Permits required for service or sales of alcohol

Following is a memo from Charles D. Hoornstra, Director, Campus Administrative Legal Services: With the holiday season again upon us, it is timely to remind those who may wish to sponsor or hold holiday receptions, parties or school, college, departmental or other events at which alcohol may be expected to be served of the university requirements for an alcohol service permit.

These permits generally may be issued by an “Authorized University Official,” defined to be the chancellor, vice chancellors, academic deans and deans of the graduate school and libraries (for events within their respective jurisdictions), and the directors of the Wisconsin Union, Arboretum, University Housing and Intercollegiate Athletics (for facilities under their respective jurisdictions). If a sale of alcohol is anticipated, the Vice Chancellor for Administration must issue the permit.

Also, with respect to the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics (UWHC), please see UWHC Policy #1.23 Alcoholic Beverage Possession or Consumption at UWHC. This policy follows the UW-Madison policy and designates the Chief Executive Officer and the Senior Vice President of Operations as their authorized officials.

We have developed a decision tree to assist units in determining whether and if so, what type of permit is required. It was revised in 2003 to clarify that a university permit is not required when the event will be held at a hotel, restaurant or other venue that has a state liquor license. The decision tree, the university policy and regulations and copies of the permit applications for service or sale are also available at: This is the General Advice Memoranda/Documents section of the Administrative Legal Services web site.

Occasionally, concerns are expressed about potential liability related to alcohol service at university events. Without trying to hypothesize every possible factual situation, in general, if the required permit has been secured and the “responsible employee” listed is meeting the obligations set forth in the permit, university employees performing their obligations under the permit would be within the scope of their employment and would be defended and indemnified by the university in any subsequent, related legal action. In addition, factors beyond those enumerated in the permit (e.g. serving an assortment of non-alcoholic beverages, not serving underage or intoxicated individuals) can help manage any risk. Practices that might mitigate potential liabilities include serving food, suspending alcohol service at some point prior to the end of the event and continuing to offer coffee and other non-alcoholic beverages, and utilizing a trained bartender who can watch for over consumption and/or inebriation and can cut off service.

If you will be using the services of an outside vendor to provide alcohol service (e.g., a caterer other than the Wisconsin Union or University Housing) at a university event, either on or off campus, please also note Purchasing Policy and Procedure 10, found at:

The outside vendor will need to meet the applicable insurance requirements, particularly those related to liquor liability insurance. This protects the university and covers both the vendor and the university for alcohol related liabilities.

Questions may be directed to the Office of Administrative Legal Services at 263-7400.