Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently asked questions about business practices during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Important Notice: All provisions of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, including licensing requirements, the prohibition against selling alcoholic beverages to minors and obviously intoxicated patrons, and tied-house and trade practice restrictions, remain in effect and subject to enforcement unless the Department has provided express notice that specific provisions will not be enforced. The Department has issued a Notice of Regulatory Relief, as well as guidance on Governor Newsom’s executive orders. These can be found on the Department’s website and should be consulted in conjunction with these frequently asked questions and responses.
These frequently asked questions are intended to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions that have arisen since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. It is subject to modification at any time. Please check back periodically for updates. You are encouraged to subscribe to updates.
Notice of Regulatory Relief
How did the Department choose to release the Notice of Regulatory Relief?
There are over 93,000 ABC licensees in California, over 50,000 are ABC licensed restaurants, bars, small beer manufacturers that some refer to as craft brewers, large breweries, brewpub restaurants, wineries and other locations licensed to sell alcohol in California. These businesses employ hundreds of thousands of people. The Department is both a licensing and enforcement agency. The Department must balance the needs of the alcohol and hospitality industry with public safety concerns. Many industry organizations, licensees, and employees of licensees reached out to the Department looking for relief since much of their business relied on people congregating in one place. The changes were suggested by the Department stakeholders, vetted within the Department and other governmental bodies to ensure that the Department’s duty to protect public safety would not be unjustifiably hindered by the temporary loosening of the restrictions in place.
Will ABC continue the policy changes in the Notice of Regulatory Relief expanding licensed privileges even after the threat of COVID-19 ends?
These are temporary measures intended to provide immediate relief during this crisis only. ABC will not continue the policies contained in the Notice of Regulatory Relief when the pandemic has ended. We will follow the lead of the Governor and the Health Experts to determine when the pandemic has concluded, and when these temporary policies under the Notice of Regulatory Relief will cease. As indicated in the notice, ABC does intend to provide 10 days’ notice to the industry prior to discontinuing the temporary relief efforts, unless such advanced notice could create a health or safety concern. In addition, ABC may discontinue any temporary relief, as to individual licensees or industry-wide, if it is found that the measures provided are being abused or they lead to unanticipated health or safety concerns.
How will we be notified of updates?
Renewal Payments and Credit
Is the Department providing renewal fee relief?
ABC licensees paying annual renewal fees or penalties on late annual renewal fee payments have been given a 30-day grace period. For more information please read the Temporary Fee Relief for Licensees announcement.
Is there a mandatory closure for the bars and restaurants everywhere?
For public safety purposes, the Governor’s Office has recommended the closure of certain license types where people congregate and social distancing does not typically occur, including bars (On-Sale Public Premises). Restaurants (Bona-Fide Eating Places) should cease all dine-in eating and drinking. Check with local county and city jurisdictions as they may have stricter parameters.
It is recommended that hotel licensees follow the restaurant guidance provided by the California Department of Public Health (no dine-in service; take-out only).
Is ABC itself enforcing the closure of the bars and restaurants?
The Department’s goal is to achieve voluntary compliance from its licensees. ABC will be contacting bars and restaurants that are allowing on-site consumption of alcoholic beverages. If businesses continue to put public health and safety at risk by not following the guidance provided, and if circumstances warrant it, the Department may pursue disciplinary action against their ABC license.
Does a police chief, sheriff, mayor, or other local official have the authority to suspend the enforcement of state law?
No. A police chief, sheriff, mayor, or other local official may have the authority to suspend local ordinances and local conditions on business licenses, but only the state can suspend the enforcement of state laws. Accordingly, all licensees should follow the Notice of Regulatory Relief, because any licensee in violation of its terms of suspension of enforcement may be prosecuted criminally or administratively. For example, if the department directs a licensee to cease selling drinks to-go or delivering alcoholic beverages that they would not normally be authorized to deliver, that licensee must immediately do so.
Do ABC licensees follow local orders if they are different than state orders?
If a licensee believes there are conflicts in orders issued by the state and those issued by local authorities, the safest approach is to follow the most restrictive order until clarification is issued.
Where does a licensed hotel stand if they provide dining for their registered guests and not to the general public?
