January 14, 2022
By Jackson R. Nock
Many Georgia businesses now allow for patrons to bring their own alcoholic beverages to consume on site. This is usually known as “brown bagging” or “BYOB.” While this may be a way to promote business without obtaining an expensive service license, determining whether “brown bagging” is permitted in the jurisdiction where a business is located, and what additional requirements may be necessary to allow “brown bagging,” can often be a complex web of state, county, and local law with stark differences between many similarly situated locales.
At the state level, “brown bagging” is permitted in Georgia so long as the alcoholic beverages are actually furnished by the customer and are not given to customers by the business, even if there is no charge for the alcoholic beverage. Businesses that provide alcoholic beverages to customers, even without any charge, are still regarded by the Georgia Department of Revenue to be engaging in the sale of alcoholic beverages and thus are required to be licensed.
Given that there is no statewide prohibition on “brown bagging,” the regulation of alcoholic beverages at the city and county level has turned Georgia into a mosaic of varying regulations where neighboring communities are often subject to vastly different rules. Generally, Georgia businesses wishing to allow for “brown bagging” will encounter one of three different types of regulation: Outright prohibition, licensure requirements, or no regulation at all.
Jurisdictions with outright prohibitions on “brown bagging” do not allow any businesses in the area covered by their governing ordinance to permit “brown bagging”, or they prohibit “brown bagging” save for a very limited number of exceptions. Examples of jurisdictions in the North Metro area that fall under this category include Forsyth County and the Cities of Alpharetta, Roswell, and Johns Creek.
In contrast, some jurisdictions permit “brown bagging” only if the business meets certain requirements and obtains a license from the applicable governing body. The City of Milton and the City of Woodstock fall into this category. Requirements under licensure jurisdictions are wide-ranging, governing ta variety of concerns such as types of beverages permitted, corkage fees, hours, and duties of businesses dealing with visibly intoxicated persons.
Finally, many jurisdictions have not addressed “brown bagging” in their governing ordinances. In these cases, the default rule, which allows businesses to permit “brown bagging”, controls. Areas that fall under this category include unincorporated Cherokee and Cobb Counties, in addition to the cities of Marietta and Canton.
Due to the close proximity of many of these areas to each other, determining which regulations and ordinances govern a specific location can be confusing. However, if a business mistakenly allows its patrons to bring their own alcohol upon its premises where it is unlawful, the business and its employees can be subject to substantial penalties including fines and possible incarceration. The restaurant and entertainment industry is heavily regulated in Georgia, and, as such, before owners wade into the red tape related to “brown bagging” or other aspects of their business, they are well advised to obtain counsel from attorneys with expertise in navigating this intricate web of regulations.
Jackson R. Nock is an associate attorney with Flint, Connolly & Walker, LLP currently representing clients in various corporate and transactional matters, including business formation, mergers and acquisitions, commercial contractual matters, and corporate governance and compliance.