Liquor License Ontario For Party
Selling Alcohol Without A Licence in Ontario
When liquor is sold and consumed in places other than establishments with permits, a Special Occasion Permit (SOP) is needed. This includes private locations or places where a private event is held and liquor is being sold and consumed. Know that private residences don’t require a special occasion permit, but alcohol can only be served and not sold from a residence.
An SOP is issued to organizers of events. It is meant for special occasions and not for personal gain or profit. If the Registrar believes that the SOP is being used incorrectly (eg for personal gain), the Registrar can revoke the SOP.
The Guide is adapted from the Special Occasion Guide put out by the AGCO themselves.
Special Occasion Permit Rules
In a private event, the event is not publicly advertised and has a limited number of guests. The liquor at the event is not meant for sale hence there is no intent to gain profit from it.
Public events are events that are advertised and open to the public. In these events, it is expected that there may be sale and consumption of liquor there. At some events, the sale of liquor to raise funds is even allowed. There are different types of public events that qualify for a special occasion permit.
This type of special occasion is sponsored or organized by a municipal council as well as all levels of government, local, national, or agencies that operate on an international level.
Charitable organizations listed under the Income Tax Act (Canada) are qualified to apply for a special occasion permit. Other charitable institutions or non-profit organizations that support a different aspect of the community (eg religious, educational) are also welcome to apply for a special occasion permit.
In case there is a sports event in the area and a public event or public viewing is scheduled, the group can also apply for a special occasion permit in case the attendees plan to bring their alcoholic drinks to the location.
Promoting a new product can be a big event for some companies and manufacturers. It is considered a celebration and a toast are often expected. The organizer of such an event can apply for a special occasion permit in case they want to sell and consume alcohol during the event.
Fundraising or charitable organizations organizing an auction can also apply for a special occasion permit. The organizer of the event such as the administrator or executor can apply for one.
Did you know? There’s a newer permit available, called a tailgate permit. It is only available in respect of professional, semi-professional or post secondary sporting events that allows individuals to bring their own alcohol.. For more information, you have to check the Tailgate Event Permit Guide here.
The Difference Between Sale and No-Sale
When applying for an SOP, you have to indicate whether the liquor at the event is for sale or not.
You will get a no-sale permit if:
- Liquor at the event is served for free
- Guests didn’t have to pay anything upon entry to the event (no admission ticket)
- The organizer or permit holder bought and pays for the liquor
With a sale permit, the liquor holder is allowed to sell and serve alcohol in the event for a fee. Collection of fees for liquor on events with sale permit is possible through:
- ticket fees for admission
- tickets sold in exchange for liquor at the event
- collection of money or other forms of payment for liquor before the event.
Reminder: In events where SOP is issued, permit holders or organizers are not required to sell or serve food. Still, it is the responsibility of the permit holder to ensure that attendees are in control and that intoxication is controlled during the event.
Full Information on Each Event Type
In private events, the attendees are limited to invited guests only. The event is not known to the public and no public advertisement was posted. Only listed guests are admitted and liquor is served for free. Liquor is made available for guests to enjoy and not for organizers to profit from.
Examples of private events include:
- stag and bridal showers
- wedding and baptismal receptions
- anniversary and birthday parties
- any other parties that involve a limited number of guests and where hosts shoulder the bill including buying liquor
What can be classified as a public event?
Public events where an advertisement is possible and where the public is welcome include:
- government events such as those organized by the provincial, national, or local government agencies or events of international significance
- government events handled or organized by the municipal council
- charity events organized by profit and non-profit organizations
- any tailgate events as long as it is in partnership with sporting events. If you are not sure what is a tailgate event and what it entails, check here.
Advertising a public event along with information that liquor is available is allowed. However, make sure to follow the advertisement standards allowed by the Registrar. For more information on interim standards and requirements for liquor allowed by the Registrar, click here.
What if a Public Event Is Held Outdoors?
There is a licensing regulation that indicates where SOP can be used for public events, especially if the event is held outdoors. In a public event, SOP, the permit holder must ensure that their guests will only take and drink their liquor within the designated areas. To be approved for an SOP for an outdoor event, the following criteria must be satisfied:
- for street events such as street festivals, the surrounding area where the SOP doesn’t apply must be licensed premises
- the event must be designated as ‘municipally significant’. To make it municipally significant, the SOP applicant must first write to the municipal council and request for the event to be tagged as ‘municipally significant’.
- the permit holder will sign an agreement with the licensee, assuring them that the event will not pose any threat or risk to the general public and will remain compliant with the Liquor Licence and Control Act as well as with the standards and requirements set by the Registrar to all parties involved.
The agreement between the permit holder and the licensee will be submitted to AGCO for review. It should be submitted at least 30 days before the event.
To learn more about the permits for organizing outdoor public events, refer to the Liquor Licence and Control Act.
SOP for Gaming Events
Applying for an SOP for gaming events is possible if you have a Special Occasion Gaming licence coming from the AGCO. In such events, liquor is allowed as a prize. SOP for gaming events is only given to public events organized by profit and non-profit organizations and religious communities or associations. The prize is only awarded to winners that are 19 years old and above. This information must be printed on all tickets sold in during the event.
