Relaxing with a glass of wine while getting those tootsies pampered at the nail salon is as common as taking in a game over beer and wings ... but could the salon be running afoul of alcoholic beverage licensing laws? Could be, if it operates in one of the state or local municipalities that regulate possession, dispensing, or sale of alcoholic beverages.

It seems simple enough. Make the right calls. Get the right permits or licenses. Continue doing what other salons have been doing without any problem for some time. Only it’s not that simple. And just because it’s a widespread practice, doesn’t mean that it’s legal or without drawbacks.


Getting Answers

Everything is blurry, the room is spinning, one eye is twitching, and I think I’m getting a headache. It has nothing to do with imbibing the intoxicating liquid though. I’m making calls looking for a few answers. If I own a salon in your state, can I serve a complimentary glass of wine while my client settles in for a pedicure or manicure? Can I sell it? What do I need to do? Where do I get a license? 

Starting with the letter A naturally led me to Alaska, which gave me a taste of what the rest of the U.S. had in store. Like many states, Alaska allows individual counties to opt for dry/moist status. In these areas, it may be illegal to sell, serve, or even possess alcohol. If your salon is in one of the 25+ completely dry cities of Alaska such as Emmonak, Grayling, or Scammom Bay, the answer is easy. No. I pressed the information tech further to find out that an application would need to be made to determine if a license was possible. She told me that it was hard to say without knowing the particulars. In fact, the laws were “so incomprehensible in Alaska that even the Board didn’t understand them and they had to be totally rewritten.” Almost as an afterthought, she let me know that it’s illegal for licensed bars and restaurants to give away free alcohol.

Turns out the relationship between regulatory agencies, taxing authorities, and businesses is as murky in many places as it was a century ago. The Web has made information easier to access, but even in this age of technology almost half of the numbers listed were out of service or had nothing to do with alcohol regulation. Even if you pass go at the state level, local laws may differ. It becomes more confusing in Hawaii, Maryland, Nevada, and North Dakota where most enforcement is handled at the local level. In some cases the practice has gone unscrutinized for some time but once brought to light, as it was in Bismarck, N.D., city officials send warning letters to businesses, letting them know that a liquor license is required to serve any alcohol in a business — even if it’s free.

Canada Lytle of A Perfect 10 Nail Bar located in Rapid City, S.D., chose to get a license to sell beer and wine only because the state of South Dakota has very few liquor licenses to offer and they are very expensive. She advises that salons go about it the legal way. “Work with your city and you may be surprised at the support you get,” says Lytle. “It is a very unique and unusual concept so you really have to explain what it is you are trying to do and the goal you are trying to achieve.” 

Lytle does charge for drinks and says, “The customers think nothing of it.”  Right now, A Perfect 10 Nail Bar is the only salon in Rapid City with a beer and wine license.

In Tennessee, according to Mrs. Harris at the Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC), there are still dry areas so alcohol is tightly regulated. She says, “It’s OK to serve (at the state level), but not to sell without a license.” But “salons need to check with the local health department and city office to see what they need to do to be legal.”

District of Columbia officials parroted the same view as Tennessee in one call, but later said they would have to research it further to confirm. I’m still waiting for the answer.

Graffiti Nail Bar in Memphis, Tenn., serves complimentary wine to clients. Lauren Scales first heard about the practice of serving but not selling in nail school. She doesn’t serve until after noon, limits it to a single drink, and only to those over 21. “You have to be careful and watch your bottom line too. Alcohol can really add to your overhead.”


Do Your Research

If you are already offering the service or thinking of adding it, start researching now. Follow up any phone conversation with a letter so you have the information in writing. While navigating the quagmire of ABC enforcement, I routinely got several different answers from the same office.  One state, Virginia, followed up my interview with highlighted copies of the code.

Special agent in charge Bob Brooks was quick to point out that Virginia has a day spa ABC license. Becky Gettings, the
public information officer, acknowledged that only 68 day spas are currently licensed in Virginia. Part of that figure is that nails-only salons are not eligible for licensing, nor may they serve. The day spa license requires that an establishment have both cosmetology services and massage therapy to be considered. In addition, bona fide day spas must adhere to local ordinances, zoning, etc. and are restricted to serving actual clients no more than two 5-oz. servings of wine or one 12-oz. beer per day through the complimentary service. Serving in a salon without a license is a class 1 misdemeanor, carrying a fine of up to $2,500 and/or jail time. Pretty stiff penalties considering that a license is only $100 + a $65 application fee.

