Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission prohibits roving food trucks to sell any sort of alcohol, because they don’t meet the requirements to do so. Even though you have a legal mobile business, you cannot obtain a liquor license if your food truck moves from location to location around town serving customers.
This is because a Texas liquor license can only be issued to a business with a physical address. That is, you need a fixed location like a restaurant or club. Since food trucks are mobile, they don’t have an address, so unless they operate from the same physical address, they cannot get a liquor license.
It is a non-negotiable fact that some foods and snacks go well with alcohol. And again, if you are a food truck owner, selling alcohol alongside your food would make for some very robust profit. So, the question now is, can you sell alcohol off your food truck?
For the best part, most states in the do not allow food truckers to carry alcohol alongside their food. In fact, they are generally not given licenses. To be granted a liquor license (be it a full license or even for beer and wine), a company must submit a legal description of the business, and an address where the product will be sold. Proximity to churches and schools is a factor.
In addition, such place-based licenses must receive neighborhood approval before they can be granted. Keeping in mind these criteria, food trucks do not qualify for licenses. But it doesn’t end there.
There are types of off-premise licenses a restaurant, bar, or brewery (any place with an existing liquor license) can apply for. Festival licenses are also granted for major events (including food truck–themed events), where the organizer stipulates who can sell alcohol. But even that requires operating under an existing license.
There are of course occasions in which food trucks can sell alcohol, but they are rare. Liquor permits are controlled by local and state liquor control authorities that tightly control the permits. In 2011, The New York Times reported that the city granted its first liquor license to a food truck with the stipulation that alcohol would be consumed to a specific seating area close to where the truck parked.
As the New York situation indicates, liquor licenses confine the sale of alcohol to specific areas. Food trucks, by definition, are mobile, which is why it is really difficult to give them licenses.
Some jurisdictions can offer temporary liquor licenses for special events and festivals. Food trucks can also sometimes secure temporary licenses. But that being said, alcohol requires a lot of storage space, and food trucks don’t generally have that much space.
3 Ways You Can Get a Liquor License for your Food Truck
Though the general consensus is that it would be hard for a food truck to get a liquor license, but there are ways to get around the rules if you are that desperate. Some possibilities that might work if you are quite centered on having a drinking customer base in Texas include;
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a. Temporary event license/Caterer license
Many areas will give out temporary licenses for catering events, festivals and the like. If you don’t mind doing constant paperwork and have a good relationship with your local government, you might be able to get permits for quite a few events you want to do.
Talk to local caterers on their experience in the area you are. There might be more requirements than you want to deal with. Also you might be limited to wine/beer depending on license.
b. Sell at a bar/brewery
More and more bars and breweries are having food truck nights where their food is provided by the food truck. Some take orders at the bar and bring the food in. Some have large enough patios where they park the truck right in it. There are plenty of bars without kitchens that love this. This can be a good option.
c. Set up a food truck lot with joint bar
There are food trucks that have taken this plunge, so it is entirely possible. Here, you can take food truck food to the area but not alcohol to the truck area. However, you would need to get the requisite permits and licenses to sell alcohol in that area.
Additionally, you will need to set up a cordoned off ‘patio’ area for your alcohol patrons to stay in while they consume their beverage.
Why Food Trucks are Not Allowed to Carry Liquor License
According to a report, there were 25,000 applicants for a liquor license and a total of just 25 new licenses would be approved.
Depending on the municipality you plan to operate the wait time may not be as long as with this example. The second challenge unique to mobile food units is that a liquor license must be submitted for a specific location. Each location has its own set of unique zoning requirements.
As a mobile drink vending unit, you would probably like to be able to take advantage of your mobility right? With the existing laws, you would need to have a different license for each location you plan to serve. With liquor licenses starting at $12,000 it won’t make financial sense to operate your business this way.
5 Ways You Can Sell Liquor Out of your Food Truck Legally
- Ensure that the alcohol would be consumed to a specific seating area close to where the truck parked.
- Some jurisdictions offer temporary liquor licenses for special events and festivals. The special event permit must be associated with a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. A special event permit is obtained for events like festivals, fairs, etc.
Note: if beer and liquor is to be served, a special event permit must be obtained from the TABC and the Beer Board. In this scenario, the special event permittee can purchase alcohol from a licensed alcohol distributor. Once inside the permitted location, the food truck will be able to serve the alcohol.
At the conclusion of the event, any leftover alcohol is the property of the special event permittee and may not be removed or kept by the mobile food unit.
- If you currently own or manage a golf course, you may be able to use a mobile food unit to serve alcohol on the course.
- If you already own an establishment such as a brewery, you may be able to serve food and beverages from the vehicle while on your property.
- Catered Events: A food truck may obtain an alcohol catering license from TABC for liquor, wine, and high gravity beer and/or the local beer board for beer.
This will allow the mobile unit to purchase alcohol from a licensed alcohol distributor and sell/serve the alcohol at catered events. The holder of an alcohol catering license may only conduct 52 catered events per year and must provide food and a TABC licensed server at each event.
Notice of each catered event must be submitted to the Beer Board at least 24 hours before the event and submitted to TABC at least 48 hours in advance of the catered event through RLPS. The notice is required to have the name and date of the event.
Furthermore, if the event is going to take place on land owned by local, state or federal government, additional documentation may be required.
How to Reduce the Risk That Comes With Selling Alcohol from a Food Truck
While there are many risks of selling alcohol from a food truck, there are also many ways to mitigate those risks. One way is to reduce your liability in case of an unexpected incident. You can purchase both food truck liability and liquor liability insurance.
If someone has an accident while at your truck or they drive after your alcohol service, you may be protected from financial devastation with insurance.
While there can be many limitations in getting a liquor license, it is important to evaluate what the license actually limits and how you can still be profitable while selling alcohol from a food truck. The average cost for some liquor licenses can be upwards of $12,000. If you are at multiple locations each week, that can really add up.