So you’re opening a restaurant or bar and you want to serve beer? You’ll need to get a permit for that. If you just need a permit to serve beer at a special event or fundraiser see this post. Here are the steps:

  1. Download the instructions and application from the Memphis City Permit Office website.

  2. Figure out if you have a “food requirement.”

    1. Section 7-8-11 of the Municipal Code says if your business is within 500 feet (measured along the centerline of a street) from a residential home or duplex, church or school then at least 40% of your gross receipts has to come from food sales. Confusingly, there is also a rule that says the same restriction applies if your business is within 250 feet as the crow flies from your threshold.

    2. If you have a food requirement, you’ll have to provide receipts within 6 months to prove this out.

    3. As to what qualifies as “food” … older versions of the code specified one meat and one vegetable but I find nothing in our present version. Maybe to play it safe you’ll at least want some beef jerky and potato chips around.

  3. Get a survey.

    1. Whether or not you have a food requirement you’ll need to get a professional survey like this, showing the 500’ lines and 250’ radius. Any certified survey company can do this for you (details are found on page two of the instructions), but I like Van Boals at The Boals Group.

  4. Figure out if you’ve committed a crime of moral turpitude in the past ten years.

    1. Go to the TBI site and order a background check. It costs $29 and they’ll email you the results within a couple days, which you can forward to the permits office at If you haven’t received the results within a couple business days just call them at 615-744-4057. And don’t worry — I’ve got more than a few infractions on my report and had no problem. The board is only concerned with crimes of “moral turpitude.”

    2. An ABC card or Beer Vendor Card / Affidavit from the Permits office will get you around this requirement (so if you think you’re going to do this again, go ahead and pay the $21 for the card while you’re there).

  5. Meet your neighbors.

    1. On your application, you’ll need to get the signatures of ten people who either live in or own a business located in the ward where you’ll open your business, and who will support your petition, at least on paper.

    2. Best I can tell wards are subdivisions of police precincts, and are used in crime-tracking. You can find out what ward you are in here, but I could not find a map of ward boundaries, so to be super-sure you’ll need to type in each of your neighbor’s address.

  6. Get your Certificate of Occupancy and Business Licence.

    1. The permit office won’t accept your application without a copy of your business licence and Certificate of Occupancy from the Building Department, which in turn will not issue the CO until the fire department and health department have signed off on your restaurant.

    2. More on getting these documents in this blog post.

  7. Show you are good with Tennessee.

    1. You’ll need to provide a copy of business entity certificate of existence from the Secretary of State and your Tennessee Department of Revenue sales and use tax registration.

    2. More on how to do this in this blog post.

  8. Show you have a right to your use your real estate. Bring a copy of the deed if you own the building or lease if you’re renting.

  9. Once you’ve done everything above, bring your documents and your $260 (plus another $3 if you want them to notarize your application) to the City Permits office and be very nice to the folks there who will help you.

  10. If your application is in order, you’ll be scheduled to appear at the next Beer Board meeting. The Board meets in the Council Chambers of City Hall on the first and third Wednesday of each month at 9 a.m. Note that the deadline for each meeting is the date of previous meeting.

  11. The permit office will provide you a big yellow sign stating you’ve applied for a beer permit and the date of your hearing. You need to put this sign in the front window of your restaurant immediately.

  12. The office will also give you a notice advertisement that it’s your responsibility to place with a local newspaper (Commercial Appeal, Tri-State Defender or Daily News). I suggest Daily News because they will automatically mail your notarized proof of publication to the permit office. Just email your notice to Teresa Mullally ( and give her your credit card number. Her phone number is 901-528-8118.

  13. When it’s your turn to stand before the Board and press your application, after you are sworn in and provide your full name and address you’ll be asked a few questions for the record. Below is a sample of what to expect with some answers I’ve provided successfully in the past:

    1. Tell us a little about your business.

      1. This is a new farm to table restaurant on Broad Avenue. We’ll serve lunch and dinner six days a week…

    2. How will you insure minors are not served alcohol?

      1. All of our bartenders will be ABC certified and will be checking identification prior to any sale of alcohol.

If the Board grants your application you can pick up your permit the next day at the Permits Office. Remember, sales of beer are subject to state and local sales tax so you’ll need to report sales and remit taxes due to the Tennessee Department of Revenue.