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Selling alcohol (off-licence)

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Netherlands Enterprise Agency, RVO

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Selling alcohol and serving alcohol are bound to strict rules in the Netherlands. Find out what the rules are and whether you need a permit.

If you sell (off-licence) or serve alcohol (on-licence), you must be aware of the rules stated in the Alcohol Act (previously named Licensing and Catering Act, Drank- en Horecawet). This Act makes a distinction between:

  • Drinks with less than 15% alcohol, such as beer and wine (including port and sherry, also when the alcohol percentage of these beverages is higher than 15%)
  • Strong drinks with 15% alcohol or more (liquor)

Strict rules for selling alcohol

In the Netherlands several rules for alcohol sales apply:

  • As a retailer you must limit discounts on alcohol sales to at most 25%. This does not apply to drinks that are consumed at the spot, such as at bars.
  • Age verification rules: web shops and delivery services may sell and deliver alcohol only to people aged 18 years and older. They are responsible for age verification from order to delivery. This rule does not apply to catering companies that deliver food and drinks to parties and events.
  • The restrictions on alcohol sales apply to both online liquor stores as well as to liquor stores with a physical storefront. You may only sell alcoholic drinks, alcohol free drinks, and related products such as cork screws, glasses and wine coolers.

The Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (Nederlandse Voedsel- en Warenautoriteit, NVWA) is responsible for the supervision on online sales and special offers for alcohol.

Alcohol Act

If you sell liquor (strong drinks), you need a licence under the Alcohol Act or a liquor licence (off-licence). Your staff must also comply with certain requirements.

Do you own a supermarket, food store, snack bar, specialist tobacco store or liquor store? For sales of low alcoholic drinks (less than 15%), port, and sherry you do not need a catering or liquor licence.

Do you intend to use alcohol in food? The Alcohol Act does not apply.

No underage sales of alcohol

You are not allowed to sell alcohol to individuals younger than 18. Therefore you must always ask young people for their identity card to proof their age. You also have a duty to prevent the sale of alcohol to underaged youths through persons who are aged 18 years or older (proxy sales). If you are caught selling alcohol to underage youths 3 times within 1 year, you could get a fine or (temporary) ban on selling alcohol.

Staff requirements

If you serve beer or wine or sell strong drinks, your staff members must be 16 years or older. A bartender younger than 18 may sell alcohol, but they are not allowed to drink it. There must always be a manager present at your business during opening hours. Managers must be at least 21 and they must hold a SHV Certificate for Social Hygiene (SVH Verklaring Sociale Hygiƫne, in Dutch) or a Certificate for Professional Competence (Verklaring Vakbewaamheid). Please contact SVH for more information about the various documents.

Selling alcoholic beverages in the retail sector

An off-licence permit is required to sell high-alcohol beverages. Off-licences may only sell alcoholic beverages and related articles, such as corkscrews or wine and beer glasses. In addition, they may deliver high-alcohol beverages to private homes. Customers are allowed to taste alcoholic beverages, if they ask for it. However, this can only be offered by the staff of your off-licence. A promotion team is not allowed to do this.

If you own a supermarket, grocer's store, snack bar, domestic catering establishment, tobacco store or wine shop, you are allowed to sell low-alcohol beverages such as beer, wine, port and sherry without a permit. If you sell beer, wine, port or sherry exclusively, you do not need a permit either. Sampling at your store is not allowed.

Shop with a catering section

If you want to serve alcoholic beverages in a catering section, your premises must comply with certain rules:

Selling alcoholic beverages as a wholesaler

Wholesalers need an off-licence permit if they want to sell alcoholic beverages to consumers. Does your wholesale business sell exclusively to businesses? Then you do not need a licence.

Selling alcoholic beverages online

If you want to sell alcoholic beverages online, for instance via a web shop, you must check your municipality's zoning plan to see whether this is permitted. You may only sell high-alcohol beverages via a web shop if you also have an off-licence company.

You do not need a licence to sell low-alcohol beverages via a web shop. However, restrictions do apply to the area from which beverages may be supplied. If, for example, you do not have an off-licence, snack bar or food store, beverages may only be supplied from a closed room which is not accessible to the public and in which the corresponding orders are processed. When supplying alcoholic beverages you are obliged to check the recipient's age.

Selling alcoholic beverages on a market or during an event

You are not allowed to sell or serve alcoholic beverages on a (goods) market.

If you want to serve beer, wine, port or sherry during an event, you will have to apply for a licence dispensation under the Alcohol Act at your municipality. The same applies to ready-made drinks. You are not allowed to mix the drinks yourself.

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This information is provided by

Netherlands Enterprise Agency, RVO
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