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Washington state liquor license and insurance requirements

Washington state liquor license and insurance requirements

By Meg Furey-Marquess
Nov 16, 2022
10 min read

From coastal seafood to farm fresh fruits and veggies, Washington state is home to some of the best food in the nation. If you’re looking to open a business that offers alcohol, you’ll find the Evergreen State has one of the most user-friendly and streamlined processes for getting a liquor license.

Getting a liquor license in Washington takes less than 90 days, so be sure you’re about three months from opening before applying. Here’s what we’re going to cover:

Do you need a liquor license to sell alcohol in Washington?

In Washington, instead of applying for a liquor license on its own, business owners looking to sell alcohol must apply for a special endorsement when applying for their business license. After successfully applying, the alcohol endorsement is included in your business license. 

To note, business license applications are handled by the Washington State Department of Revenue (DOR), while the liquor license endorsement is handled by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB). 

Types of liquor licenses in Washington

Washington offers several types of liquor licenses depending on your business and the type of alcohol you want to sell. For those in the food service industry, the main types of licenses are a Beer license, a Wine license, a Beer & Wine license, and a Beer, Wine & Spirits license.

If you’re unsure what license you need, the Washington State Department of Revenue (DOR) offers an incredibly helpful tool on its website called the Business Licensing Wizard.

With the Business Licensing Wizard, you simply answer questions about the type of business you plan to open. The Wizard will guide you to the type of license you’ll need, shows you the endorsements you’ll have to apply for with the WSLCB and helps process additional licensing or fees.

How long does it take to get a liquor license?

From the time you submit your application, it takes approximately 60 days for the DOR and WSLCB to complete their investigations and issue a business license with endorsements. 

The state of Washington asks that you apply for any needed licenses or endorsements 90 days before your business’ opening date to allow adequate time to process your request. If you apply much further out, the DOR may send your application back and have you resubmit closer to your opening date. 

How much does a liquor license cost in Washington?

A business license from the DOR costs $90. The liquor endorsement cost varies depending on the type of beverages you plan to sell and the setup of your establishment:

  • Beer: $200
  • Wine: $200
  • Beer & Wine: $400
  • Beer, Wine & Spirits - Service Bar Only: $1,000
  • Beer, Wine & Spirits - 50% or more dedicated dining area: $1,600
  • Beer, Wine & Spirits - Less than 50% dedicated dining area: $2,000

In addition, your local city or county may have additional fees for a business or alcohol license. 

Washington liquor license requirements

The WSLCB can only issue licenses to businesses ready to sell or manufacture alcohol in roughly three months. Hence, they recommend filing 90 days out from your projected opening date.

While not a requirement, you should have a business plan ready as you will be asked to describe the intent of your business, who the owners are, explain the costs associated with opening your business, and the source or sources of funding for your business.

Additionally, it’s important to check with the city or county for building permits, zoning, and other local area requirements. You can do this on your own or as part of the licensing process on the DOR website

How to get a liquor license in Washington

Washington state has a streamlined process for applying for a business license and getting the alcohol endorsements you need.

When you’re 90 days from your opening date, apply for the license and endorsements you need through the DOR website.

Once the DOR receives your application, they pass along your liquor license application to the WSLCB, which assigns a Licensing Specialist to guide you through the application process and explain the documentation required. 

Your Licensing Specialist will contact you within one week of receiving your application and is available throughout the process to answer any questions you may have.

The Licensing Specialist will first schedule a telephone interview to better understand your business plans. They will ask about your business partners, your proposed location and discuss licensing requirements specific to your business plans.

After understanding your business plans, the Licensing Specialist will request documents relating to the startup of your business, which may include:

  • Business structure
  • Financing/start-up costs
  • Lease or purchase agreements
  • Floor plans
  • Personal/criminal history statement
  • Public Posting Notification

While you're working on gathering the requested documents, the WSLCB will notify the local authority (i.e., mayor or county commission) that you have applied for a liquor license.