For detailed information about special occasion gaming permits or obtaining a lottery licence, check the AGCO website.
Industry-Specific Promotional Events
Companies who are planning to promote a new product can also apply for an SOP – it is called industry promotional events. Promotional events include sample tasting or the introduction of a new product. In these events, organizers can apply for a sale or no-sale permit and if approved for a sale permit, the organizer or representative of the company can proceed with liquor orders.
However, for promotional events, retailing is not permitted unless the manufacturer has a temporary extension endorsement licence. You can check the Manufacturer’s Licence Guide to learn more about temporary extension endorsement permits and how to get one.
The organizer and holder of SOP for industry-specific promotional events can post and create a promotional advertisement about the event and the availability of liquor. To check advertisement guidelines set by the Registrar, click here.
Regulating the sale and use of liquor in events in Ontario is handled by the AGCO. They are also the governing body that gives SOP to event organizers.
When an application for an SOP is submitted, the Registrar reviews it for any risk to the public. If a risk is deemed possible by the Registrar, the Registrar will send conditions to the SOP applicant to meet the Registrar’s standard. Conditions can include limited hours of the event, limited hours of selling or producing liquor for the event, a limited amount of alcohol or liquor to be available for the event, and a limited number of attendees. For the complete list of conditions, check here.
A permit can be canceled if a police officer or an AGCO inspector believes that the event is violating the Liquor Licence and Control Act. This is possible even if the event is ongoing.
A breach of the Liquor Licence and Control Act can also result in monetary fines on the part of the SOP holder. The same goes for not adhering to the standards and requirements set by the Registrar. To be aware of these monetary penalties, visit the AGCO website or click here.
Informing your Local Government
SOP applicants for outdoor events must inform a few local government agencies about the event. The notice must be sent to the police and fire department, the municipal clerk’s office, and the health department. The letter must contain information about the event, including a clear sketch of the permitted boundaries of where the event will be. In case you will need to set up some tents, a stage and chairs, you must write to the local building department as well.
Notification to the above-mentioned offices and authorities should be sent at least:
- 30 days before the event date if the event is expected to have less than 5000 attendees
- 60 days before the event date if the event is expected to have more than 5000 attendees
In addition, if the event location is under the management of the National Capital Commission, the Commission must be informed through writing as well.
These notification letters will be part of your SOP application.
SOP Application’s Submission
All applicants must be 19 years of age or older. If the application is processed for an organization or company, the representative must be at least 19 years of age. When requested, the applicant must be able to provide all necessary information and documents.
The Licence Holder
It is the responsibility of the permit holder to ensure that the event follows standards and responsibilities set by the Registrar and the Liquor Licence and Control Act. It means that the permit holder must be present at the event from the onset and until the event ends.
On the SOP permit, the permit holder will be named. if there are multiple permit holders for the event, all names will be listed on the permit. It is essential that one of the named persons is always present at the event. It is also the permit holder’s responsibility to ensure that the permit is always on hand in case an AGCO inspector comes in and asks for it.
Reminder: in the absence of the permit holder, it is the permit holder’s responsibility to assign the task to someone to be present on his/her behalf. This designation must be done in writing and the said person must not be someone who applied for an SOP and was rejected in the past. The designated person must always be at the event and ensure that no violation will be committed during the event.
Under the event information, add the purpose of the event. It should include the name of the event (eg Copper-Smith Wedding, Annual Independence Day Party) and additional details such as date and time.
All events must be within the allowed time which is from 9 in the morning until 2 in the morning unless it is New Year’s Eve. For New Year’s Eve event, the event can be extended until 3 in the morning.
Date: Provide the exact date of the event. If it is an overnight event (eg until 2 in the morning), use the first day of the event. Say it starts at 7 in the evening on the 9th of December and ends at 2 in the morning on the 10th of December.
Start Time: Add the exact start time as to when liquor will be available for consumption or sale.
End Time: Add the exact end time as to when liquor consumption or sale ends. Note, make sure to clear all signs of alcohol or liquor at least 45 minutes before the end of the serving period. If the end time for serving and consuming liquor is midnight, make sure that at 12:45, there will be no more signs of liquor or alcohol at the event.
When applying for an SOP, you must have an approved location first for your event. Most information you need to have a location approved can be provided by the premise manager or building owner. If the event will be held at a building, the building must have passed proper inspection from the appropriate inspecting authorities. In addition, the location must meet the following:
- there are visible boundaries between where the liquor will be sold and consumed and its surrounding areas where the permit no longer applies. To fix this, a rope can be placed around the permitted area. Fences or planters can be used as well.
- the area shouldn’t be a dwelling or a common area for multiple units in a residential building.
- the area shouldn’t be a dry area or an area where liquor is not available at all.
- the area must satisfy the LLCA requirements
Reminder: In case it is a multiple day event held in different locations, a permit is needed for each location.