Hotels should remain closed to the general public, but may provide dining for registered guests, as long as the parameters for social distancing are met.
Additionally, please see the changes allowed under the Notice of Regulatory Relief issued by the Department on March 19, 2020.
If an ABC licensee has a condition on its license requiring certain monthly gross food sales not exceeding monthly gross sales of alcohol, will the condition continue to be enforced during this emergency?
The Department will be using discretion in these situations and will not be enforcing this particular condition during the COVID-19 period without major discrepancies or other evidence of wrong-doing by those running the licensed premises that harms the public health, safety, or welfare.
Should licensees surrender their ABC license for the duration of these closures to comply with Rule 65, or will the Department waive this requirement?
It is not necessary to complete an ABC-231 to surrender your license if your business closes temporarily for more than fifteen days as a result of the State and local closure directives related to COVID-19. There will be no need to contact the Department when your business is ready to reopen following this crisis. If your license was previously surrendered, the normal process for activation remains in effect.
Licensing and Applications
Can the notary requirement be waived for application forms?
The Department has received multiple requests from stakeholders to waive the notary requirement for license application forms, including but not limited to, ABC-208, ABC-211, ABC-211A and ABC-217. Notwithstanding some of the challenges of obtaining in-person notarization, these forms must still be notarized. However, while remote online notarizations (RON) are currently not permitted in California, signers may use an out of state RON service if needed. If an applicant is unable to obtain an in-person notary services, documents may be notarized remotely with a notarial services in another state that currently provides RON. California Civil Code 1189(b) provides that any certificate of acknowledgment taken in another place shall be sufficient in this state if it is taken in accordance with the law of the place where the acknowledgment is made. (See, Secretary of State FAQ.)
With possible Live Scan facilities being closed, and shelter in place orders in effect, how is the Department handling fingerprint requirements for applicants?
Due to the statewide shelter in place order issued by Governor Newsom, in addition to many Live Scan facilities being closed, some license applicants may be unable to visit an open Live Scan facility and complete the fingerprinting requirement. In addition, the Department of Justice may have limited resources available to process Live Scan requests. To continue with the Department’s mission, while also being flexible and adapting to the current situation, applicants will continue to be given the applicable Live Scan forms and charged the appropriate DOJ and FBI fingerprinting fees at the time of application. Applicants will also be directed to the list of Live Scan facilities found on the Department of Justice (DOJ) website. In those situations where obtaining fingerprints is not feasible, please contact the local District Office or the assigned Licensing Representative to discuss your options.
What about license applications?
Business will not change in the way the Department processes applications, investigates applications, and prepares the applications for issuance of the license. Applicants, licensees, consultants, attorneys, and other interested persons are encouraged to sign up with the Department for email notices regarding this and other issues.
Will ABC consider DocuSign or eSign and payment by alternative means?
The Department is continually working to modernize in these areas. It is currently exploring alternatives and will notify licensees when any change is made.
Can a Type 48 public premises (bar) get temporary approval to act as a Type 47 (restaurant)?
ABC does not have the authority to allow a 48 (bar) to become a (47) restaurant and serve meals unless it has already received a permit from the local health department to prepare meals for the public. With respect to selling inventory, see the Notice of Regulatory Relief.
What type of guidance does ABC have for wineries and consumption areas once they are allowed to re-open after stay at home orders are lifted?
As the State prepares to re-open businesses, the Department has received a number of inquiries about where wineries are authorized to allow consumption of wine on their licensed premises (including wine tasting and consumption by the glass). The guidance provided here is conditioned upon wineries being permitted to be open to the public pursuant to applicable Executive Orders and public health directives.
As a requirement of having been issued a license by the Department, licensees provide a diagram of their licensed premises (form ABC-257). This diagram defines the area within which license privileges may be exercised. In addition, some licenses may have conditions that limit or restrict retail activities or the areas within which retail activities may be exercised. Licensees should review their premises diagram and their Petition for Conditional License (if any). Licensees who do not have a copy of these documents, or who have any questions about them, should contact their local district office.
Absent a condition on the license or a restriction on any use permits issued by local governing authorities, licensees may exercise all license privileges throughout the licensed area. For wineries, this means, among other things, that consumption of wine by the public may occur anywhere on the licensed premises (which is depicted on the ABC-257 on file with the Department).
