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If you are planning to open a physical alcohol store, there are a few issues that you need to consider. The government strongly promotes responsible alcohol sales and consumption, so you will need to ensure that you understand and comply with all laws when opening a physical alcohol store. This article will outline:

  • how to get a liquor license for your business;
  • how your business can take steps to prevent alcohol-related social harms; and
  • how to prevent breaches of the law by having well-trained staff. 

Obtaining a Liquor Licence 

Before you open a liquor store, you must ensure that you have the correct liquor licence. You risk huge penalties if you do not have the correct liquor licence before opening your shop. In addition, because you are selling alcohol – such as wine, beer and spirits – to be consumed on other premises, unlike a restaurant where customers consume alcohol within your business, your alcohol shop will be considered an off-licence.

The government and local councils promote responsible alcohol consumption, so obtaining a liquor licence can be challenging and time-consuming. Liquor licences are governed by the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012, designed to promote the safe and responsible supply of alcohol and to reduce inappropriate consumption of alcohol. Therefore, the process for getting an alcohol licence can take several months, so it is essential to ensure that you start the process early. 

Application Process

First, you need to check with your council to understand what requirements you must follow to get a liquor licence. Local councils may have their local alcohol policies, which you must be aware of. 

For example, they may have specific limitations on how close facilities that sell alcohol can be to certain types of premises, like schools. They may also be able to limit licences to particular times. 

You will need to know this information before applying, as you may need to seek a new location for your shop if you are breaching a bylaw or if the council think your location is inappropriate.

Then, make an application to the council. As part of this application, you will need to show that you are a suitable liquor store owner, have experience selling alcohol and do not have any adverse history relating to alcohol. The police will likely review your application at this stage and may contact community groups as personal references. 

Community Objections

Once you apply for a licence, community members can object to the licence. Commonly, this is because they believe that the alcohol store may cause issues for the community. For example, they could cite the existence of shops or other institutions, like schools or hospitals, nearby. It is essential to consider the link between driving and vehicle use and the sale of alcohol, so examining traffic patterns or roads by your alcohol shop may be prudent. If the location of the alcohol shop is not compatible with the surrounding premises, this may affect the granting of a licence. 


You will then be granted a hearing with your local liquor licensing committee to ensure that you are a suitable person to have a liquor licence. If anyone is challenging your licence, the committee will also invite them to the hearing to speak. The committee will then approve or deny your licence. 

Licence Renewal

You will need to renew your licence annually, at least 20 days before the expiry date. You will also need to display your licence visibly near the main entrance of your business. Furthermore, you will also need to pay an annual licence fee. Your council or District Licencing Committee should contact you about licence renewal. 

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Harm Prevention

Additionally, it is essential to note any alcohol sellers in the surrounding areas. If there is higher competition in a small area, there will likely be competitive behaviour within the liquor store industry, which may lead to discounts and lower prices. Therefore, this competition may facilitate unnecessary alcohol consumption and cause adverse social harm.   

Up to 15% of goods sold at an off-licence can be goods other than alcoholic beverages. You could consider selling foods or goods that promote healthy alcohol consumption, for example, water or other filling foods. 

Staff Training

It is illegal to sell alcohol to minors or intoxicated people. There are significant penalties for this, such as:

  • fines;
  • a ban from selling alcohol for a significant period; and 
  • reputational damage,

all of which could cause significant damage to your business.

You can only sell alcohol between 7 am and 11 pm as an off-licence business. However, a local alcohol policy may set more strict guidelines.

You are also not allowed to sell alcohol on certain days of the year, including Good Friday and Christmas Day. If you break these restrictions, you could be liable for fines. 

You will need to ensure that all staff have a good and clear understanding of their obligations when selling alcohol, including how to look for signs of intoxication and what fake identification documents may look like.

You may wish to develop processes for how this works under COVID restrictions, where individuals may be wearing face masks, or you may have to do a form of contactless delivery.

Additionally, staff should know how to de-escalate conflicts with people who may be intoxicated and assist people who may be in trouble. 

Key Takeaways

If you are planning to open a physical alcohol store, there are a few things that you need to consider. First, you will need to understand how to get an alcohol licence for your new business and start this process early. It is also a good idea to consider how your business can take steps to prevent alcohol-related social harm. Additionally, you should ensure that your staff are well-trained to work in a business that sells alcohol to ensure that your business complies with all relevant laws. 

If you need help understanding your considerations before opening a physical alcohol store in New Zealand, our experienced startup lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. You will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents for a low monthly fee. Call us today on 0800 005 570 or visit our membership page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I sell other goods at my off-licence alcohol store? 

Yes, up to 15% of the goods you sell can be non-alcohol products. You could sell food or non-alcoholic drinks at your shop as well to encourage healthy drinking habits. 

How strictly do I need to follow the laws relating to the sale of alcohol in New Zealand?

Very strictly. The government takes the sale of alcohol very seriously in New Zealand, and if you breach any laws, such as selling alcohol to a minor or intoxicated person, you risk massive fines and the possibility of having your liquor licence taken away. You may also cause social harms that are detrimental to your community. 

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