In Georgia, the practice of patrons bringing their own alcoholic beverages to consume on site at a restaurant or establishment that does not have a liquor license, commonly known as “brown bagging” or “BYOB,” has gained popularity among businesses. For many businesses, it’s seen as a way to promote without the need for an expensive service license. Brown bagging laws govern whether or not such establishments can allow patrons to bring their own alcoholic beverages and under what conditions. Navigating these laws in Georgia can be a convoluted process, involving state, county, and local laws, each with its own set of regulations.

Liquor License Requirements 

Georgia operates under a three-tier system for alcohol distribution, which separates manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. This system imposes regulations on who can sell alcohol, where, and under what circumstances. Restaurants and establishments in Georgia must obtain proper licenses to sell alcoholic beverages.  Restaurants without liquor licenses are generally prohibited from allowing patrons to bring their own alcohol. However, there are exceptions to this rule. 

At the state level, Georgia permits brown bagging as long as the alcoholic beverages are provided by the customer and not by the business. Even if the business offers alcohol to customers at no charge, they are still considered to be engaging in the sale of alcohol by the Georgia Department of Revenue and therefore required to be licensed. Licensure requirements in each jurisdiction cover various concerns, including the types of beverages allowed, corkage fees, operating hours, and the responsibilities of businesses regarding intoxicated patrons.

Brown Bagging Laws

Brown bagging laws primarily exist to regulate alcohol sales and consumption, ensure public safety, and protect the interests of licensed establishments. By controlling the sale and consumption of alcohol, jurisdictions seek to mitigate potential negative impacts such as underage drinking, public intoxication, and alcohol-related incidents.

Despite the lack of a statewide prohibition on brown bagging, regulations at the city and county level create a patchwork of rules across Georgia. Some areas outright prohibit brown bagging, while others require businesses to meet specific requirements and obtain a license. Meanwhile, many jurisdictions have not addressed brown bagging in their ordinances, allowing businesses to permit it by default. Examples of outright prohibition jurisdictions in the Atlanta Metro area include Forsyth County, Alpharetta, Roswell, and Johns Creek. However, Milton and Woodstock permit brown bagging under certain conditions and with the appropriate licensure.

Impact on Consumers and Businesses

Due to the differing requirements in many jurisdictions in Georgia, determining which regulations and ordinances govern a specific location can be confusing. For consumers, understanding brown bagging laws is essential for compliance and to avoid legal issues. It’s also crucial for patrons to respect the policies of individual establishments regarding bringing their own alcohol.

For businesses, these laws can impact revenue streams and business models. Restaurants without liquor licenses may face limitations in attracting customers who prefer to dine with alcohol. However, if a business mistakenly allows its patrons to bring their own alcohol upon its premises where it is unlawful, the business and its employees can be subject to substantial penalties including fines and possible incarceration. 

Brown bagging laws in Georgia play a significant role in regulating alcohol sales and consumption, ensuring public safety, and supporting licensed establishments. Understanding these laws is vital for consumers and businesses alike to navigate the complex landscape of alcohol regulations responsibly. 

The restaurant and entertainment industry is heavily regulated in Georgia, and, as such, before owners wade into the red tape related to “brown bagging” or other aspects of their business, they are well advised to obtain counsel from attorneys with expertise in navigating this intricate web of regulations. If you have a business or liquor license  matter that you need help with, please contact us today.