Types of Alcohol Outlets & Outlet Density

What are the types of alcohol outlets?

There are two categories of retail alcohol outlets: on-premises outlets (consumption occurs on the premises) and off-premises outlets (alcohol is purchased for consumption off the premises).1,11

As described by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) and Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) Action Guide on regulating alcohol outlet density, there are several types of on-premises outlets:

  • Bars/cocktail lounges: Establishments where alcohol sales are the primary activity, with little or no food service. Some states allow bars to sell alcohol for consumption off the premises.
  • Restaurants: Establishments where food service is the primary activity and alcohol is a secondary product.
  • Clubs: Establishments that serve alcohol and food to members, but not to the public, for on-premises consumption.11

Many states are experiencing a proliferation of new types of on-premises outlets, including movie theaters, spas, coffee houses, and brewpubs.

There are also several types of off-premises outlets, as described by the CADCA/CAMY Action Guide:

  • Liquor stores/package stores: Retail outlets where alcohol is the primary product for sale.
  • Grocery stores: Large markets that are primarily in the business of selling food but that often devote substantial floor space to selling alcohol.
  • Convenience stores/mini-marts/gas stations: Small stores often located in or near residential areas. They usually have less floor space for alcohol than liquor stores or grocery stores, but alcohol typically accounts for a much larger share of their overall sales.
  • Big box/warehouse/discount stores: Large, multi-product, discount retail stores that often have substantial floor space for alcohol.11

New types of off-premises outlets include growler shops, pharmacies, and wine boutiques. Thirteen states operate state-run off-premises retail outlets (e.g. ABC stores).

State and local laws specify which types of alcoholic beverages may be sold in different types of alcohol outlets. Beer and wine are usually the most widely sold alcoholic beverages. By contrast, many states limit sales of distilled spirits to a relatively small subset of alcohol retailers, such as bars and liquor stores.12

Note that while two alcohol outlets may be considered the same type of outlet, they may look very different. For example, bars can include small, neighborhood venues as well as multi-story establishments with several bar areas catering to hundreds or thousands of patrons.

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Is the particular location of each alcohol outlet an important consideration when addressing alcohol outlet density?

Location can be an important consideration in assessing the effects of alcohol outlet density. Some locations, referred to as sensitive land uses, pose more risks than others. These locations include areas near schools, parks, playgrounds, and other places where young people are likely to congregate. Houses of worship, hospitals, and alcohol and other drug treatment centers are also sensitive land uses.11,13 Clustering, or the proximity of outlets to one another, is also an important consideration.

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Do the types of alcohol outlets make a difference in terms of the public health effects of alcohol outlet density?

They may. For example, research suggests that bars are more likely to have adverse community effects than restaurants (although, as discussed below, legal provisions may not adequately distinguish between these two types of alcohol outlets).14 The effect of particular types of alcohol outlets is likely to vary based on other community factors.

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Many restaurants become bars during late night hours. How is this problem addressed?

In practice, restaurants and bars are sometimes difficult to distinguish. Many restaurants transform into bars during late-night hours, even though they may be licensed as restaurants. This phenomenon is termed “morphing,” and highlights the importance of careful legislative drafting in licensing and land use zoning laws.15 Restrictions that can help ensure restaurants do not morph into bars include:

  • Requiring food service as the primary activity during all operating hours;
  • Requiring relatively early closing hours;
  • Requiring alcohol sales to account for 30 percent or less of total receipts;
  • Prohibiting late-night bar service (when alcohol-related problems are more likely to occur); and
  • Prohibiting separate bar service.13,15

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