Applying for a Location Permit
In your application, write the exact location of the event such as room name or room number (3rd floor, South Tower, Basement Parking area), and not the full name of the building or complex
If the location is outdoor, write a specific description such as the main banquet room, left-wing patio, or right-side open parking lot. Avoid describing the location in a general manner such as outside the mall or mall grounds.
Expected Number of Participants
Put your expected number of participants.
Check with your building department or fire department to know the capacity of your indoor premise.
For outdoor capacity, you must calculate the size of the permitted area in square feet. For computation, you can do the following solution:
- 30 m x 60 m = 1,800 square metres ÷ 1.11 = 1,621 persons; or
- 100 ft x 200 ft = 20,000 sq.ft. ÷ 12 = 1,666 persons
Your fire or building department can give you this calculation and you can use it on your application.
Reminder: Before writing it in your application, make sure that the computation is correct and that you are not going to exceed the accepted capacity for your event’s location.
All events conducted outside of a building or a structure is considered an outdoor event. Events held at open stadiums where there is a seating arrangement are also considered outdoor events.
For outdoor events, all boundaries must be identified. A sketch is needed to show these boundaries as to where the permit only applies.
Prior to the event, the permit holder must also write to the police and fire department, the clerk of the municipality, and the health department about the event. The letter must have a sketch of the location and its clear boundaries. For outdoor events where a stage is to be set up or a tent, the building department must be notified too.
All letters sent to the appropriate department should be kept by the permit holder. In some cases, these can be asked by the Registrar to be reviewed.
On the sketch, it must indicate where the entrances and exits are, the seating arrangements if available, and the exact size of the event location.
Availability of Liquor for Sale
If money will be collected directly in exchange for liquor, then the sale of liquor must be answered with yes in the application form. It means that participants will get liquor for the money they paid for their tickets. The tickets will be then exchanged in the bar or stalls for alcoholic beverages.
In the application, say ‘yes’ if the participants for the events are guests only. It means this is not a public event.
If the event is open to the public, then the answer to this is ‘no’.
A letter to the municipal authorities is required if the event has the following set-up:
- with tiered-seating arrangement
- it is an outdoor event that sells alcohol such as in street festivals
- it is a public event, and the event needs to be classified as a ‘municipally significant’ event. To learn more about this classification, click here.
Addition documentation is needed such as:
- Notification letter – for all outdoor events, regardless of the type of event
- Location Sketch – for outdoor events that are public, private, and industry promotional events
- Letter of Support – if the event is organized by a foreign government and is a public, private, or industry promotional event
- Municipal Resolution – for government/municipal organized events and public events that are held outdoor and there is a need for a liquor-licensed establishment
- There is a need for a liquor-licensed establishment – if it is an outdoor public event and liquor-licensed establishments are needed, an agreement must be signed between the permit holder and the participating liquor-licensed establishments. The agreement will be sent to AGCO at least 30 days before the event date
- Letter of Authorization – if the permit holder or organizer of the industry promotional event is not the manufacturer, a letter of authorization from the manufacturer or AGCO licensed representative should be submitted by the permit holder
Buying and Storing Liquor for an SOP Event
In a permitted event, all liquor must be purchased only from an Ontario-government store or licensed stores by the Liquor Licence and Control Act. These stores include the LCBO store and agency stores, the Beer store, and any manufacturer’s retail store. You can permit outside of these stores if an exception is given to your permit.
For concerns regarding the collection of a tax such as the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) among others, you can check the Canada Revenue Agency. Other additional HST-related fees might apply depending on your liquor permit.
Make sure to keep your permit and receipts of liquor purchase and to have them readily available during the SOP event in case someone asks for it to be presented or if the AGCO Compliance Officials come for an inspection.
Charitable organizations that organized public events can accept donations such as liquor as long as they are registered under the Income Tax Act as an organization. Receipts or invoices for donations shall be kept and made available upon request in case there will be an inspection.
Homemade Beer or Wine
At private events like weddings and birthdays, wine or beer cannot be sold. It should be served free. Homemade beer or wine should be served free, and the permit holder must not sell it.
Free homemade beer and wine can be served in private events hosted by clubs or groups as well for taste testing and exhibition only. It should be given to the members of the club or group only and should be free.
Once an event ends, all liquor must be removed from the premise. Unopened liquor can be returned to government stores for a refund, just show your receipt and permit. For more information regarding the return and refund of unopened liquor, check with your liquor retailer.
For multiple day events, the permit holder must store the liquor in accordance with the standards and requirements set by the Registrar.
If your permit has been issued but suddenly you need to change something about the event, you need to submit a change request. Any change such as change of location, type of event, date of the event, or having an additional setup like seats and tents require a change request.
Not applying for a change request despite having some changes in your event can result to administrative action from the AGCO. It can also lead to the cancellation of the permit. Remember, regardless of what happens, your application fee is non-refundable.
You deserve a dependable and reliable lawyer on your side. Harrison Jordan is a Toronto-based lawyer assisting business with their liquor licensing needs, including Special Occassion Permits from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. Call him at +1 647 371 0032 or email him today. He’ll get back to you as soon as he can.