Many states, such as New York, California, and Virginia, have special event permits that are available several times a year to cover things such as parties and grand openings. It’s obvious that the list of salons holding permits is a short one. What can be daunting is deciphering from whom that permit or license must be garnered. In California and Michigan, businesses must get approval from the state and the local municipality. In some states, such as Indiana, servers must also have a server permit. Some municipalities have further restrictions on how far a business must be from a church, school, or funeral home.

Someone make that spinning stop. If you are a bit confused by the seemingly wide range of licensing restrictions, you are not alone. The state, county, and city all have a say in the matter. It’s a brave new world out there, and as fellow salons pave the way through the process, you can expect to see more Day Spa specific types of licenses evolve.


Before You Add Alcohol

> Have a discussion with your insurance agent about alcohol liability.

> Develop an alcohol training program.

> Set up a formal system to track distribution.

> Get all rulings in writing to avoid misunderstandings.

> Be prepared for a background check when applying for a liquor license.

> Know that every application is unique in circumstance.


Who to Call in Your State

Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board       (334) 213-6300

Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board          (907) 269-0350

Arizona Dept. of Liquor Licenses & Control        (602) 542-5141

Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Board      (501) 682-8174

California Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control   (925) 602-7717

Colorado Dept. of Revenue Liquor Enforcement Division            (303) 205-2306

Connecticut Dept. of Consumer Protection         (860) 713-6210

Delaware Div. of Alcoholic Beverage Control     (302) 577-5222

District of Columbia Dept. of Consumer &
Regulatory Affairs Alcohol Beverage Div.          (202) 442-4400

Florida Div. of Alcoholic Beverages & Tobacco  (850) 488-3227

Georgia Alcohol & Tobacco Div.            (404) 417-4900

Hawaii Liquor Commission        (808) 768-7358

Idaho State Liquor Dispensary   (208) 947-9400

Illinois Liquor Control Commission         (312) 814-2206

Indiana Alcohol & Tobacco Commission (317) 232-2469

Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division        (866) 469-2223

Kansas Dept. of Revenue Alcoholic Beverage    (785) 296-7015

Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control    (502) 564-4850

Louisiana Office of Alcohol & Tobacco Control   (225) 925-4041

Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages    (207) 624-7220

Maryland Comptroller    (410) 260-7314

Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission          (617) 727-3040

Michigan Liquor Control Commission     (517) 322-1345

Minnesota Dept. of Public Safety Alcohol & Gambling Enforcement        (651) 201-7000

Mississippi Office of Alcoholic Beverage Control            (601) 856-1301

Missouri Liquor Control Division            (573) 751-2333

Montana Dept. of Revenue Liquor Licensing      (406) 444-6900

Nebraska Liquor Control Commission    (402) 471-2571

Nevada Dept. of Taxation          (775) 684-2000

New Hampshire State Liquor Commission         (603) 271-1110

New Jersey Div. of Alcoholic Beverage Control  (609) 984-230

New Mexico Alcohol and Gambling Division       (505) 476-4875

New York Div. of Alcoholic Beverage Control     (518) 474-2121

North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Commission (919) 779-0700

North Dakota Office of the State Tax Commissioner       (701) 328-4576

Ohio Div. of Liquor Control        (614) 644-2411

Oklahoma ABLE Commission    (405) 521-3484

Oregon Liquor Control Commission       (503) 872-5000

Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board        (717) 783-9454

Rhode Island Dept. of Business Regulation Liquor Control Administration           (401) 462-9500

South Carolina Dept. of Revenue & Taxation      (803) 898-5864

South Dakota Dept. of Revenue & Regulation     (605) 773-3311

Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission      (615) 741-1602

Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (512) 206-3333

Utah Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control          (801) 977-6800

Vermont Dept. of Liquor Control (802) 828-2345

Virginia Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control      (804) 213-4400

Washington State Liquor Control Board (360) 664-1600

West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration  (800) 642-8208

Wisconsin Dept. of Revenue     (608) 266-2776

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