Although some premises diagrams may identify specific areas on the licensed premises that are designated for certain activities (such as “tasting room,” or “crush pad” for example), these designations do not limit what may actually occur within these areas (unless a license condition otherwise specifies). However, if licensees intend to make substantial physical changes to the licensed premises to facilitate expanded tasting or consumption areas within the existing licensed premises, they should submit a request for approval to the Department (pursuant to Rule 64.2), together with a new diagram (ABC-257). If wineries intend to expand their licensed premises for this purpose, they should contact their local district office to determine what is needed to accomplish this.
This guidance relates only to the privileges licensees may exercise under their ABC license. This is not intended to authorize activities that are not already permitted under any federal, state, or local licenses, authorizations, or permits. There may be restrictions on what wineries may allow in bonded areas of the facility. The Department makes no representations as to what activities may or may not be permitted in such areas, and this FAQ is not intended to authorize any activities in these areas that are not permitted by the applicable regulatory authorities. It is recommended that licenses obtain independent advice with respect to such matters.
Charitable Activities and Donations
Can an ABC licensee give a portion of the proceeds or profits from the sale of alcohol to charity?
Promotions that tie a donation for charitable or fundraising purposes to the purchase of alcoholic beverages are prohibited pursuant to Business and Professions Code Section 25600. The Department is suspending enforcement of this restriction to temporarily allow ABC licensees to give a portion of sales of alcoholic beverages to charities benefiting economic victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such promotions shall comply with certain specific requirements:
- The donation and promotion involve a bona fide charitable organization;
- The promotion is in connection with the sale of sealed containers and does not encourage or promote the consumption of alcoholic beverages; and
- The donation and promotion do not identify, advertise, or otherwise promote or involve any retail licensee.
This temporary relief will be in effect until June 30, 2020. Any promotions involving such donations must cease at that time. As that date approaches, the Department may determine, in its discretion, that extension of this relief is appropriate.
Can manufacturers and wholesalers donate to restaurant workers, hospitality workers, and related funds? Would this be a prohibited thing of value to retailers indirectly since it is going to their employees?
The Department encourages monetary donations to fundraisers established to benefit restaurant workers and hospitality workers in general, if it is just a donation to an organization and does not identify or involve any quid pro quo with specific retailers. In addition, gifts or donations (such as meals or gift cards) may not be made directly to retailer employees.
Can distilled spirits manufacturers provide high proof spirits for disinfecting purposes?
Distilled spirits manufacturers providing denatured high-proof spirits for disinfection purposes are temporarily permitted to produce supplies related to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to ease supply chain burdens, if they are produced for use in accordance with guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (PDF).
The Department does not object to licensees providing such distilled spirits for free to any person, including retail licensees, as long as they are not used to promote the manufacturer’s alcoholic beverage products and are not provided in exchange for an agreement to purchase anything produced or distributed by the manufacturer. In addition, if hand sanitizer is given to retail ABC licensees, it may only be for use by the retailer and its employees. No hand sanitizer may be given to a retailer for purposes of sale by the retailer. If it is intended for sale to the public, such products must be sold to the retailer.
Licensees should also be aware of guidance from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) regarding this subject.
This relief applies ONLY to denatured alcohol or other alcoholic non-beverage products (hand sanitizer gels, for example). Licensees are cautioned that undenatured distilled spirits, regardless of proof, are not included in this specific guidance as they are “alcoholic beverages” and thus subject to the normal requirements regarding manufacture, distribution, and sale. In addition, if licensees choose to produce and sell high-proof undenatured spirits (through usual channels) intended for use in hand sanitizer or as a disinfectant, they should be aware of potential tax issues, which should be addressed with the appropriate taxing authorities.
To-Go and Delivery
Are bars allowed to sell alcoholic beverages to-go?
