Food trucks have become dining destinations in most major cities, including Nashville. However, in Tennessee, food trucks are not permitted to serve alcohol at the same times and places they are permitted to serve food. Below is a guide for all mobile food vendors describing when, where and how they are permitted to serve alcohol, including the types of permits they may need.
In general, food trucks are not permitted to store or sell alcoholic beverages on or from the mobile units to the general public. The law simply does not allow for mobile food units to do so at this time. However, under certain specific circumstances, a mobile food unit can serve and store alcohol, including the following:
1. Private Events
A private event is held on private property (commercial or residential) that is NOT open to the public. Examples include private parties, functions, or weddings. In this instance, a food truck may serve alcohol to the guests of the private event.
Which party must purchase the alcohol to be served by the food truck? The food truck can purchase it from a liquor store or grocery store and serve it, or the host or owner of the property can purchase it, and the food truck can serve it. If the food truck does not have either of the permits described below (special event permits or alcohol catering licenses), the food truck cannot purchase alcohol from an alcohol distributor.
2. Special Events
A special event permit is required by any event on private or public property where the general public is permitted to patronize the event. A special event permit must be associated with a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. A special event permit is obtained for events like festivals, fairs, etc. Note: If beer and liquor are to be served, a special event permit must be obtained from the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) and the Beer Board. The special event permittee can purchase alcohol from a licensed alcohol distributor in this scenario. Once inside the permitted location, the food truck will be able to serve the alcohol. After the event, any leftover alcohol is the property of the special event permittee and may not be removed or kept by the mobile food unit.
Documents and information required to be submitted for a special event permit include:
- 501(c)(3) organization contact information and Determination Letter from the IRS
- Health inspection
- Fire inspection
- Letter of permission from owner of property
- Letter of security from security company
- $250 application fee for beer; $300 application fee for TABC
3. Catered Events
A food truck may obtain an ALCOHOL catering license from TABC for liquor, wine, and high gravity beer and/or the local beer board for beer. This will allow the mobile unit to purchase alcohol from a licensed alcohol distributor and sell/serve the alcohol at catered events. The holder of an alcohol catering license may only conduct 52 catered events per year and must provide food and a TABC-licensed server at each event. Notice of each catered event must be submitted to the Beer Board in Nashville at least 24 hours before the event and submitted to TABC at least 48 hours in advance of the catered event through TABC’s Regulatory Licensing and Permitting System (RLPS). The notice is required to have the name and date of the event. Furthermore, if the event is going to take place on land owned by local, state, or federal government, additional documentation may be required. For instance, in Nashville, if the event is on land owned by Metro Nashville, an additional permit must be received from the Parks department through the Parks and Recreation Board to allow alcohol sales, as well as a letter of security from either Metro Nashville Parks Police or an approved private security company. The caterer or event is also required to provide fencing in the case of parks.
After the event, the alcohol remains the property of the mobile food unit and can be removed and stored by the mobile food unit.
Documents and information required to be submitted for a catering license include:
- Corporate name and contact information for the mobile food unit
- Location and address for health inspected certified commercial kitchen
- Certificate of Existence
- Certificate of Registration
- Business License
- Location and contact information for owner of property
- $250 application fee (beer)/$300 application fee (TABC); $625 yearly permit fee (TABC)
Liability and Insurance
ANY TIME a mobile food unit wants to sell alcohol, it is highly recommended that the mobile food unit call a commercial insurance agent to inquire what types of additional insurance they should have when serving alcohol. The most common type of additional coverage is Dram Shop coverage (i.e., if a patron at a special event or catered event over-consumes alcohol, drives, and hurts someone, everyone down to the server of the alcohol could be liable to the injured party). Prior to conducting any event with alcohol or securing any permits, contact your commercial insurance agent to determine what types of additional insurance coverage they recommend.
How to Get Started Serving Alcohol from a Food Truck
If your food truck gains business from private events, special events, or catering jobs, you could be eligible to serve alcohol. Keep in mind that beer and alcohol are heavily regulated and will require the correct licenses, documentation, and permits. Contact your attorney for help navigating the legal process for serving alcohol out of your food truck.
About the Author:
Rachel Schaffer Lawson is Of Counsel in Dickinson Wright’s Nashville office. She has over 10 years of experience serving more than 300 businesses in a wide range of industries, including the alcohol and hospitality sectors, offering a range of legal services including business formation, litigation, trademark search and registration, contracts and agreements, and beer and liquor licensing. Rachel can be reached at 615-620-1715 or email@example.com, and her bio can be found here.