bodies and religious leaders to buy and serve wine
- Temporary permits for nonprofit groups to serve alcohol at events
- A temporary extension allowing restaurants or bars to serve in an expanded area, such as their parking lot or the sidewalk
- Permits for beer, wine and liquor manufacturers, brewers or distillers
Each license has its own fee, with larger counties requiring bigger fees. A beer package sales license ranges from $28 to $140 based on county size. A bowling alley ranges from $624 to $1,820, and hotel and restaurant licenses run the same.
Florida alcohol sales laws go into some detail about what kind of business can qualify for a given license. Suppose you plan to open a restaurant, and you want to offer diners alcohol. The "special food service establishment" license has several requirements:
- Your restaurant must have 2,500 square feet of service area or more.
- You must be equipped to serve meals to 150 people at one time.
- At least 51% of your business's gross food and beverage revenue must come from food and nonalcoholic beverages.
- You can't operate as a package store and sell liquor for off-premises consumption.
- You cannot sell intoxicating beverages after you stop serving food.
- If your business relocates, you cannot move your license with it.
If you don't meet the standards, you have to be content serving soda and coffee.
Quota licenses allow you to sell beer, wine and liquor. They come in two varieties: licenses for package stores that sell containers for off-premises consumption and bar licenses that allow you to sell beer, wine and liquor by the glass.
Quota licenses are profitable, but they're also hard to obtain. In a given county, there's one quota license of each type for every 7,500 people. To become a quota licensee, you either buy one from an existing license holder or wait until the population grows enough that there are additional licenses. Even then, you have to enter a lottery drawing for the chance to take out a license.
Applying for a License
The exact details of the license application, such as the fee, varies depending on which category you apply for. However, some basics are required with every application. If you don't meet the standards, Florida's not going to let you sell alcohol.
- You need to be fingerprinted so the state can see if you pass a background check.
- If you have an arrest record, provide it with your application. If necessary, provide added evidence to demonstrate your moral character.
- Show that you have the right to occupy the premises and that the zoning is acceptable for your planned business usage.
- Show that your premises have passed a basic health inspection.
If you live in Washington, Lafayette or Liberty County, there's an obstacle to selling alcohol: They're the last three dry counties in Florida. They allow package and by-the-glass sales of beer and wine — no liquor — but only if the alcohol content is no more than 6.243% of volume or 5% of the weight. That's higher than the 0.5% maximum allowed under Prohibition, but it's not much.
There are no quota licenses available in the dry counties. It's still legal to make wine or beer for personal or family consumption, but Florida alcohol sales laws don't allow you to sell it or trade it. You can enter it in tasting contests or the like, however.
Brands and Booze
Even if you have a license, Florida liquor sales laws and alcohol sale laws say you can't sell, offer for sale, ship or import alcoholic beverages unless the maker registers the brand with the state. Alcoholic beverages, in this context, include all distilled spirits and any beverage that includes more than 0.5% alcohol by volume.
The manufacturer, brewer, vintner or distiller that makes the beverage must register with the state if they want it sold or shipped in Florida. The cost is $30 for beer and distilled spirits, $15 for wine. The applicants can register multiple brands and have to do so if they want to do sell more than one brand.
Manufacturers can apply online, but they have to ship a physical sample and the label to the state Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco to register. Wine, beer and spirit manufacturers each have slightly different requirements to meet before they can start selling in Florida.
Florida Alcohol Buying Laws
Like the rest of the country, Florida alcohol buying laws say that if someone's under 21, they can't buy booze. They can't even walk around with it: Possessing an open can of beer is enough to get a teenager busted. Unlike some states, parents can't give permission for you to give their kids alcohol or for their children to possess or drink it.
If you or your staff knowingly sell to an underage drinker, that's a second-degree misdemeanor. If the drinker presented a believable fake ID, you have a valid defense against the charge. However, your customer is looking at a second-degree misdemeanor charge of their own and the possible loss of their driving license for six months to a year.
