Who doesn’t enjoy a sipping a glass of wine during a relaxing pedicure—especially if that glass of wine is free? Offering a free drink to customers is a practice regularly seen at a variety of businesses, including at beauty spas, gyms, and upscale boutiques. But is this activity legal, or do these businesses need an alcohol beverage license before serving a glass of wine to patrons?
The answer is, unfortunately, not a clear yes or no; it depends on the state. Some states require an alcoholic beverage license when serving complimentary drinks to customers, while others states are more nuanced, and may allow a spa to give away free drinks in some instances. Here’s the law in three states: Florida, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma.
No license needed if the alcohol is truly free. Under Florida law, it is unlawful for any person to sell alcoholic beverages without a license. But what does “to sell” mean? “Sale” or “sell” is defined as any transfer of an alcoholic beverage for value, or any gift of an alcoholic beverage, included with any paid service. For example, if a patron pays for a pedicure at a spa and is offered a free glass of wine, it is considered a sale, and requires an alcohol beverage license. The wine is not truly free, because the customer was paying for a service to begin with. If the patron does not purchase a pedicure or any other service at the salon, and is still offered a free glass of wine, it is probably not a sale, and the patron can receive a free glass of wine. Alcohol can be expensive, so if a spa wants to serve drinks only to paying customers, it should obtain an alcohol beverage license.
According to a statement made by the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (DABT), the entity that regulates Florida alcohol beverage retailers, distributors, and manufacturers, "any payment for services or products which provides the access to the alcoholic beverage is not considered complimentary (costing nothing) and thus is considered a sale of alcoholic beverages and requires a license." This law comes with serious consequences, as selling alcoholic beverages without a license in Florida is a second degree misdemeanor.
Similarly to Florida, in Pennsylvania no license needed if the alcohol is truly free. Generally, individuals or entities, including spas and salons, that do not hold liquor licenses may give away free alcoholic beverages to persons who are not visibly intoxicated and are at least 21 years of age. But, according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB), the entity that regulates alcohol beverages in Pennsylvania, if there is an admission fee, donation, or a required purchase of a product or service (such as a haircut or pedicure), in order to get the free alcohol, this may be considered payment for the alcohol. Also, an unlicensed spa cannot charge customers an undisclosed fee for the free alcohol, or build the price of the alcohol into the bill. An unlicensed spa requiring a patron to pay for alcohol is considered an unlawful sale in violation of the Pennsylvania liquor laws. As in Florida, this is a misdemeanor offense, and punishable by a fine of $4 per fluid ounce for each container of wine or liquor found on the premises where the illegal sale was made or attempted, or $2 per fluid ounce of each container of malt or brewed beverages.
To legally provide free drinks at your spa to patrons, when a person appears at your spa and requests free alcohol without paying for a service or product, you must serve that person, assuming he or she is at least 21 years of age and is not visibly intoxicated. If not, it is considered an unlawful sale of alcohol, and a liquor license is required. With a liquor license, a spa can give customers with one free standard-size alcoholic beverage (4 fluid ounces of wine or 12 fluid ounces of a malt or brewed beverage) for consumption on the premises, per day.
Alcohol beverage license is required. Spas and salons cannot provide complimentary alcoholic beverages to patrons in Oklahoma. The Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission (ABLE), the entity regulates alcohol beverage establishments in Oklahoma, has stated that no person can receive, possess, or use any alcoholic beverages unless the business has an alcoholic beverage license. This is because the alcohol beverage laws in Oklahoma do not specifically allow for this practice, and any practice not allowed by the alcohol beverages laws is illegal.
So what should a spa do? In Oklahoma, spas should apply for a Beer and Wine License, which authorizes the holder to possess and sell beer and wine to patrons for consumption on the premises. Retail alcohol beverage licenses range in cost, and often depend on the type of alcoholic beverage the establishment plans to sell (for example, beer or wine). Also, the spa cannot sell or provide alcoholic beverages to persons under the age of 21, an intoxicated person, or persons adjudged mentally deficient.
If you're opening a spa or salon and want to serve complimentary drinks in your facility, be sure to review your state’s alcohol beverage laws and regulations. When in doubt, consult with an alcohol beverage attorney to help you comply with your state’s alcohol beverage requirements.