BYOB like a B-O-S-S

Did you know you can bring your own booze to dinner or an event in Nashville? While it may sound as easy as packing a cooler for Live on the Green, bringing a bottle of wine to a restaurant, or having a cold one in hand while tailgate-hopping, there’s more to it than you might think. Numerous regulations need to be followed by the two perspectives involved: 1) an individual who wants to bring alcohol into an establishment and/or is hosting an event 2) an establishment wants to allow alcohol into their establishment or event, and they do not have or qualify for the appropriate permits.

What does BYOB mean in Tennessee?

The acronym BYOB stands for bring your own booze; it is also called brown-bagging. Essentially, it means that the customer is bringing their own alcohol that they purchased from a third-party vendor into an establishment or event. For our purposes, “booze” covers all alcohol – wine, spirits, and beer – but keep in mind that beer is governed by separate government agencies than other alcoholic beverages in Tennessee.

Where is BYOB permitted in Tennessee?

BYOB is permitted wherever the law says it is permitted. To determine if you can bring alcohol to a place or establishment, call ahead to the restaurant or venue, or consult the website FAQs for your event. You can also check the local ordinances in your city and county.

What are the rules for drinking your own booze?

If you have determined that the establishment allows you to bring in alcohol, there are several rules to be aware of when drinking:

  • Servers may not open or pour the alcohol for you
  • Servers may not store the alcohol for you
  • The restaurant or venue may not charge you a corkage fee

What about the leftovers?

If you BYOB and do not consume all the beverage, you MUST take the remainder with you when you leave. Servers are not allowed to touch the alcohol at ANY TIME, including disposing of it for you.

Does Tennessee allow open containers?

Consuming alcoholic beverages in open containers is generally NOT permitted in Tennessee. However, due to the kind of business that the Music City Center has attracted, a law was passed in 2015 which allows you to take alcohol in open containers on Fifth Avenue between Korean Veterans Boulevard and Demonbreun, including the Omni Hotel, Music City Center and Country Music Hall of Fame.

I want to host a public event with alcohol at a location that does not have a license to serve beer or alcohol. What do I need to do?

In this situation, you will need to either get a special occasion license or hire a vendor with an alcohol catering license. (Note: this is NOT the same as a food catering license; this license comes directly from the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission or TABC.) For either scenario, you will want to have licensed ABC servers pouring the alcohol. Note: to get a special occasion license, you will need to satisfy several requirements through the TABC and Beer Board. Most notably you will need a nonprofit organization that is tax exempt under Section §501 of the IRS code as the applicant.

I want to host a private event with alcohol at a location that does not have a license to serve beer or alcohol. What do I need to do?

This question requires a follow up: are you planning to give the alcohol away for free (think open bar) or are you planning to sell it (think cash bar)? If you are planning to give it away, you will not need to get a special occasion license or use an alcohol caterer. This is also true if you are selling tickets to the event, the rub here is the ticket price cannot include any money exchanging hands for alcohol. If you are planning to sell the alcohol, you will need to get a special occasion permit or use an alcohol caterer.

How can I determine if a particular establishment has permits and licenses to serve alcohol?

State and local law require beer permits and liquor licenses are publicly displayed at all establishments. A good tip is to look behind the bar. For wine and spirits, the proper permit is called a liquor-by-the-drink permit.

I own a business and want to find out if I can serve beer and alcohol. Where do I need to look?

To determine if your establishment meets the requirements to serve beer in Nashville, check the Beer Board rules and regulations.To determine if your establishment meets the requirements to serve wine and spirits, go here.

So, go ahead, bring the special bottle of wine you purchased in France to that anniversary dinner at your favorite restaurant. Just be sure to call ahead to make sure it’s allowed. On the other hand, if you own your own business where you’d like to serve alcohol, all you need to do is check your local rules and regulations.

Related Services:

Alcoholic Beverage Law

About the Author:

Rachel Schaffer Lawson is Of Counsel in Dickinson Wright’s Nashville office. She has over ten years of experience serving more than 300 businesses in a wide range of industries including the alcohol and hospitality sectors, offering a range of legal services including business formation, litigation, trademark search and registration, contracts and agreements, and beer and liquor licensing. Rachel can be reached at 615-620-1715 or, and her bio can be found here.