When planning to open a restaurant, there are a million details that you need to take into consideration. What type of restaurant will you open? What type of entertainment will be available at your restaurant? Will you serve liquor at your restaurant? You have to consider these questions to know which licenses and permits you will need to open your restaurant.
However, getting all of them can involve lots of blood, sweat, and tears. Here we save this torture with a complete list of all the restaurant licenses and permits you’ll need, how to get them, and how much they cost to get.
1. Business License
A business license is a legal document that allows you to operate a restaurant in a specific location. It’s required by law in most cities and states to ensure that businesses are operating safely and legally. Obtaining a business license helps you establish credibility and legitimacy with customers, suppliers, and lenders. It also helps you stay compliant with regulations and avoid fines and penalties.
How to Obtain a Business License for Your Restaurant
Register your business first with the Secretary of State’s or County Clerk’s Office, and then you can apply for your license with the local city or county government where the business will be located.
The exact requirements and forms for business licenses can vary significantly depending on the location of your restaurant. Check with the relevant state, county, and city authorities to determine what licenses and permits are needed and what forms are required to apply for them.
Tip: Search for your state + “business license.” (for example, California business license.)
How Much Does a Business License Cost, and How Often Do You Need To Renew It?
The cost of a business license for a restaurant varies from state to state and, sometimes, county to county. Typically, the average cost is about $300, and the renewal period varies from yearly to every few years. Here are six examples of costs in different states*:
|Illinois||$800||Every Two Years|
- The above average costs are calculated using the highest and lowest application fees for a business license to operate a small restaurant taking into account all major cities and counties in the corresponding state.
Opening a new restaurant goes beyond getting licenses and permits. Whether you're opening your first eatery, or expanding your food truck into a full-service restaurant, you'll know what to do by the time you're read this.
WHAT YOU'LL LEARN...
- Restaurant Licenses and Permits: Open Your Restaurant Legally
- How to Start a Restaurant Successfully
- Restaurant Leasing: Guide to Find & Negotiate the Perfect Space
- Ultimate Guide to Running a Successful Restaurant Business
- Transitioning from Food Truck to Restaurant
- Soft Opening for New Restaurants: Step-by-Step Guide
- Restaurant Location: 10 Ways to Find Your Perfect Restaurant Spot
2. Employer Identification Number
An employer identification number (EIN) acts a lot like a social security number, but it is connected to a business rather than an individual. When opening a restaurant, it is important that you obtain an EIN to safeguard your personal assets. Here’s everything you need to know about obtaining an EIN to open your restaurant officially.
What Is an Employer Identification Number (EIN), and Why Do You Need One?
An EIN is a unique nine-digit number (for example, 12-3456789) assigned by the IRS to identify your business for tax purposes. It’s required by law for businesses that have employees, operate as a corporation, partnership, or LLC, or meet other criteria.
Obtaining an EIN allows you to open a business bank account, file taxes, and apply for licenses and permits. It also helps protect your personal assets by separating your business finances from your personal finances. Failure to obtain an EIN could result in penalties and fines.
How to Obtain an EIN for Your Restaurant
Visit the IRS website and complete the online application.
Have all required information ready, such as your legal name, trade name, business structure, and principal address.
The IRS will issue your EIN immediately after you submit your application online. If you submit your application by mail, it could take up to four weeks.
How Much Does an EIN Cost and How Often Do You Need to Renew It?
The good news is that obtaining an EIN for your restaurant is completely free of charge. Additionally, EINs do not expire, so you do not need to renew them. However, if your business undergoes any major changes, such as a change in ownership or structure, you may need to apply for a new EIN.
It’s important to keep your EIN secure and use it for all tax-related purposes, as it helps protect your personal assets and ensures compliance with IRS regulations.
3. Certificate of Occupancy
This certificate is needed for most businesses, and it will provide your customers with confidence that they’ll be safe when eating at your restaurant premises. Here is everything you need to know about obtaining a certificate of occupancy for your new restaurant.
What Is a Certificate of Occupancy (CO), and Why Do You Need One?
A Certificate of Occupancy (CO) is a legal document that verifies:
- The quality of the building's construction and maintenance has passed the final building inspection.
- Your restaurant building complies with local building codes and zoning regulations.
- The building meets all local regulations for occupancy and use.
- The building structure of your restaurant is safe for customers and employees.
A CO is required by law before you can operate your restaurant in a commercial space. Without a CO, you risk fines and legal action and may be forced to shut down your business. Additionally, having a CO can help you establish credibility with customers and investors and increase the value of your property.
How to Obtain a CO for Your Restaurant
In your internet browser, search for your state + certificate of occupancy (for example, California certificate of occupancy) to determine the requirements for a CO. You should schedule a building inspection with your local government's building department to ensure your restaurant meets all safety codes.
Remember to prepare beforehand that you have all the required documentation needed to pass your final building inspection.
Some of the documents you will need to have ready are:
- Floor Plans
- Electrical and plumbing permits
- Proof of compliance with ADA requirements
Once your restaurant passes the inspection, you will be issued a Certificate of Occupancy.
How Much Does a CO Cost and How Often Do You Need to Renew It?
