Liquor, Management

How to Get a Liquor License: Red Flags to Look For

By Reggie Woo


Reggie Woo

September 21, 2016

Posted in Restaurant Management, Industry & Culture

Acquiring a liquor license is a team effort—and both you and your legal representative need to be up to the task.

For most restaurants and bars, liquor licences can make or break your bottom line. BevSpot recently had the chance to sit down with Karen Simao, a partner at McDermott, Quilty & Miller, LLP specializing in licensing for 15 years and a person who grew up in the hospitality industry. The Boston-based firm concentrates in handling the liquor licensing process for any venue including restaurants, bars, hotels, and package stores in the state.

As the finale of an exclusive three-part blog series on the legal process of liquor licensing, we cover the warning signs to look for in your legal representation and what you can do to make sure you’re best prepared.

Bad Omens

There will be attorneys who might not be experienced enough to handle acquiring a liquor license. There are also those who could take advantage of your inexperience.

One thing you can keep in mind to actively avoid this scenario is that liquor licenses will always have an extensive disclosure process. That means you’ll have to give extremely detailed information about your future business to the licensing board via your legal representative.

With that in mind, if your attorney isn’t asking you about specific details like corporate/ownership structure, funding details of your alcohol sales, or deal-strengthening documents like your floor plans and menus, it’s a pretty good sign that your attorney might be out of their depth and handling your application incorrectly.

It is absolutely fine to not have all of the details hammered out immediately. You can decide to add a family member or significant other to the ownership structure of your establishment later. But, if your attorney is quick to rush the application without discussing it fully with you and developing a gameplan for these possibilities, you could be in hot water for unknowingly violating the statute, as it demands current and accurate information.

The Best Applicant

Some people might expect previous experience to be a driving factor in overall success. But, according to Karen’s experience, if you’re an experienced liquor license acquirer, that might not remove obstacles or make the process easier at all. Experience really only accounts for understanding how to manage expectations with timing and subsequently less emotional stress.

The people with the most success are the ones who are “really being organized in the thoughts and the delivery of information,” in Karen’s eyes. Working with attorneys and providing the required information as efficiently as possible makes the process smoother for all parties involved.

It can be easy to get distracted in other areas of opening a restaurant or bar and rely too much on your attorney to piece together the essentials. But that’s where most of the problems start: Miscommunication with the people who are working hard to obtain the liquor license your future restaurant needs to stay afloat. With this knowledge in mind, you should be in the best position to succeed.

If you are looking for legal counsel in acquiring a liquor license in Massachusetts, or have more questions about the process, feel free to contact McDermott, Quilty & Miller, LLP at (617) 946-4600 or Karen directly at

And check out the other parts of this series—detailing the actual legal process of acquiring a liquor license, and avoiding the common pitfalls you might be in danger of running into.

For more bar management advice, subscribe to the blog below. And feel free to leave your own personal advice on things to look for in your legal counsel and tips to be more prepared in the comment section.

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