Mac Gipson

William E. Thigpen
Assistant Administrator

Robert W. "Bubba" Lee
Board Chairman

Samuetta H. Drew
Board Member

Michael Ingram, MD
Board Member

October 5, 2016

Outdoor Sales & Service of Alcohol Misunderstood

by Mac Gipson, ABC Board Administrator

     A recent complaint sent to the ABC Board’s Mobile district office has generated some interest; not because of the issue, but because of a misunderstanding of the law. 

    First, the complaint. A citizen alerted our Licensing and Compliance staff that a couple of restaurants in downtown Mobile were openly serving alcohol on a public sidewalk. Our staff responded by informing the licensees in that area that selling and serving alcohol “outside” of the licensed premises was illegal and could not continue.  The offenders then called city officials and the media claiming that the ABC Board was no longer allowing people to consume alcohol outdoors.  This simply is not the case.

     The issue here, the only issue here, is that a licensee cannot sell and/or serve alcohol “outside” of his or her licensed premises. Open-air areas, including patios, are routinely approved as part of the licensed premises.  In fact, when a licensee petitions the ABC Board for permission to sell alcohol, they are required to describe in great detail the parameters of their premises.  An ABC Licensing and Compliance inspector then verifies the information in person. If the parameters change, then the licensee must file an amended application.

      In this instance, the restaurants had placed tables and chairs on a public right-of-way (sidewalk) and were serving alcohol in an area that was not covered by their license. This clearly is a violation. The restaurants then tried to declare that the sidewalk is part of their licensed premises. This can be done, but only if the licensee amends his or her description of the premises and files that with the ABC Board, which they did not.

     To be perfectly clear, the ABC Board has in no way taken the position that alcoholic beverages could not be served outdoors or on patios.  Furthermore, The ABC Board has in no way taken the position that alcohol could not be sold on sidewalk patios (if that area is properly under the control of the person selling the beverages). Sidewalk patios are permissable in Alabama and merely require the proper licensing and the appropriate land usage approval by local  governing authorities.

      In an attempt to clear up any further confusion, please see the applicable regulations and explanations below:

20-X-6.01 (14)
All sales and service of alcoholic beverages by an ABC Board retail licensee shall be made within the interior of buildings situated upon the licensed premises, except as provided in ABC Board Regulation 20-X-6-.07.

Service of Alcoholic Beverages on Patios or Around Swimming Pool Areas

Any ABC Board on-premises licensee may service alcoholic beverages as authorized by their license on patios or around swimming pool areas adjacent to or connected with the main licensed premises. Said serving area shall be located so as not to be a nuisance nor readily visable from a church or school premises.           

These regulations in no way state that licensees may not serve on a patio. To the contrary, it is clearly stated that they may. The only requirement is that the patio must be part of their licensed premises. During the application process, an applicant provides us with documents showing the right to use the property and describe the area that is covered by the license. Any time that the originally-licensed premises changes, such as the addition of a patio, the licensee must notify the ABC Board and provide documents, if appropriate. In a case where a portion of a public sidewalk is being used as a patio, a use agreement between the city and the licensee must be provided to the ABC Board. Licensees must clearly define the patio as part of the licensed premises. The rights and responsbilities of the license apply to every area of the licensed premises.

              In other words, restaurants can:

* Serve alcohol outdoors – If the restaurant’s licensed premises clearly includes the serving area. However, public rights-of-way are controlled by the City, which means the City would have to enter into an agreement with the licensee, giving them control  of that portion of the sidewalk. That agreement would need to be provided to the ABC Board, along with an illustration defining the premises. The licensee assumes the liability.

* Sell and serve alcohol on an outdoor patio – If the restaurant’s licensed premises clearly includes the patio. The licensee has the responsibility of controlling access to the patio and the boundaries of the patio must be clearly identified.

* Allow alcohol in open containers to be removed from the licensed premises – If the City has enacted an ordinance that recognizes and specifies a geographical area of town, known as an “entertainment district”.

And they can’t:

* Sell or serve alcohol to a person who is deemed to already be “overserved” or to any person under the age of 21.

* Serve alcohol on a public sidewalk or parking lot – unless the licensee has obtained permission from the municipality and the ABC Board recognizes the public portion of the service area to be part of the licensed premises.

* Serve alcohol on a patio or outside the walls of the licensed premises – unless the licensee has petitioned the ABC Board and/or filed an amended application that includes the patio or outdoor area of their “licensed premises.”

 In every instance where we responded to city officials or to media inquiries, we made it clear that the ABC Board was in no way trying to end the practice of consuming alcohol outdoors. However, the ABC Board is charged in Title 28, Code of Alabama, as amended, with enforcing state alcohol laws.

If a licensee is unsure whether an action is a violation of his/her license, then he/she should contact us prior to engaging in that action.  The Alabama ABC Board encourages licensees to contact their district office or the central office with any questions they may have or to better understand applicable alcohol laws.

We stand ready to advise and otherwise help our licensees sell and serve alcohol legally and responsibly. 



PHONE (334) 271-3840 • FAX (334) 244-1815 • WEBSITE: HTTP://WWW.ABCBOARD.ALBAMA.GOV