UPDATED: 6 Requirements for Florida Restaurant’s to Sell Beer, Wine & Liquor

Grand Cafe Brasserie. CC license. Credit Jennifer Morrow on Flikr.com.

Florida restaurants that want to sell beer, wine and liquor–whether at a restaurant bar or to seated customers–must have a 4COP-SFS (formerly known as 4COP-SRX) license issued by the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages & Tobacco (ABT) pursuant to Florida Statutes Section 561.20(2)(a)4. Most recently, this law was updated by Florida Law 2023-65, effective July 1, 2023. To get a 4COP-SFS license, a Florida restaurant must meet the following six requirements:

  1. Be a “bona fide” food service establishment.
  2. Maintain at least 2,000 square feet of service area.
  3. Have the capacity to serve meals to at least 120 persons at one time.
  4. Have at least 120 physical seats available for patrons to use during operating hours.
  5. Hold itself out as a restaurant.
  6. Derive at least 51% of its gross food and beverage revenues from food and nonalcoholic beverages.

Requirement 1: “Bona Fide” Food Service Establishment

Florida Law 2023-65 included the requirement to be a “bona fide” food service establishment, but it is not clear from the law or the legislative history what this means. Most likely, inclusion of the descriptor “bona fide” is intended to bolster existing regulations of the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages & Tobacco (ABT).

The ABT’s regulations (Fla. Admin. Code 61A-3.049(2)(b)) provide that a “bona fide restaurant” is:

  • a premises that holds itself out to be primarily a restaurant,
  • advertises as a full service restaurant, and
  • offers a complete menu as opposed to snacks or fast foods.

In addition, a bona fide food service establishment must hold a Permanent Food Service (PFS) license issued by the Florida Division of Hotels & Restaurants. However, the ABT regulations indicated that a public food service establishment licensed by the Division of Hotels & Restaurants is not conclusive in determining whether or nota public food service establishment is a bona fide restaurant.

Requirement 2: At Least 2,000 SF of Service Area

The Service Area Requirement means that only restaurants of a minimum size are permitted to have a 4COP-SFS license. However, “service area” is generally interpreted by the ABT very broadly. The dining room is part of the service area, of course, but the kitchen is also. So are office and storage spaces. So are the restrooms. Outdoor seating is also part of the service area, as long as the restaurant has the legal right to use the space (according to the lease or deed).

The only part of a restaurant’s floor plan that is not part of the service area, for purposes of meeting the Service Area Requirement, is any part that (1) is not covered by the restaurant’s Permanent Food Service (PFS) license issued by the Florida Division of Hotels and Restaurants, or (2) is covered by a different alcoholic beverage license, such as a manufacturing license (for a brewery or winery), bottle club license, or package store license.

Requirement 3: Serve Meals to 120 Persons at One Time

Only restaurants that are capable of serving meals to at least 120 persons at one time are allowed to get and keep a 4COP-SFS license. There is no guidance provided in the Florida Statutes or the ABT’s regulations about how this capability is evaluated.

Requirement 4: 120 Physical Seats Available for Patrons

Restaurants must provide a minimum of 120 physical seats available for use by patrons of the restaurant during their operating hours. It is not enough that a restaurant have a kitchen capable of preparing 120 meals at one time. The restaurant must also have capacity that is sufficient to serve those meals to 120 persons present in the restaurant at the same time. In other words, a restaurant’s robust carryout or Uber Eats business is not enough.

Minimum seating is required throughout the restaurant’s operating hours. This indicates that an arrangement where, for instance, a restaurant’s dining room is converted to a dance floor during certain hours will be permitted to hold a 4COP-SFS even if the other requirements are met.

Requirement 5: Hold Itself Out as a Restaurant

A 4COP-SFS licensed premises must hold itself out as a restaurant. Together with the Bona Fide Food Service Establishment requirement, this requirement is intended to limit these licenses to a premises that is principally operated as, and known as, a restaurant. This is a subjective standard. Neither the Florida Statutes nor the ABT regulations provide guidance on the standard that is applied to this determination. However, it seems clear that the intention is that 4COP-SFS licenses will not be available to premises that are restaurants only in a technical sense but in reality are operated and known as bars, night clubs, dance halls, or some other drinking place.

Requirement 6: 51% of Revenue from Food and Nonalcoholic Beverages

A restaurant that is granted a 4COP-SFS license must continue to derive at least 51% of its food and beverage gross revenue from the sale of food and nonalcoholic beverages. The ABT confirms that this requirement is met by by reviewing the restaurant’s sales records.

When a new 4COP-SFS is issued, the ABT will review the restaurant’s food and beverage sales records after the first 120 days. If those records show that more than 49% of revenue comes from alcoholic beverage sales, the ABT may terminate the license. If that happens, the restaurant must choose among: (1) purchasing a 4COP quota license (for which there is a limited number per county), (2) applying for a 2COP beer and wine only license, or (3) no alcoholic beverage license.

After the first 120-day audit, the restaurant will be audited again after its first 12-month operating period. The ABT will again review the restaurant’s food and beverage sales records to confirm that it continues to meet the 51% Sales Requirement.

After the first year, a restaurant will be subject to periodic audits, the frequency of which depends on the results of the prior audit. 4COP-SFS licensed restaurants are divided into 4 levels depending on the portion of their revenues that came from food and non-alcoholic beverage sales during the prior audit period. For restaurants with a greater portion of their sales coming from food and non-alcoholic beverages, subsequent audits are less frequent:

  • Level 1: 51% to 60% food and non-alcoholic beverage sales, audited every year.
  • Level 2: 61% to 75%, audited every 2 years.
  • Level 3: 76% to 90%, audited every 3 years.
  • Level 4: 91% to 100%, audited every 4 years.

Do you have questions about retail alcoholic beverage licenses for Florida restaurants? We’d love to discuss it with you. Contact us to schedule a consultation.

Because we’re attorneys: Disclaimer. Post updated May 14, 2023.

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