How Restaurants Can Easily Navigate The Virginia ABC

When you’re opening a restaurant there’s a lot to focus on. Rehabbing the interior, getting the kitchen just right, training the staff, finalizing the menu, getting health department approvals, and the list goes on. Perhaps this list, which—let’s admit is pretty intense—is why many restaurants open without an ABC license. Opening sans ABC is rough for a restaurant—we all know wine, beer and liquor can be a big profit center. So, we talked to Kathleen Shaw, Public Relations Manager for Virginia ABC, for some advice on how restaurants can expedite the process. 



A restaurant offering a full bar with liquor, wine and beer would need to apply for both a Wine and Beer on Premises and a Mixed Beverage on Premises license. You can apply for both at the same time, but you do have to complete an application for each. The department of ABC encourages restaurant owners to start the application process 60 days before opening to allow ample time for everything to process. 

When getting started, make sure to read the entire application closely—it’s 11 pages! One of the most important things is being sure you supply all the required documents with your application, which include:

  • A lease or deed
  • A health permit
  • Criminal history
  • A valid ID
  • A employer identification number
  • A Virginia sales tax certificate
  • A franchise/management agreement

Publishing and Posting

It’s important to get this part right and start early.

Within a day or two of an application being received, the ABC will notify the applicant that the review process has begun. At this point, the restaurant owner can start the publishing and posting process—this can be one of the most time consuming parts of the process, so it’s important to get this part right and start early. Shaw explains:

“The Code of Virginia requires that license applicants fill out a notice provided by Virginia ABC stating that he or she has applied for an ABC license and post the notice for 10 complete and consecutive days on the front of the building, room or place where he or she proposes to conduct business. In addition, the owner must publish a notice, in English, stating that he/she has applied for an ABC license at least two times in a newspaper having general circulation in the county, city or town where the owner proposes to conduct business. The two published notices must occur in consecutive weeks. The second publishing must occur at least seven days after the first publishing, but not later than Saturday of the second week. The easiest way to meet this requirement is to publish on the same day in both weeks—e.g., on two consecutive Mondays.”


It doesn’t matter what you do, you can’t get your license until 30 days after the first newspaper publication. This can sometimes trip people up. Shaw says: 

“Often, applicants are very organized and submit all required documentation with the application, permitting ABC to process the application more quickly. However, pursuant to Code of Virginia, ABC cannot issue a license until at least 30 days after the date of the initial newspaper publication. The 30-day period is intended to give the general public sufficient time to express to the board reasonable objections to the issuance of any license.”  

During that 30 day waiting period the ABC licensing office is verifying the information submitted in the application, including confirming the establishment applied for the correct type of license, collecting driving history from the DMV, confirming all officers, directors and shareholders are listed, running a criminal history check through the Virginia State Police, notifying localities that an applicant in their jurisdiction has applied for an ABC license, etc. In addition, a special agent will be assigned to come do an in-person inspection at the establishment. Once the agent has visited and reviewed/approved the paper work, an approval can be issued. 

Ask for help

Shaw reminds us that the ABC licensing technicians special agents are there to be resources. If you have questions or are confused, ask for help. You can also reference the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Laws in the Code of Virginia. Keep in mind, once a license is issued, an ABC special agent will conduct a post license issuance inspection 90 days after the license has been issued. 

Kevin Clay