Under current law, all bars and restaurants holding ABC licenses are permitted to sell alcoholic beverages in manufacturer, pre-packaged, and pre-sealed containers, to consumers for consumption off the licensed premises. They may sell only the types of alcoholic beverages that can be sold under their license for consumption on the premises, except for distilled spirits, and Type-75 licensees may only sell to-go beer that they produce on their licensed premises. Some licenses are subject to a specific license condition prohibiting off-sale privileges. Notwithstanding this, in accordance with the First Notice of Regulatory Relief (“Notice”) the Department issued on March 19, 2020, the Department will not be enforcing some of the statutory restrictions. As stated in the Notice (see Item 4), licensed bars and restaurants may sell any alcoholic beverages to-go that they can sell under their license for consumption on the premises, in manufacturer pre-package and pre-sealed containers. This includes distilled spirits (for those licenses allowed to sell distilled spirits) and, for Type-75 licenses, alcoholic beverages other than beer produced on the premises. In addition, the Department will not be enforcing any conditions that prohibit off-sale privileges or that restrict the hours of service (although the statutory prohibited hours will still be enforced; alcoholic beverages may not be sold between 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. each day; see Notice, Item 7).
In addition to businesses that hold ABC licenses for bona fide eating places (restaurants; license types 41, 47, and 75), businesses that operate as bars (holding license types 40, 42, and 48) that have kitchen facilities and actually prepare meals on the licensed premises, or have contracted with another meal provider as outlined in the Fifth Notice of Regulatory Relief, may also sell alcoholic beverages to-go in the same manner that the Department has provided for restaurants (see Item 5 in the Notice). This means that any beer, wine, or distilled spirits (as applicable) may be sold in containers filled by the retailer as long as:
- The container is sealed with a secure lid or cap and in a manner designed to prevent consumption without the removal of the lid or cap;
- Such alcoholic beverages are only sold in conjunction with a bona fide meal prepared on the licensed premises for pick-up or delivery; and
- The required notice is provided.
The sealing of a lid with holes in it by some method that cannot be easily removed by a customer after the sale is acceptable.
It is the responsibility of the delivery person to verify the age of the customer purchasing the alcoholic beverages to ensure delivery is not made to underage persons. The licensee is ultimately responsible for the delivery of alcoholic beverages.
Can there be a temporary lifting on ABC conditions that prohibit off-sale privileges at restaurants to ease impact on losing dine-in business?
Can restaurants, bars, and manufacturers sell alcohol in manufactured sealed containers without food?
If restaurants are selling manufacturer sealed alcohol to-go it is not required to be in conjunction with a food purchase. This is a privilege restaurants have always had in regards to beer and wine, and the notice has temporarily extended that to distilled spirits for licensees that are authorized to sell distilled spirits previously.
Do restaurants have to sell alcohol to-go in open containers with a food item?
An ABC licensee may only pour and sell alcoholic beverages to-go (mixed drinks or filled growlers, for example) in conjunction with meals sold to-go. This restriction continues to apply even though meals are no longer required to be served in conjunction with alcoholic beverages for consumption on the licensed premises in those counties that have moved to Stage 2 (see Industry Advisory). In addition, those poured or mixed drinks must be in a sealed container with a lid with no holes for straws, etc., and may only be transported in the trunk of a vehicle and consumed by a patron when they get home. However, ABC licensees may also sell manufacturer sealed containers without food. For further clarification, please see information previously provided in the Notice of Regulatory Relief.
Are there limits on pure spirits to the to-go open containers rule?
If the licensee can sell distilled spirits under its license, they can also give pure spirits along with mixed drinks and cocktails in a sealed open container. These are subject to the same rules and requirements as all other to-go open containers.
If breweries want to sell beer in a to-go container with a secured lid (like a mason jar), do they also have to sell you a food item?
Beer manufacturers (Type 01 and 23) may sell their beer in sealed containers (including growlers) to-go. This would also allow for sealed mason jars as those would be considered manufacturer sealed containers. They cannot sell any alcohol in improvised to-go containers with sealed lids without food like the requirements on restaurants and bars.
Type 75 brewpub restaurant licensees are retailers that also brew beer. These licensees may sell to-go in the same manner as other retailers (restaurants and bars that have kitchens). If they choose to sell poured or mixed drinks in sealed containers (beer, wine, or distilled spirits) to-go, they may only be sold in conjunction with (i.e., at the same time as) bona fide meals (i.e., not simply snack items, such as potato chips) that are actually prepared on the premises (i.e., not pre-packed food items prepared elsewhere).
