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Hosting a Private Party? What You Need to Know About Alcohol Laws and Social Host Liability in Kentucky

As college sports seasons ramp up and the holidays quickly approach, many Kentuckians will start planning to host parties and social gatherings at their homes. When alcohol is involved, a host has specific duties and liabilities under Kentucky law. As you plan your next get-together in Kentucky, there are a few important things to consider related to the service of alcoholic beverages and potential liability issues that may arise:

  1. Understand your legal limits.

It is important to understand what you can and cannot do before throwing a party. In Kentucky, areas are designated as wet, dry or moist. Each territory has different rules and regulations applicable to it. The Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (“ABC”) provides a helpful map that you can use to see whether you live in a wet, dry, or moist territory: https://abc.ky.gov/Local-Information/Documents/Wet-Dry%20Map%201-19.pdf (updated as of January, 2019).

If you live in a “wet” territory, you may provide free alcoholic drinks to your guests at your home. Hosts are not allowed to charge guests for alcohol at a private party, because the host does not have a license to sell alcohol at that location. This means that you cannot charge an entrance fee to any “watch” party for a sporting event to offset the cost of alcohol.

If, on the other hand, you are located in “moist” territory and host a private party, you can only technically provide free alcoholic drinks to your guests if the sale of alcoholic beverages has been specifically authorized in that moist territory. Check your local ordinances to confirm what is allowed in your county.

Finally, if you host or attend a private party in “dry” territory, you may provide alcoholic beverages that you lawfully purchased in a wet or moist territory, provided the event is not open to the public.

  1. Be prepared. 

Just like home grocery delivery services, it is now possible to order alcohol from a licensed retailer online, by telephone, or through a mobile app, for delivery to your home. Package retailers were always authorized to deliver packages of malt beverages (beer) to consumers’ homes; however, in 2017, the laws were changed to permit quota retail package licensees to deliver distilled spirits and wine to consumers’ homes located in wet territories. These changes in the law make it easier and more convenient to host a private party.

  1. When in doubt, hire it out.

Hiring a professional caterer has many advantages. For example, a licensed bartender will more easily recognize signs of intoxication and be better able to limit consumption by partygoers. In Kentucky, a host may hire a licensed caterer to provide food and alcohol at a private party. In this circumstance, the venue (for example, your home or office) becomes what is known as the caterer’s “licensed premises.” Of course, you can hire a caterer to exclusively serve food; however, if the caterer does provide the alcohol, party guests are not allowed to bring their own alcoholic beverages on the licensed premises. In other words, there is no “BYOB.”

Also, remember that if the caterer does serve alcohol, specific legal restrictions will apply. For example, the caterer’s total sales at that party must also include a specified percentage of food sales. The percentage varies depending on your location and ranges from 70% in moist territories, 50% in dry counties, and 35% in wet territories. In addition, regardless of the location of the party, the caterer may not give away free alcohol to guests or the host. A caterer must either operate a cash bar, where the guests pay by the drink, or charge the host on a by-the-drink or by-the-event basis. Finally, since a catered event is not a private party under the law, a caterer may sell food and alcohol at an event where admission tickets are sold. So for those who want to charge guests to attend, a catered affair may be the right approach.

  1. For charitable events, different rules may apply.

If you are hosting a special event, such as a charitable or nonprofit gathering, you may consider becoming licensed. There are two types of special event licenses in Kentucky—a special temporary alcoholic beverage auction license and a special temporary license:

  • Special Temporary Alcoholic Beverage Auction License. This license grants the right to sell distilled spirits and wine by the bottle through an auction benefiting a nonprofit organization (for example, a fundraiser with a silent auction). In addition, alcoholic beverages can be donated to a holder of this license for consumption by patrons at a nonprofit event. This license is now available to any nonprofit organization, and is not limited to charities.
  • Special Temporary License. This license may be issued in wet territory to any regularly organized fair, exposition, racing association, nonprofit organization, or to any other organization if the license will be used in conjunction with an organized civic or community sponsored event. A caterer is not allowed to sell alcohol at an event operating under a special temporary license. 5.   Be a responsible host.When you throw a party, using good judgment can head off a lot of problems before they start. Kentucky does not have a state law that allows an injured person to seek damages from a social host if an intoxicated adult causes injury after being served alcohol at a private event (otherwise known as “dram shop liability”). Keep in mind, however, that local jurisdictions may pass ordinances related to minor or underage drinking. Even though Kentucky dram shop laws do not generally apply to social host serving, when hosting a party it is always important to act responsibly. For example, if a guest has had too much to drink, make sure he does not drive and ensure that he gets home safely. Better yet, be proactive on the front end by following these tips:
  • Limit your own intake as the host or hostess, so you can better judge your guests’ sobriety;
  • Serve food (and plenty of it) and offer non-alcoholic beverages;
  • Stop serving liquor toward the end of the evening;
  • Do not press guests to drink or rush to fill a glass when empty; and
  • Do not serve alcohol to guests who have clearly had too much to drink.

Keeping these recommendations in mind will help ensure that both you and your guests have a safe and enjoyable evening.