There are a couple of exceptions for anyone aged 18 to 21. They can taste drinks if it's part of a college or training course, such as a cooking or bartending class, and they can work in your business serving or preparing drinks. Neither case violates Florida alcohol buying law.
The Florida alcohol sales laws in the state statutes lay down other rules about who can and cannot be served:
- You have the right to refuse service to anyone you find objectionable or undesirable, provided you're not refusing on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, sex, national origin, marital status or physical handicap.
- You can't refuse to serve someone who's not drinking if they're the designated driver for a customer or customers who are drinking.
- If a spouse, parent or child notifies you in writing that their spouse, child or parent is a "habitual drunkard" whose alcohol abuse hurts them or their family, you can no longer sell to the person with the drinking problem.
- Selling drinks at curbside to drivers who pull up outside the licensee's business or selling in the parking lot is prohibited.
- Walking around with an open container, whether a can of beer or a bottle of wine, is not allowed. If a diner buys a bottle of wine but doesn't finish it, they can't simply walk out with it corked. Your restaurant has to reseal the bottle.
Florida Alcohol Sale Time
State law is specific about Florida alcohol sales hours: No business with an alcohol license may allow alcoholic beverages to be sold, consumed or served between midnight and 7 a.m. Bars and other licensees whose primary business is selling alcohol are also forbidden from renting or leasing out their business from 12 a.m. to 7 a.m.
The big exception is that local governments are free to set their own hours for drink sales, overriding the state limits. In Tampa, drink sales run to 3 a.m. Broward County allows sales until 4 a.m., and parts of Miami permit 24/7 sales. Railroads are free to sell at any time to passengers who'll be drinking on the train.
Some parts of the state retain vestiges of the old blue laws, which used to ban any commercial activity on Sundays. Some counties ban Sunday alcohol sales or ban them Sunday morning. Polk County voted in 2018 to allow beer and wine sales on Sunday — but no hard liquor.
Under Florida alcohol sales laws, it's illegal to sell alcoholic beverages if you don't have a state license. It's also unlawful to sell beverages that aren't covered by your license or in a manner not permitted by your license. A license for wine doesn't allow a wine bar to sell scotch or gin. A license to sell by the glass doesn't give a restaurant the right to sell unopened bottles for home consumption.
A licensee can be in trouble even if they're not caught selling alcohol. A restaurant with a wine and beer license that keeps liquor around to sell can be busted just for possession. Having customers bring in their own drinks is also illegal unless you're licensed as a bottle club.
Making Your Own
If you're over 18, it's perfectly legal to produce beer or wine for personal or family use provided it's not for sale. The amount is limited; a two-person household can't make more than 200 gallons of beer or wine a year.
Making liquor — moonshine whiskey — is another story. Even possessing amounts under a gallon is a second-degree misdemeanor. Being caught with a still or ingredients for 'shine is unlawful.
- 24/7 Wall St: These 9 States Still Have Dry Counties
- Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco: Licenses and Permits for Alcoholic Beverages
- Alcohol Problems and Solutions: Volstead Act
- National Conference of State Legislatures: Home Manufacture of Alcohol State Statutes
- Florida DBPR: Step-by-Step Instructions for Online Brand/Label Registration
- HG: Underage Possession of Alcohol in Florida: Your FAQs Answered
- Florida Statutes: Beverage Law: Enforcement
- Glimpse: Florida Alcohol Sales Violations
- Alcohol Problems and Solutions: Florida Alcohol Laws: Know Before You Go – Don’t Be Surprised
- WTSP: Polk County Votes to Extend Hours for Sunday Beer and Wine Sales
- Florida DBPR: Beer Consumption on Premises
- My Florida License: What Is a Quota License and How Can I Get One?
Fraser Sherman has written about every aspect of business: how to start one, how to keep one in the black, the best business structure, the details of financial statements. He's also run a couple of small businesses of his own. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is frasersherman.com