Posted on: June 23, 2023

Tennessee Liquor Laws: What Time Can You Buy Alcohol?

Tennessee Liquor Laws: What Time Can You Buy Alcohol?

It’s happened to the best of us. You’re so busy focusing on food, decorations, and invitations that you forgot to buy beer for your big party on Sunday. You try to get it first thing in the morning at the grocery store, just to find out you’re going to have to wait a few hours to be able to buy it.

Alcohol laws can be confusing and hard to remember. In this article, we’ll address the most frequently asked questions regarding Tennessee liquor laws. We’ll cover everything from what time you can buy alcohol to open container laws in the Volunteer State.

What Time Can You Buy Alcohol in Tennessee?

Businesses holding a license to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption, like bars and restaurants, can sell drinks starting at 8 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. on Sunday. This also goes for off-premises establishments like grocery and liquor stores. 

Unfortunately, you can’t buy alcohol at the grocery store on Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter, so for these major holidays, you’ll need to remember to buy that beer the day before.

What Time Do They Stop Selling Alcohol in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, bars must stop selling drinks and close their doors by 3 a.m. at the latest. Grocery and liquor stores can’t sell alcohol past 11 p.m. every day of the week.  

It's worth noting that even though the law mandates when they must stop selling alcohol, certain establishments may choose to close earlier based on their own discretion.

What's the Drinking Age in Tennessee?

As in the rest of the United States, the legal drinking age in Tennessee is 21. Individuals must be 21 years of age or older to legally purchase and consume alcohol within the state.

However, there is an exception. Parents or legal guardians are allowed to provide alcohol to their own minor children under 21, but under the following conditions:

  • The consumption must take place in a private residence.
  • The parent or guardian must be present with their child throughout the entire duration [5].
  • In other words, it is strictly prohibited for businesses to serve alcohol to minors in bars or restaurants. While some states allow this in the presence and with the permission of a parent or guardian, Tennessee has specific regulations against it.

What's the Legal Alcohol Limit in Tennessee?

For anyone driving with a regular license who’s 21 or older, the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit is 0.08 or higher to be considered legally drunk. Commercial driver's license holders are subject to a stricter standard, with a BAC limit of 0.04 or higher.

There is one major exception to this law. Anyone under 21 is not allowed to have any detectable amount of alcohol in their blood while operating a vehicle under any circumstances.

What Are Tennessee's Open Container Laws?

Tennessee's open container laws apply in two different contexts: within vehicles and in public areas.

Tennessee Open Container Laws for Vehicles

It is illegal to possess an open container of alcohol in the seating area of a vehicle in Tennessee. This law applies to both drivers and passengers. It even applies to parked cars, not just those in motion.

There is an exception for limousines, where passengers can consume alcohol in the passenger area. However, it remains unlawful to have an open container in the driver's compartment.

Tennessee liquor laws also prohibit off-premises licensees from selling alcohol through drive-up windows.

Tennessee Open Container Laws for Public Property

Having an open container of alcohol on public property, such as streets, sidewalks, or public rights-of-way, is against the law in Tennessee.

Like other rules, exceptions exist for certain community events and sidewalk cafes.

Under specific circumstances, licensed businesses in Tennessee are permitted to allow customers to leave the premises with a non-sealed bottle of alcohol as long as that person is over 21 and not visibly intoxicated. For example, customers can buy a growler from a local brewery or take home the remaining portion of a wine bottle purchased with a meal. During the COVID-19 pandemic, legal changes also made it possible to sell mixed drinks and wine servings for off-premises consumption.

What's the Age for Serving Alcohol in Tennessee?

While the legal drinking age is 21, you only need to be 18 to be able to legally serve or sell alcohol in Tennessee. However, there are a few caveats to consider.

Employees between the ages of 18 and 20 may NEVER:

  • Mix drinks
  • Serve drinks in the bar or lounge area
  • Take food orders in areas prohibited to minors

In areas of the business where minors are permitted, individuals aged 18 to 20 must primarily be employed for food service. However, within the scope of food service, they can take orders for and serve alcohol, pour drinks for patrons at the table, and draw from a tap as long as the tap is not in a restricted area.

They are only allowed to enter areas where minors are not permitted to perform limited duties such as restocking supplies, setting or clearing tables, and delivering food.

What's the Difference Between a Liquor License and an Alcohol Permit in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, a liquor license is what allows individuals, companies, or businesses to sell, manufacture, import, or distribute alcohol. The specific type of license required varies depending on the intended activities.

On the other hand, an alcohol permit is mandatory for employees directly involved in the day-to-day sale or service of alcohol to customers.

In other words, if you are a business entity, a liquor license is required for selling beer in Tennessee. If you’re someone whose name is not listed on the business license, you’ll need to get an alcohol service permit.

Who Needs a Tennessee Alcohol Permit? Who Doesn't?

Alcohol service permits are only required for employees who handle open containers of alcohol. If you work at a store that sells alcohol to take home and you only handle sealed containers, you don't need an alcohol service permit. But if you work at a place that serves alcohol for people to drink on the premises, like a restaurant or bar, and you directly help with selling or serving alcohol, you must have an alcohol permit.

Certain people, like bouncers, janitors, or security staff, who work at places where alcohol is served but don't sell or serve it themselves, don't need an alcohol permit. You also wouldn’t need one if your job doesn't involve selling, serving, or supervising alcohol sales.  

If you happen to be the owner of a bar or restaurant and are specifically named on the liquor license, you don't need a service permit. However, you still need to take a class about serving alcohol, just like the people with permits, as part of the licensing process.

How Do You Obtain a Tennessee Alcohol Permit?

To obtain a Tennessee alcohol server permit, you must successfully complete a Responsible Vendor Training Program by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC). This program is an alcohol awareness training course that teaches responsible alcohol service.

Upon completion of the approved class, you must submit an online application through the TABC's portal and pay the requisite fees, which amount to just under $30.

Service permits are valid for five years. To prevent any interruptions, you should complete the approved class and submit an application before the expiration of your permit.

Learn More About Tennessee Liquor Laws with TABC Training

The Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) has approved online training programs, such as TIPS, to teach sellers and servers about responsible alcohol sales and service.

Start your training today to enhance your knowledge and professionalism in the industry!