The meal restriction continues to apply to to-go sales even though meals are no longer required to be served in conjunction with alcoholic beverages for consumption on the licensed premises in those counties that have moved to Stage 2 (see Industry Advisory).
What does the Department expect when it states that, “licensed premises may do so when sold in conjunction with meals prepared for pick-up or delivery?" Does that mean that the alcohol and meal must be sold in the same transaction?
“In conjunction” means that to-go sales of alcohol that are not in manufacturer sealed containers can only be made in the same transaction as food sales (bona fide eating places) for pick-up or delivery.
Can bars that do not sell food open to sell liquor to-go?
Bars may sell alcohol to-go in manufacturers pre-packaged and sealed containers, including distilled spirits, pursuant to the Notice of Regulatory Relief. They cannot sell in open containers such as a to-go cup with a lid or a growler at this time because the Department has limited this exception to allow to-go alcoholic beverages to be sold only in conjunction with food sales.
Why require meals to be sold in conjunction with the open container to-go alcohol?
This is like the bona fide eating place requirements already found in California alcohol law. The rationale is that because the service of meals is the primary business of the premises, and the alcohol is a secondary companion to those meals, it is consuming alcohol alone without food that is generally discouraged. This is a standard that has repeatedly been used in California law to extend alcohol licensee privileges.
What type of alcohol containers are allowed in the Department’s drive-thru sale options allowed in the notice?
The drive-thru options are meant to be used for manufactured sealed containers at off-sale locations, such as a liquor store offering curbside service. These off-sale licensees only have the privilege of selling in manufacturer sealed containers, and not the open containers discussed above.
May a winery allow wine club members and other customers to pick up wine at the winery?
Yes, however, the winery should help employees, customers, and club members practice social distancing when they come to the licensed premises to pick up wine.
Are we still able to deliver alcohol?
All manufacture licensees with off-sale privileges may deliver their own products to consumers as provided under the current Notice of Regulatory Relief from the Department.
Off-sale licensees are permitted to deliver the alcohol authorized to be sold under their license to consumers. On-sale licensees may sell and deliver all alcohol permitted to be sold under their license to consumers.
It is the responsibility of the delivery person to verify the age of the customer purchasing the alcoholic beverages to ensure delivery is not made to underage persons. The licensee is ultimately responsible for the delivery and may be subject to license discipline if alcohol is delivered to minors or obviously intoxicated persons.
Can on-sale businesses have off-sale privileges if they are doing mostly take out business?
On-sale licensees have always had off-sale privileges for manufacturer sealed containers of beer and wine (or just beer for on-sale beer licenses). Some licenses have operating restrictions (conditions) on them that prohibit sales of alcoholic beverages to-go. However, enforcement of these restrictions is temporarily suspended until further notice. In addition, the enforcement of the prohibition on selling distilled spirits to-go in manufacturer sealed containers is also temporarily suspended for on-sale general licensees. Payment for deliveries may also take place off the licensed premises, such as at the time of delivery or curbside.
Retailers may accept orders made via the internet or telephone.
It is the responsibility of the delivery person to verify the age of the customer purchasing the alcoholic beverages to ensure delivery is not made to underage persons. The licensee is ultimately responsible for the delivery.
Who can deliver alcohol from on-sale locations?
On-sale licensees may deliver alcoholic beverages to consumers themselves or by utilizing a third-party delivery company. Some licensees have operating restrictions (conditions) placed on their license that prohibit sales of alcoholic beverages to-go. Such a condition would also prohibit the delivery of alcoholic beverages. However, the enforcement of those restrictions is temporarily suspended until further notice.
The licensee is ultimately responsible for the delivery of alcoholic beverages by third-party vendors.
Only licensees may exercise license privileges. Third-party vendors may not purchase and resell alcoholic beverages.
Can on-sale retailers fill or refill growlers to-go?
Under the relief provided in the Notice of Regulatory Relief, growlers may be filled or refilled by on-sale retailers for consumers to-go.
For growlers or other containers that are filled with beer by the retailer, the Department will not be enforcing labelling requirements.
