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How to Get a Catering License: Ultimate Guide

If you're ready to start your catering business, here's all you need to know to get your catering license today.

5 mins readNovember 30, 2021

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Get a Catering License: The Skinny

Your love of cooking has motivated you to pursue a catering business. You believe that hard work and dedication can make it extremely lucrative.

However, before you leave your current position, there are several things to know about how to get a catering license for your business.

Here's a step-by-step breakdown of how to get how to get a catering license.

Catering Education and Training Options

If you're wondering how to become a caterer, the first thing to do is to get an education in the catering industry. It's more than cooking and serving.

There are elements of accounting, sales and marketing, hiring, and contract law. Knowledge of these subjects is required to get a food safety/service certification/permit in your state.

The classes to obtain this caterer license are available online. Additional locations include two-year and four-year colleges. An additional course is normally necessary if you want to serve alcohol as part of your business plan.

Though catering classes are offered at most culinary arts schools, it's not necessary to take additional courses to qualify for a caterer license. However, enrolling in this type of institution is recommended.

Not only does it expand on the cooking skills you already have, but it also provides a better understanding of local health and safety regulations you must be aware of. In turn, you gain an upper hand over the competition.

At the end of the class, you're given an exam. Whether you pass or fail determines if you can apply for a catering business license. It's recommended to reach out to your local health department to determine the proper guidelines and where these certification classes are offered.

On top of obtaining a local catering permit, you should also earn a certification from the National Association for Catering and Events.

This is based on a comprehensive knowledge base that covers core competencies. These include:

  • Beverage management
  • Contracts and agreements
  • Human resources
  • Marketing
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Can You Work Without a Catering License?

Even if you have the proper insurance for your storefront or home-based catering service, you still need a license from the state to operate.

In fact, some regions don't let you obtain a permit without the necessary coverage.

Without the proper certification, you put yourself and your assets at stake. Since you work with food, you run the risk of the health department shutting you down until you get the right permits.

Further operation without the proper catering license requirements leads to potential fines.

There's another risk you take when you don't have a caterer license that's connected to your clients. If someone gets sick from the food you provide, then you face problems on two fronts: you could be sued by the customer as well as face legal action from regulatory authorities.

Should this happen without insurance, then the costs of attorneys and any damages come out of your personal assets. Furthermore, you're deemed as high risk.

It gets harder to obtain business insurance and approval for a permit. On top of this, your reputation is greatly harmed.

What licenses are needed to start a catering business?


1. How To Get Your Food Establishment License

In addition to qualifying for and receiving a catering license, you also must obtain one for the food establishment. This is the location where the items are prepared, cook, and possibly served to the public.

Without this permit, you don't have the legal standing to continue operations.

Each county and state has its own guidelines and fee amounts to obtain a food establishment license. Generally, you need to define whether the location is static or a mobile unit like a food truck. The licensing agency also needs to know if you intend to operate in an area they inspect and license.

In either environment, you are asked to provide details on various features of the establishment. For instance, the menu, equipment manufacturers and layout, utility and HVAC diagrams, and interior finishes.

All of this information is packaged together with a licensing fee.

2. How To Get Your Alcohol License

Should you want your catering establishment to serve alcohol, then you must obtain a license. This is a non-starter when it comes to local and state regulators.

If an inspection reveals you serve alcohol and aren't licensed to do so, then you must stop immediately or close your operation down. Furthermore, excessive fines will be levied against your company.

Like a food establishment license, regulatory conditions differ between the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) agencies in each region.

Some are directly regulated at the state level while others let counties and municipalities handle regulation.

There are different types of alcohol licenses based on how you intend to serve. For example, an on-license is for a catering establishment that provides drinks on the premises.

An off-license allows customers to purchase alcoholic beverages for off-site consumption.

Since your catering establishment focuses on food, you would qualify for one of two license classes. One is for beer and wine served to complement your dining offerings.

A restaurant license qualifies you to serve any type of alcohol, including hard liquor, within the establishment.

To obtain a liquor license, you need to provide several pieces of information. This includes an employee identification number (EIN), certificate of incorporation, floor plans, and a proposed food menu. In addition, a fee of several thousand dollars is required.

3. How To Get Other Important Licenses & Permits

There are other licenses and permits required for your catering business depending on the situation. For instance, if you want to construct an outdoor patio, then you need a building permit.

Should you want to expand your offerings and include musical performances, then a license may be required. The same is true if you want to market your business through billboards.

As above, the types of licenses and permits vary by state and local jurisdiction.

It's best to speak with a county or state representative to determine the necessary legalities, especially when it relates to business insurance.

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