Should your restaurant startup serve alcohol?

WineWhether or not to serve alcohol – and if so, what types to sell – is a big decision for the first time restaurant owner to make. At One Fat Frog, if there’s one thing we love as much as food, it’s liquor. In fact, the company nutritionist keeps telling this Frog that I need to “cut back” because I “have a problem” or something like that. But that doesn’t mean that your new restaurant should necessarily serve alcohol.

To sell alcohol in the state of Florida, you need a liquor license, and it’s a different license depending on the situation. There are a lot of great, popular restaurant startups in Florida that don’t serve alcohol at all. In particular, places that specializes in lunch or brunch don’t necessarily need to offer booze; soda should suffice. By not serving alcohol, those places save money on licensing and have the added benefit of not having to deal with customers who are drunk. Of course, sometimes drunk customers are fun; at least I’m hoping the owner of the restaurant I went to last night feels that way.

If your restaurant startup is going to sell alcohol, the advantage is the extra money from the alcohol sales. Unlike the free refills customers get with soda or tea, you charge them for every glass of beer. Alcohol prices are also generally more inflated than with nonalcoholic drinks, giving you a larger profit margin. Specials such as Happy Hour around the time most people get off of work will bring in more business, as can drink specials at night. The downside to serving alcohol at your restaurant startup is the cost of the liquor licenses, the added interference from regulators, and of course the drunks.

If you do decide to serve alcohol at your restaurant, you need to decide what type of liquor license to obtain. You can obtain a license that allows you to only sell beer, one that allows you to only sell wine, one that allows beer and wine, one that allows all alcohol, and more. There are different licenses (and prices) depending on the percentage of your sales that are from alcohol versus food and depending on whether you will sell beer from the tap or simply from bottles and cans.

Again, there are advantages and disadvantages to each. If you want a full liquor bar, that is the most difficult license to get, it is the most expensive, and it comes with the strictest rules and toughest inspections. Beer-only licenses are easier and cheaper but you won’t make as much money (the big money in alcohol sales is shots). When deciding what type of liquor license to get, you should think about your restaurant and who your customer is. Is it a demographic that just wants to have a glass of wine with their meal? Is it someone who just wants a cold beer to wash down their wings? Is it someone who wants a martini shaken, not stirred? Once you know who your customers are, you know what they want to drink. Plan accordingly when deciding whether your restaurant startup should serve alcohol.

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