In addition, the WSLCB will research the neighborhood for nearby public and private schools and churches. If there are any within 500 feet of your business, they will be notified and have the chance to support or object to your application.

Once you have submitted the required documents, your Licensing Specialist will review them to ensure your application meets all licensing requirements. At this point, they will request that you complete an online briefing on liquor laws and submit photos of the premises.

If your complete documentation has been received and approved by the WSLCB and there are no outstanding issues, you will receive an approval letter that serves as your 30-day liquor license until you receive your Master Business License with the liquor endorsement from the Department of Revenue.

Washington liquor license renewal requirements

Ninety days prior to your license expiration date, the WSLCB sends your local authority a notice that your liquor license is up for renewal. As long as they have no objections, you can renew online

There is a $10 renewal processing fee for a business with any number of endorsements, which costs the same as when first applying:

  • Beer: $200
  • Wine: $200
  • Beer & Wine: $400
  • Beer, Wine & Spirits - Service Bar Only: $1,000
  • Beer, Wine & Spirits - 50% or more dedicated dining area: $1,600
  • Beer, Wine & Spirits - Less than 50% dedicated dining area: $2,000

In addition, most city or county licenses are renewed annually and can be paid through the DOR website.

Can a liquor license be transferred in Washington?

No. In Washington, liquor licenses are not transferable. You have to apply for your own license even if you’re purchasing an established business. 

Even if you have an established restaurant and want to start serving alcohol, you’ll have to apply for a whole new license with the endorsements you want.

What are employee requirements to serve alcohol in Washington?

Washington law requires that any person who serves, mixes, sells, or who supervises the sale of alcohol takes Mandatory Alcohol Server Training (MAST). MAST courses are taught by third-party providers that have been certified by WSLCB.

The MAST permit is good for five years and is not renewable, so employees will have to retake the course at that time. Employees must have a valid ID and MAST permit available for inspection by law enforcement any time they sell or handle alcohol. 

Washington’s liquor liability and dram shop laws

Washington is a dram shop liability state. That means state laws can hold a business liable for selling or serving alcohol to individuals who cause injuries or death because they’re intoxicated.

For example, say a group comes to your restaurant to celebrate a wedding. They order multiple rounds of drinks and have a good time. Unfortunately, they get into a car accident that injures the other driver on the way home. Your business can be sued if the driver from the wedding party was over the legal limit. While it may seem unfair, your business could be held responsible for their mistake.

What kind of insurance do you need to get a liquor license in Washington?

It takes 90 days to get your new business licensed and endorsed in Washington state; be sure you have the right business insurance ready for opening night.

Liquor Liability insurance

With dram shop laws as broad as they are in Washington, liquor liability insurance protects your business against the risks associated with serving alcohol. It helps cover everything from medical bills to court fees should a patron do something foolish, and you get held responsible. 

General Liability insurance

Working with the public comes with its own risks — even without alcohol getting involved. General liability insurance protects you against the most common incidents like slips, falls or property damage.

Workers’ Comp insurance

Workers’ comp is completely handled by the Washington state government. If you or a staff member experiences an injury on the job, this insurance covers medical expenses, lost wages and more.

Commercial Property insurance

Whether you own or lease the space your business is in, commercial property coverage covers the building, your goods, gear, and inventory. Should something happen, you can get back to business ASAP.

How helps Washington businesses 

NEXT offers customized business insurance for Washington business owners. We offer liquor liability insurance alongside our general liability coverage.

With our online services, you can get a quote, review coverage options, purchase insurance, and have your certificate of insurance in about 10 minutes. 

Start an instant quote online today.

Washington state liquor license and insurance requirements

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About the author
Meg Furey-Marquess is an experienced writer from Austin, Texas. With a special interest in both small business and personal finance, she believes that big ideas often start small. With a knack for narrative and a relentlessly curious nature, her goal is to amplify the “little guys.”
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