Lex Lata: Navigating Event Liquor Laws & Permits

Lex Lata; latin for “as the law that currently exists”

When planning an event, learning all of the state laws and rules can be a bit overwhelming – especially if you aren’t trained in navigating the current rules, laws, and permit requirements. We’ve put together a few of the most-often asked questions to help make sure you have all of the proper licensing, permits, and needed information to host a legal and safe bar for your event – and act as a quick guide on how to navigate questions you may have.

A few notes before we get into details:
* This post and all answers are accurate as of April 3rd, 2018, and we will update any changes needed if rules/laws change – however, please reference the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board website HERE for up-to-date laws on event permits
* These are laws and suggested guidelines for Washington State ONLY – if hosting your event in any other state, this post may be used as a helpful guide, but holds no legal bearing and no guarantee of accuracy for your state (please contact your state Liquor Control Board).
* Kitsap Bartending Services, and many mobile bar services, provide all of the needed banquet permits, alcohol-liability insurance, and licensed Bartenders – so this guide is only needed for hosts that have opted to do it themselves and not clients of KBS or The Bustender.
* Check with your venue to make sure you are also abiding by their in-house rules – many venues require a hired, licensed Bartender, insurance, etc. – even if it isn’t the law in some cases – to make sure their venue is protected and ensure that nothing “gets out of hand” and helps reduce the chance of over-service
* With any event, WSLCB Agents can and do randomly stop in, so make sure you have a printed and signed copy of your Banquet Permit, Class 12 License (Bartenders Only), or Special Occasion License on-hand and readily available for inspection.

* These details are just the FAQ and highlights – more in depth questions can be answered by contacting the WSLCB hotline or email via their website HERE

So, you’ve decided to do-it-yourself and you need to find out how you can obtain the proper permits needed, make sure you’re obeying all laws, and help insure that your event goes smoothly. Or, do you just want to figure out your best options for bar service? This post will help you decide which route you’d like to go, and also guide you through the application process if you decide to DIY.

Sample of Banquet Permit Application

What is a Banquet Permit and do I need one? According to the WSLCB website, a Banquet Permit “(a)llows the service and consumption of liquor at a private, invitation-only banquet or gathering held in a public place or business. Banquet Permits are available online. Examples include weddings, company banquets, retirement parties, or club, organization or church events.”

So in summary, if you have rented a hall or venue, and this is a closed-to-the-public event where you will be serving alcohol to invitees only, guests will not be charged for anything (entry fee, any alcohol, or anything else available at the function). Think of it as an extension of your living room – if it could be an event held at your home, but you just don’t have the room for that many people so you rent a hall that does not already have a liquor license (aka no in-house bar), then a banquet permit is needed.

What if I don’t want to provide all of the alcohol and have a “cash bar” so guests can buy their own drinks? If you want to have a “cash bar” or “non-hosted bar” where guests can purchase their own alcoholic drinks, you have a few options: 1) Find a venue that has an in-house bar, where they are licensed to sell alcohol to guests; 2) Contact and hire a restaurant/bar/caterer that is permitted and licensed to sell their alcohol off-site (not at their restaurant/bar) – where they keep all sales and provide all required licenses; 3) Apply for a Special Occasion License (details HERE) that will allow a certified non-profit organization to come in and sell legally purchased alcohol where 100% of sales will go to the non-profit.

In other words, you, as a host, cannot sell alcohol yourself to help recover, or profit from, any cost of the event or its guests with ANY of the permit options.

How do I get a Banquet Permit or Special Occasion License – and how much does it cost? Both permits are available through the WSLCB website HERE. Banquet Permits are $10 and require a credit card for payment, along with venue and event details. Special Occasion Licenses are available with a valid non-profit organization UBI number and organization details, and must be approved by the WSLCB no later than 45 days before the event (this permit is usually for fundraisers or events where the event organizer wants to donate proceeds to a non-profit but still have alcohol available to attendees)

If I have obtained a Banquet Permit, do I need to hire a Bartender, or can it be a self-serve bar? No. Legally, if it is a private event, that abides by the rules of the Banquet Permit you do not need an outside, licensed Bartender. Again, check with your venue, as many require a hired Bartender to help prevent risk, over-service, and help “control” the pace of consumption.

Although you are not legally required, please consider hiring a licensed and trained Bartender, as they not only help set-up and serve guests, but they are also trained to spot signs of over-service, help with crowd-control if needed, and help prevent, or minimize the risk of, alcohol-related issues (anything from drunk driving to embarrassing themselves on the microphone).

Can I do a partial-hosted bar / Can I have a banquet permit for beer and wine, but charge guests if they want cocktails? It is possible, but not feasible – and most likely would be more costly than just going with a Banquet Permit and providing all alcohol. Many hosts inquire about this, if they are hosting their event at a venue that does not have an in-house bar, if they want to offer their guests alcohol but want to find a way to cut costs by only offering a “partial open bar.” However, the only way to legally provide this option, since you cannot have both a Banquet Permit AND a Seller’s License or Special Occasion License, is to hire a caterer/bar/restaurant that is permitted to sell alcohol and “run a tab” for all of the beer – or any option you want to “provide” – just as if you were buying a drink for everyone at a bar for full sale price and the seller keeps all of the sales from the alcohol the seller provided.

When hosting your event at a venue that does not have an in-house bar, we do NOT recommend this route, as it usually causes more un-needed paperwork, and more-times-than-not ends up costing more money to the event host.

I have the Banquet Permit, and it is a private event, do all state laws still apply? Yes. All hosts and guests must obey all state laws. The main ones, but not limited to are; 1) no one under 21 may consume or serve alcohol, 2) overly intoxicated people cannot consume alcohol, 3) no open alcohol may be consumed outside of the approved event area or venue property, 4) if there is extra alcohol after the conclusion of the event, it may be transported off of the venue in the trunk of a vehicle – out of reach of all passengers and driver.

Am I required to have a bar area where minors are not permitted with a barrier or separate room? With a Banquet Permit, no. Although the laws of minors not allowed to consume alcohol apply, you do not need to gate off a separate area, or “beer garden” at your private event. If using a Seller’s Permit or Special Occasion Permit, please inquire with the WSLCB.

As we mentioned, with Kitsap Bartending Services and/or The Bustender, Banquet Permits are provided, and obtained by KBS, with service fee and costs – along with alcohol-liability insurance. If you want to go the DIY route, please understand that you are required to navigate all permitting yourself. We strongly recommend hiring a caterer or mobile bar service to help navigate permits, and help reduce risk at the event and help maintain a fun and safe event.

Please review our other blogs HERE for cost-cutting tips and other event planning ideas – along with general bar-themed topics.

1 Comment »

  1. I appreciate how this post explained that a banquet permit authorizes the consumption and service of spirits at an event held in a public place or business or a private, invitation-only banquet. That’s probably the reason why my father wants to pursue a liquor selling business. He is even looking for liquor licensing assistance so he can operate legally.

Leave a Reply