The cost and renewal requirements for a CO vary depending on the state and local jurisdiction of the restaurant location.
Here are some examples of CO costs and renewal requirements for restaurants in different states*:
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|New York City, NY||$500||Every Three Years|
|Los Angeles, CA||$132||Every Two Years|
|Houston, TX||$295||Not Required|
|Philadelphia, PA||$300||Every Year|
|Miami, FL||$50||Not Required (Unless structural changes are made)|
|Seattle, WA||$250||Every Three Years|
- The figures listed here may change over time. Check with your state for the latest costs to apply for a Certificate of Occupancy.
4. Food Services License
Safety and health regulations are important in the restaurant industry, and this is why you will have to obtain a food service license before opening your doors. It will show that your restaurant is up to code. Here is what you need to know about obtaining a food service license.
What Is a Food Service License, and Why Do You Need One?
A food service license is a legal permit required by state and local governments that allows your restaurant to prepare and serve food to the public. The license that your restaurant meets all safety and health regulations.
Here are some examples of food preparation, storage, and safety regulations that must be met before granting a food service license to operate a restaurant:
|Food preparation regulations||Food storage regulations||Food safety regulations|
|Chefs must cook all food to a safe temperature, monitoring the temperature as regularly as possible.||Store food at the appropriate temperature to prevent spoilage and growth of harmful bacteria.||Create a written food safety plan that outlines how food safety will be maintained and monitored.|
|Prior to engaging in food preparation or handling, employees should meticulously cleanse their hands using soap or cleansing agent.||Protect food in clean, covered containers to protect it from contamination.||Have a system in place to identify and recall any potentially contaminated food.|
|Give raw meat and poultry their own containers separate from other food.||Properly label food with the date of preparation and expiration, and discard older items.||Train employees on food safety practices and maintain records of this training.|
Without a food service license, you risk fines and legal action and may be forced to shut down your business. Additionally, having a food service license can establish trust with customers and investors and can help protect your business from liability in the event of foodborne illness or other safety violations.
How to Obtain a Food Service License for Your Restaurant
First, you need to apply for a Food Service License online from your respective city or county health department. When completing your application, you need to provide all of the following documents with your application:
- Floor plan
- Proof of insurance. We can help if you need restaurant insurance.
After receiving your application and all of the required documentation, the health department will contact you to schedule an inspection of your restaurant. If any deficiencies are found during the inspection, you will have to address them and then pay the licensing fee to obtain your food service license.
Finally, after receiving your food service license, you will get regular inspections from the local health department to ensure everything remains up to code.
How Much Does a Food Service License Cost, and How Often Do You Need to Renew It?
The state, county, and city where you locate your restaurant can all affect the cost of a food service license. Here are 10 examples of the cost of obtaining a food service license*:
|State||Cost per Year|
- Please note that these prices represent the average cost for a food service permit for the given state. To find the latest information on licensing and permit fees, check with the relevant local authorities.
5. Sign Permit
For most restaurants, the sign is the first thing that customers will see, and it will make a strong statement about your business. However, many people do not realize that you have to obtain a sign permit to put one up. Here is everything you need to know about obtaining a sign permit for your restaurant.
What Is a Sign Permit, and Why Do You Need One?
A sign permit is a document issued by the local government that allows you to install and display a sign for your business. The permit ensures that your sign is in compliance with local regulations and does not pose a safety hazard to the public.
Sign permits may also regulate any size, location, and design of your sign. Obtaining a sign permit is important to avoid fines and legal action from your local government.
Here are five examples of local regulations that must be met in order to obtain a sign permit for a restaurant:
1. Size Limitations: Local governments may regulate the size of signs that you can display for your restaurant, often based on the size of the building or the zoning of the area.
2. Placement Restrictions: There may be restrictions on where signs can be placed, such as setbacks from property lines, distance from street intersections, or minimum and maximum heights from the ground.
3. Illumination: Local regulations may require the signs to be illuminated in a certain way, such as using energy-efficient lighting or avoiding glare.
4. Design and Aesthetics: Some local governments may have regulations on the design of signs to ensure they fit in with the local aesthetic.
5. Safety Considerations: Check local safety requirements, such as signs must not pose a safety hazard to the public. For example, having sharp edges or protruding elements, or interfering with emergency exits.
How to Get a Sign Permit for Your Restaurant
Here are five examples of local governments in the US that stipulate processes and procedures that must be followed before approving a sign permit for an outdoor sign on a restaurant:
1. City of Houston, Texas: Restaurant owners must obtain a permit from the Houston Sign Administration, which uses the Houston Sign Code to regulate all signage in the metropolitan area. You can begin the process online. It involves creating a plot plan with complete details on the property and proposed signage. You'll also need an inspection, including by an electrician if your proposed sign has electrical components.
2. City of Chicago, Illinois: The Department of Buildings regulates the permit process. To get started, fill out the online application and pay a required zoning review fee. Next, submit a supplemental form with more details about your business and proposed sign. The Department of Buildings also requires hard copies of all the forms you've filled out online.
