WebstaurantStore / Food Service Resources / In-Depth Articles / Permits and Licenses for Restaurants
Permits and Licenses for Restaurants

Permits and Licenses for Restaurants

Last updated on 8/07/2018

Starting a restaurant takes more than just the startup cash. It even takes more than the location, staff, and menu. It requires a foundation established by licenses and permits to give you the authorization to operate in your selected location. Getting the writs and proofs you need for each restaurant license takes time, so it's important to start the process as early as possible. It's equally important to work closely with legal counsel who can help you get your restaurant permits step by step, particularly because a lawyer will be most familiar with how to get through all of the necessary steps thoroughly and accurately. It’s easiest to work your way down from the top, starting with the required business license and ending with location-specific permits you may encounter. Below is an overview of what you can expect with each of the following business licenses and permits as you work towards opening your restaurant.

You may use the following links to jump to different sections of this article.

What Licenses and Permits Are Required to Start a Restaurant?

There are some licenses and permits that are absolutely required in order to open a restaurant. Failure to obtain them can result in penalties from multiple agencies or even prevent you from opening your location at all. Receiving legal counsel may help you map out the steps and ensure that nothing is missed according to the laws in your restaurant’s city and state. We will review the most common required licenses and permits, what they are, how to get them, and what costs may be involved.

Business License

person signing a contract for a business license

What Is a Business License?

A business license gives you the authority to operate in your jurisdiction. The exact form of this license is dependent on your restaurant’s location and address. If you plan on selling alcohol, you will need a federal business license as well as a state business license.

How to Get a Business License

To get a business license, you will want to work through your city and state government. The easiest way to start would be to search your state’s name plus the term “business license” in an online search engine. This will bring up your state’s government website where the application and procedures can be found. For more information, you may use the US Small Business Administration’s website to look up your state and city-specific rules for receiving a business license.

How Much Does a Business License Cost?

A business license can cost around $50 to register, however, the cost of the license itself varies depending on your business type, location, and expected profit. This license does need to be renewed periodically.

Back to Top

Employer Identification Number

What Is an Employer Identification Number?

An employer identification number (EIN) essentially tells the federal government that you are an employer and provides you with a tax ID. This number allows you to officially hire employees and have them on a legal payroll. Your state will give you an employer identification number that is separate from your federal number which helps legitimize your business's standing.

How to Get an Employer Identification Number

To obtain an EIN, you will want to visit the IRS’s website and follow the application process listed there. This can take a while since the IRS only issues one employer identification number per responsible party per day. Be sure to apply as early as possible. You can also fax, mail, or call the IRS to submit your application.

How Much Does an Employer Identification Number Cost?

An EIN is free but takes time to obtain.

Back to Top

Certificate of Occupancy

What Is a Certificate of Occupancy?

A certificate of occupancy indicates that the building where your restaurant is located has passed its final inspection. It deems the building safe to operate in.

How to Get a Certificate of Occupancy

To receive a certificate of occupancy, your location will need to be inspected by your local building or zoning department. To arrange the appointment, search your state’s name plus the term “certificate of occupancy” in an online search engine to find the information on your state government’s website. This certificate may also include a city and fire permit issued by your local fire marshal.

How Much Does a Certificate of Occupancy Cost?

A certificate of occupancy will generally cost around $100.

Back to Top

Food Service License

What Is a Food Service License?

A food service license indicates that a restaurant meets all food preparation, storage, and safety regulations. It ensures that your location is in accordance and up-to-date with the restaurant food safety laws.

How to Get a Food Service License

A food service license is issued by the city or county Health Department and requires an inspection to take place. Depending on your county, the completion of a food safety training program or a food handler’s permit may be required to be approved for your license. The Health Department will continue to make regular visits to inspect your restaurant to make sure that the expected standards are being maintained. To apply, start by reviewing the food vendor’s application requirements on your state government’s website. You may then apply directly online.

How Much Does a Food Service License Cost?

The fees for food service license can vary by location and number of employees, but generally, they can range from $100 to $1000. These licenses also need to be periodically renewed.

Back to Top

Sign Permit

neon red restaurant sign

What Is a Sign Permit?

A sign permit allows you to display or modify permanent signage outside your restaurant’s building. In many counties, signage size, brightness, and location are regulated and need to be approved beforehand. Receiving the permit indicates that you have met the standard and codes required and can proceed in adding the sign.

How to Get a Sign Permit

To apply for a sign permit, you will want to visit your local county government’s website for the steps and application. This will involve working with a sign contractor and the Zoning Department. You will be required to provide a scale drawing of the signage, and oftentimes you will need variations to be submitted for approval. If your sign includes lighting, you may also need to provide the wiring and circuit plans you intend on establishing. Requirements may vary depending on the size and type of sign.

How Much Does a Sign Permit Cost?

The cost of a sign permit will be dependent on the size of your sign. You can expect a typical starting range of $20 to $50.

Back to Top

Building Health Permit

What Is a Building Health Permit?

A building health permit indicates that your building and practices comply with sanitation regulations. This is typically only needed when the building is a new construction, but may be required regardless in certain counties to ensure a sanitary work and dining environment.

How to Get a Building Health Permit

A building health permit is issued by your local government. To confirm if one is needed and to apply, search your state’s name plus the term “building health permit” in an online search engine. To maintain this permit, your location will be subject to routine inspections.

How Much Does a Building Health Permit Cost?

You can expect a building health permit to cost somewhere between $50 and $1000. Some factors that can impact the cost are the building’s age and location.

Back to Top

Employee Health Permit

What Is an Employee Health Permit?

An employee health permit, also known as a food handler’s permit, indicates that a specific employee has passed a course educating them on proper health and safety practices in a commercial kitchen. The course teaches employees about proper food storage and food handling practices along with proper sanitation practices to avoid cross-contamination.

