In the Netherlands several rules for alcohol sales apply. 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)
Age verification rules for alcohol sales
You are not allowed to sell alcohol to individuals younger than 18. Therefore you must always ask young people for their identity card to prove their age. Do you sell alcohol to someone who is younger than 18? You could get a fine, a (temporary) ban on selling alcohol, or your licence may be revoked. 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). This is punishable. You, the entrepreneur, can then also be fined.
If you want to serve alcoholic beverages in your catering establishment (your guests consume their drinks in your catering establishment), you must have an alcohol licence (alcoholvergunning). You apply for an alcohol licence to your municipality. Your staff members must be 16 years or older to serve alcoholic beverages. Pre-secondary vocational (vmbo) pupils aged 14 and 15 are allowed to serve alcohol as part of their internship. A bartender younger than 18 may sell alcohol, but they are not allowed to drink it.
Conditions for an alcohol licence
If you sell or serve alcohol in your business, you need an alcohol licence. For example, you have a pub, restaurant or off-licence. To be eligible for an alcohol licence, the owner and manager(s) of the company must meet several requirements, such as:
- you must be at least 21
- you must have a Social Hygiene diploma or certificate. This applies to all owners and co-owners of a catering establishment.
- you must be registered in the Social Hygiene Register
Please check all conditions with your municipality.
New Register of Social Hygiene: confirm your registration
Were you registered in the Register of Social Hygiene before 1 July 2023? If so, you must reconfirm your registration before 1 July 2028 to be included in the new register (in Dutch). From 1 July 2023, the National Commission for Social Hygiene (Lcsh) will take over the register from Stichting Vakbekwaamheid Horeca (SVH). Read more about the new Social Hygiene Register or view the frequently asked questions (in Dutch).
Do you own a shop where you sell groceries? You are allowed to sell low-alcohol beverages such as beer, wine, port, and sherry (less than 15%) without a licence. You cannot sell liquor (over 15%). You can only sell the alcoholic drinks in a closed container and your customers cannot drink or sample the beverage in your store. This also applies to businesses such as department stores, snack bars, and delivery services (retail).
You cannot sell alcohol in a non-food retail shop (such as a clothes shop).
Shop with a catering section
If you want to serve alcoholic beverages in a licenced catering section, your premises must comply with certain rules:
- The area must be separated from the shop on all sides and must be lockable.
- Your premises must comply with the building regulations and with the layout requirements for catering establishments.
- A customer must be able to enter your shop without having to pass through the catering section.
Off-licence or liquor store
You can only sell liquor (over 15%, spirits) in your off-licence (liquor store) if you have a liquor licence (alcoholvergunning voor het slijtersbedrijf or slijterijvergunning). You apply for a liquor licence to your municipality. Liquor stores may not be directly connected to another shop. There must be a hallway between both stores.
You can only sell the liquor (and other alcohol) in closed containers, and your customers cannot drink the alcohol in your store. Customers are allowed to taste alcoholic beverages for free, 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.
Wholesalers need a liquor licence if they want to sell strong alcoholic beverages (liquor, over 15%) to consumers. You apply for a liquor licence to sell liquor (strong alcoholic beverages) to your municipality. Does your wholesale business sell exclusively to businesses (B2B)? Then you do not need a liquor licence.
Petrol (service) station
You cannot sell alcoholic beverages in petrol stations.
Selling alcoholic beverages online
If you want to sell low alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, port, and sherry) online, you do not need an alcohol licence. Do you want to sell high-alcohol beverages (more than 15%) via a web shop? You need a liquor licence. You can apply for a liquor licence to your municipality.
These rules apply to, for example:
- supermarkets with a web shop
- off-licences (liquor stores) with a web shop
- web shops
- beer delivery services ('bierkoeriers')
- online food delivery services
Age verification for web shops
You cannot sell alcoholic beverages to minors (under 18). If you sell from a distance, from a web shop or by telephone, you have to verify the age of your customer twice:
- before the purchase, and
- upon delivery
There are also rules on how to verify a customer’s age. Find out more on the rules for age verification for distance sales of alcohol.
Selling alcoholic beverages during an event or on a market
Do you want to serve alcoholic beverages during an event? And do you not have a licence for the location you want to serve these drinks? You will have to apply for a licence dispensation under the Alcohol Act (tapontheffing) to your municipality. This applies to low alcoholic drinks (less than 15%). You may also need an event licence.
You are not allowed to sell or serve alcoholic beverages on a (goods) market.
As a retailer you must limit discounts on alcohol sales to at most 25% (in Dutch). This applies to web shops and physical shops such as supermakets and liquor stores. Other promotions are also forbidden if the discount for customers amounts to more than 25%. This rule does not apply to drinks that are consumed at the spot, such as at bars.
Online application procedure via Message Box
You can also apply for the alcohol licence and the licence dispensation under the Alcohol Act online via Message Box. Message Box is a secure email system that enables you as an entrepreneur to exchange digital messages with Dutch government agencies.