Alcohol beverage retailers form the base of America’s three-tier system. Retailers face extraordinary regulation, and consequently have special needs.

On-premises retailers, such as restaurants and hotels, bars and nightclubs, theme parks and golf courses, face a broad range of regulatory requirements and liability risks. Off-premises retailers, such as convenience stores, supermarkets and package/liquor stores, face their own unique challenges as local governments get more restrictive on distance and location restrictions for licensure, while plaintiffs’ lawyers seek to expand the scope of dram shop liability to encompass those who only sell but don’t serve alcohol.

The challenges facing the alcohol retailer are daunting. Whether assisting with licensure and compliance issues, counseling about responsible vending practices or defending against dram shop or other liability claims, our Alcohol Industry Team has the skilled and experienced professionals to protect your interests and secure your objectives. Examples of the way we can help include:

  • Start-Up

    We have extensive experience working with new "niche" entrants to the alcohol and hospitality industries, as well as with experienced chain retailers who are expanding into new geographic markets, diversifying with new private label alcohol brands and/or implementing innovative business concepts to strengthen their existing market positions. We provide guidance and assistance for Start-Up issues ranging from capitalization and entity formation, through location and licensure, to market penetration and mid-long term planning.

  • Licensure

    We handle alcohol beverage licensing at the federal, state and local levels for locations throughout North America. Additionally, we work with clients from all tiers of America’s three-tier system to secure all required operating and collateral alcohol beverage licenses associated with their businesses, including local health, safety and occupational permits.

    GrayRobinson alcohol beverage attorneys, along with our former regulators and licensing specialists, represent an extensive roster of local, regional and national restaurants, hotel chains, theme parks, and other alcohol license holders. Our team assists manufacturers, importers, proprietors and corporate entities with the preparation and filing of federal and state alcohol beverage license applications. GrayRobinson also assists clients in establishing, preserving  and terminating wholesale distribution relationships, as well as negotiating and preparing distributorship agreements.

  • Brand Development

    We understand that a private label brand is more than a label – it’s the embodiment of the retailer. From initial appointment through registration and market rollout, we assist retail clients with the creation and promotion of their private label alcohol beverage products to assure compliance and enhance the prospects for market success. Our regulatory guidance for brand development encompasses compliance with federal product formulation and labeling requirements, as well as state brand registrations and practical, experience-based input on brand development. 

  • Contracts

    Preparation and negotiation of key contracts is vital to success in the alcohol industry. Our services in this area include drafting lease and concession agreements with venue owners, private label production contracts, and a range of other relevant operating documents necessary for compliance and success.

  • Taxes and Records

    Because it is a heavily regulated industry, alcohol beverage retailers must produce and maintain records that are accurate and complete. Moreover, because it is a heavily taxed industry as well, retailers are obligated to meet their federal and state taxation responsibilities; failure to do so can jeopardize a retailer’s licensure, which directly impacts the ability to remain in business. We provide comprehensive assistance with taxation and record-keeping responsibilities.

  • Marketing

    In today’s world, with the unprecedented proliferation of brands and industry members, the ability to distinguish a particular retailer or a specific brand is fundamental to success.   While advancing technology presents extraordinary new opportunities for marketing and promotion, the regulatory restrictions applicable to alcohol beverages produce concomitant compliance risks.   Our Alcohol Industry Team provides specific advice regarding marketing, advertising and promotional activities, including issues relating to consumer tastings and samplings, social media marketing, stealth and guerilla marketing, and the degree to which retailers lawfully can work with alcohol distributors or suppliers to achieve success in the marketplace.

  • Compliance

    Unlike any other consumer product, alcohol beverages present industry members with huge compliance challenges because the laws and regulations of every state are different. For interested parties with no prior experience in the industry – as is often the case with Merger and Acquisition activity involving private investment funds or financial institutions for whom selling alcohol is not a primary endeavor – regulations predicated on concepts such as "tied-house evil" and "mandatory three-tier" can be especially bewildering to comprehend, and difficult to follow.  We counsel clients on trade practice and compliance issues at the federal, state and local levels on issues ranging from M&A guidelines, product recalls and brand sponsorships, to distributor relations and restrictions on how lawfully to work with suppliers to best promote sales. 

  • Government and Public Relations

    Legislative change is rarely easy, but sometimes it is vital to development and growth.   Issues can range from local matters such as community zoning and land use requirements, to statewide regulatory matters such as IRC coupon redemption regulations and more expansive issues such as restrictions on a retailer’s ability to centralize warehousing or obtain quantity discounts. We have proven experience in securing needed administrative and legislative changes for clients, working with alcohol industry members to design and implement strategic public relations and legislative lobbying campaigns, including the preparation of wet zoning petitions and land use variances, as well as proposed legislation and regulatory rulemaking. 

  • Enforcement

    In a heavily regulated industry, the risks of regulatory enforcement always are substantial. In especially competitive markets, these risks often escalate because competitors do not hesitate to complain to regulators whenever they perceive an alleged violation that arguably yields an unfair advantage in the marketplace. Whether in the form of an audit, subpoena for records, or institution of formal administrative proceedings, our Alcohol Industry Team’s professionals are experienced at protecting clients’ rights and defending their interests against administrative actions at the federal or state levels.

  • Dispute Resolution

    Disputes can arise from any number of sources: government agencies, members of the public, and even other alcohol industry members. Whether those disputes ripen into litigation often depends on the initial actions and reactions of the relevant parties. Our experience proves that skilled communication and strategic planning often can avert litigation, saving all parties time, effort and expense. Our unique combination of lawyers and former regulators, along with our experience of representing all tiers and segments of the industry, enable us to offer alcohol industry clients unparalleled mediation capabilities that can identify key issues, overcome inter-company obstacles and resolve disputes before control is ceded from the parties to the courts. When mediation is not an option, our trial lawyers have decades of experience with litigation and arbitration, including commercial disputes, labor and employment concerns, intellectual property protection, and dram shop liability matters. 

  • Education and Training

    We use the experience and knowledge of our Alcohol Industry Team’s attorneys and former regulators to develop tailored education and training programs that emphasize responsible vending and best practices while encouraging compliance. Whether in the format of a live presentation before an in-house classroom audience, or a company-wide online webinar, we can devise programs that add value by increasing employee education about alcohol trade practice DOs and DON’Ts while reducing both compliance and liability risks.

  • Research and Insights

    Our attorneys and former regulators stay current on industry developments, and work to identify developing trends ahead of the market curve.   That prowess can be invaluable for retailers who seek a competitive and strategic edge.   We offer such clients leading-edge industry research and reports that provide critical information and insights needed to make important mid-and long-range business decisions. Our Alcohol Industry Team brings complex information together and makes it understandable so our clients can stay ahead of emerging trends.