How to Get an Employee Health Permit

An employee health permit is provided after an employee successfully completes a state-approved food handler’s course and passes the final test. To find the course selected by your state, search your state’s name plus the term “employee health permit” or “food handler’s permit“ in an online search engine.

How Much Does an Employee Health Permit Cost?

An employee health permit can cost anywhere from $100 to $500 and must be periodically renewed.

Back to Top

Other Restaurant Permits and Licenses to Consider

Aside from the required permits and licenses, there are others you may need to obtain depending on what additions you are looking to make to your restaurant. It is important to familiarize yourself with the following permits, in case you run into them down the line. If you’re ever concerned that you may accidentally miss a permit, be sure to divulge your full business plan with your legal counsel so they may identify permits you still need to apply for. Below is a quick review of just some additional permits you may encounter.

Liquor License

three cocktails on a bar

The process for obtaining a liquor license can vary from state to state and city to city. You will want to check with your local government for the processes and regulation you must abide by in your jurisdiction. The liquor license tends to be one of the most regulated and strict licenses you may encounter. In some locations, you may be required to get both a liquor license and a beer and wine license if you are looking to serve all three. Remember to apply early, since the application process can take as long as a year. The fees will vary depending on your location, and the license will need to be renewed each year.

Music License

Choosing the right music for your restaurant can be a challenge, but before you can play any music at all you need a music license due to copyright laws. You can work with a number of companies to be able to use the music they have rights to, such as the American Society of Composers, Authors and Writers, or Broadcast Music Incorporated. Regardless of if you’re using a CD or a streaming service, a license is needed. The pricing can vary but is usually between $250 and $500. A similar permit you may also be interested in researching is a live entertainment license.

Resale Permit

A reseller’s permit, also known as a seller’s permit, is generally only needed if your restaurant is located in a state that issues sales tax. It prevents double taxation on a product by collecting tax when your customer buys the product, rather than when you purchase the product initially. You can register online with your local government to be provided with a tax exempt certificate. The fees vary depending on your security deposit amount but can be anywhere from $0 to $50.

Dumpster Placement Permit

If you are going to need dumpsters for your restaurant, you may also need a dumpster placement permit. This would allow you to place a dumpster outside your facility that can then be used for food waste and trash disposal. The costs for the permit can vary depending on the placement and size of the dumpster, along with the location of your establishment.

Valet Parking Permit

The need for a valet parking permit can vary from state to state. If you’re planning to have valet parking for your restaurant, be sure to check with your local government to see if a permit is required. If so, you may be asked to present a detailed plan of your valet service, indicating the pick-up and drop-off points, the number of parking spaces needed, how payment will be collected, and letters of agreement from your designated drivers. The fees associated vary depending on your state.

Pool Table Permit

person playing billiards on a pool table

One license that can easily be forgotten is a pool table permit. Some states do regulate billiard tables and require business owners to register them before they can be used. A pool table permit can limit the hours of operation of the billiard area, and even the number of pool tables in an establishment. The fees can vary on your location and how many tables you are interested in adding. The permits also need to be renewed annually.

Back to Top

Whether you're starting a restaurant, buffet, or catering business, the restaurant permits and licenses you acquire are essential to your success. With penalties that can affect your bottom line or even close your doors, you will want to make sure you are thoroughly researching the licenses you need and starting the application process early to allow them time to be issued. If you keep up with licenses and permits, you'll be in the perfect place to grow your business — and your profits — to the next level.

Related Resources

How to Open a Restaurant

With 58% of American adults eating out at least once a week, the restaurant industry continues to thrive. While foodservice trends come and go, it’s certain that many Americans will continue to enjoy meals prepared outside of the home. Starting a restaurant takes a lot of work, but with expert planning, you can start a successful restaurant business. How to Start a Restaurant Opening a restaurant requires juggling many moving parts and can feel like a difficult undertaking. But the procedure is a more manageable feat when broken down. If you're curious about how to open a restaurant, we've created an 11-step guide to navigate you through the process. 1. Choose a Restaurant Concept and Brand When starting a restaurant, it's important to have

How To Host A Restaurant Soft Opening

You’ve successfully purchased a location and transformed it into a brand new restaurant. The space is furnished, the kitchen is stocked, and the menu is written. What’s next? How do you get your restaurant in business? If you plan to open a new restaurant, consider hosting a series of soft openings, or soft launches, to give your staff and kitchen equipment a test run before officially opening your doors to the public. But before you host this test run, there are few factors to consider. What type of customers will you invite? Will you serve your whole menu? How many soft launch events should you host prior to opening? We explored some options and tips for a soft opening that can lead to a successful grand opening . What Is a Soft Opening?

Restaurant Grand Opening

You’ve put in the hard work of getting your restaurant ready to open, so why not take advantage of opening day to draw attention to your new business? A grand opening is a great way to create buzz in the local community. This event will serve as your first chance to invite customers into your establishment, showcase your menu offerings , and start building the relationships necessary for repeat business. Follow the tips and advice below to get the most out of your business’s big day. Begin Planning Your Grand Opening Early Before the grand opening of your restaurant, you will want to be sure you have a proper plan in place for that day. Being prepared ahead of time allows you to focus and enjoy the big day. Start by creating a master list o

Subscribe now for great deals and industry tips! Sign up for our mailing list to have weekly discounts and industry knowledge sent right to your inbox.

From Our

At WebstaurantStore we love sharing our fun! Check out some of our weekly Instagram posts! We might even have a recipe or two to share!

View Posts
Food Service Resources

Tips, guides, & advice

Explore Resources
  • Visa
  • Discover
  • American Express
  • MasterCard
  • Paypal