Can distilleries deliver to consumers?
Type 04 (distilled spirits manufacturer) licensees are prohibited from selling alcoholic beverages to consumers.
Type 74 (craft distiller) licensees may sell up to 2.25 liters of distilled spirits per person per day. Normally they may not deliver alcoholic beverages to consumers away from the licensed premises, but enforcement of the delivery provision is temporarily suspended. They must still, however, comply with the 2.25 liter per consumer per day limit. It is up to the shipping/delivery company as to whether they will deliver alcohol. Whomever delivers the alcohol must deliver it to someone of legal drinking age. Delivering it to a minor is illegal, the licensee is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the delivery person complies with the law in this regard.
Can licensees provide curbside pickup for consumers, perhaps in their parking lot (unlicensed area of premises)?
Will ABC allow on-sale licensees to sell beer and wine to-go even if they have conditions that perhaps prohibit off-sale sales?
For a bar owner who recently bought several kegs and no longer can sell beer from a keg on the premises because there is no food prepared on it, can they sell the kegs?
Yes, you can sell the kegs if they have not yet been tapped. As indicated in the Notice of Regulatory Relief you can sell the kegs to an ABC licensed retailer holding an off-sale license (Type 20 or Type 21), or you can sell them to consumers directly either curbside or have them delivered to the consumer’s home.
Aside from a requirement that the lid prevents the customer from drinking its contents, are there any other requirements on to-go containers for alcohol sold in conjunction with food?
There are no further limits upon the to-go container besides the lid limiting the consumer from drinking by sip or straw from the container without removing the lid.
Wholesaler and Distributor
What are the hours during which manufacturers and wholesalers may deliver alcoholic beverages to retailers?
Business and Professions Code Section 25633 provides that alcoholic beverages may only be delivered to retailers during the hours of 3:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. every day but Sunday. This regulatory relief provides that the Department will not enforce the delivery prohibition between the hours of 12:00 a.m. (midnight) and 3:00 a.m. every day but Sunday. This means that, during this period of temporary relief, licensees that deliver alcoholic beverages to retailers may do so during the hours of 12:00 a.m. (midnight) and 8:00 p.m. each day of the week, except Sunday. Be aware that several restrictions apply to deliveries:
- The hours of delivery are subject to the hours during which the retailer will accept deliveries; and
- If delivery hours are limited by condition at an ABC licensed premises, this relief does not extend hours when deliveries can be made at that location.
In addition, it is noted that Governor Newsom’s Executive Order issued on March 21, 2020 (N-35-20) (PDF), provides “Any local ordinance, including those relating to noise limitations, is suspended to the extent it restricts, delays, or otherwise inhibits the delivery of food products, pharmaceuticals, and other emergency necessities distributed through grocery stores and other retail or institutional channels, including, but not limited to, hospitals, jails, restaurants, and schools.”
May a manufacturer accept returns of product from a distributor?
California law does not restrict returns between manufacturers and wholesalers. However, federal law may restrict such practices.
Now that the ABC has stated the temporary suspending of enforcement of the 30-day payment terms (credit law), many accounts are attempting to simply not pay their bills to their wholesalers, breweries, and wineries. Is there a plan to give temporary relief to wholesalers until payments start coming in from their accounts?
The rationale behind the Department’s notice that it would not be enforcing the strict provisions of California’s credit laws is to provide some relief and flexibility to all alcoholic beverage licensees. Neither the credit law itself nor the Department’s temporary relief measures require the extension of credit at all. Moreover, this temporary relief does not relieve any party of its contractual obligations. What it does allow is for manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers to be flexible in the terms of credit extended, and the enforcement of their own contracts, during this evolving crisis.
There is currently no plan to give temporary relief to wholesalers, because the payments owed to them are not being erased or lessened. However, ABC is open to exploring all ideas, within the Department’s jurisdiction and authority, that may provide guidance and relief to the alcoholic beverage and hospitality industries. If you have suggestions, please email them to email@example.com.
Can licensees return alcohol to their suppliers?
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Additional information may be obtained by contacting:
Alcoholic Beverage Control
3927 Lennane Drive, Suite 100
Sacramento, CA 95834
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Call (916) 419-2500