3. City of Seattle, Washington: You can begin the sign permit process via Seattle's official website and the Seattle Services Portal. Once you've completed the form and provided details about your sign plans, you'll receive an email notification regarding the approval status of your permit. Remember to schedule an inspection once your sign is finished, as it is a mandatory step in the permit process.
4. City of Miami, Florida: Miami has a standard permit application form that asks for detailed information about your plans for the sign. You'll need to include information such as size and electrical components of the sign. The Zoning, Building and Structural department reviews all plans to determine if they meet the city's regulations. You must submit two copies of your application — one marked "Office" and one marked "Job."
5. City of New Orleans, Louisiana: The New Orleans Department of Safety and Permits asks for a number of documents when you're applying for a sign permit. You'll need to fill out two separate applications, detail a plot plan, and create a sketch of your proposed sign. Sign permits for a restaurant in New Orleans typically take around 30 days for approval.
How Much Does a Sign Permit Cost, and How Often Do You Need to Renew It?
When obtaining your restaurant's sign permit, you need to know that the cost can vary based on the state, county, and city that your restaurant is located in. Here are a few examples of the costs and renewal information on sign permits*:
|State||Annual Sign Permit Cost|
|California||Varies (around $1,000)|
|Texas||$100 (average, subject to factors like sign size and location)|
|Florida||Approximately $500 (varies by county and city)|
|New York||$1,000 (typically valid for one year)|
|Illinois||Around $200 (annual)|
|Arizona||Around $300 per year|
- These prices represent an average cost to apply for a sign permit across most major cities in the given state. Check with your local government office to determine the specific cost for a sign permit in your state.
6. Building Health Permit
When dealing with food, it is imperative to ensure the building you purchase for your restaurant will pass a health inspection. There is a lot to make this happen. Below, you’ll find everything you need to know about obtaining and maintaining a building health permit for your new restaurant.
What Is a Building Health Permit, and Why Do You Need One?
A building health permit confirms that your restaurant complies with health and safety standards set by your local health department. It covers various aspects of your restaurant, such as food handling, sanitation, and employee hygiene.
Before attempting to get a health permit, make sure your building meets local sanitation regulations. Here are a few examples:
1. Cleanliness and Sanitation of the Facility: Messes attract bugs, rodents, and other pests. Keep them away with regular deep cleaning and proper sanitation measures to prevent the growth and spread of harmful bacteria and viruses.
2. Food Storage and Handling: Implement the proper procedures for storing and handling food, including using appropriate refrigeration temperatures, labeling food items correctly, and protecting food from contamination.
3. Employee Hygiene: All employees must maintain proper hygiene standards. This means regular hand washing, wearing appropriate clothing and protective gear, and not working while sick.
4. Food Preparation and Cooking: Using the proper equipment and thorough training can prevent potentially dangerous cross-contamination. Don't forget to check with workers to see if they're cooking food to the appropriate temperature to destroy harmful bacteria.
5. Waste Disposal: Restaurants generate a lot of waste on a daily basis, including food, trash, and old hazardous materials. Dispose all of this in a timely way that meets community standards. Follow all regulations for where to dispose of trash and how to handle the hazardous materials.
Obtain this permit and have it in place before your restaurant's big opening day. It's not just a promise of safety to your customers and staff; it also protects you from fines, penalties, and other legal repercussions.
How to Obtain a Building Health Permit for Your Restaurant
First, check if you need a Building Health Permit for your restaurant. Google your state + “building health permit” (for example, California building health permit).
If you do need one, contact your local health department for an application form and review the requirements, such as floor plans, etc.
Schedule an inspection of the building with the health department.
Make any necessary changes or improvements to meet the health department’s standards.
Pass the inspection to receive the building health permit.
Remember to renew your permit annually or as required by your local health department.
How Much Does a Building Health Permit Cost, and How Often Do You Need to Renew It?
A building health permit, also known as a health inspection permit, is required for restaurants to operate and ensure that they comply with health and safety regulations. The cost of a building health permit varies by state and local jurisdiction.
Here are six examples of costs for a building health permit in different states*:
|State||New Restaurant Health Permit Fee||Annual Renewal Cost|
|California (Los Angeles)||$231||$184 (every six months)|
|New York (New York City)||$280||$200|
|Illinois (Chicago)||$660||$660 (annual)|
- Please keep in mind that prices may change at any time. Be sure to check with the proper government office to ensure that you have the latest data.
Having a health permit doesn't prevent shutdowns. The health department can inspect anytime to ensure compliance. If violations are found, they can revoke the permit and close your restaurant.
7. Employee Health Permit
In the food industry, proper hygiene practices are crucial to running a quality restaurant, which is where an employee health permit or food handler’s card will come into play.
What Does an Employee Health Permit Do, and Why Do You Need One?
An employee health permit (also known as a Food Handler’s Permit) ensures that employees working in a food service establishment are healthy and not carrying any contagious diseases that could potentially be transmitted to customers through food.
Health permits typically require employees to undergo regular health checks and screenings, such as for tuberculosis and hepatitis A, and to report any symptoms of illness or exposure to communicable diseases.
The permit also ensures that food service workers are aware of basic food safety and hygiene practices to prevent foodborne illness. It is essential for restaurants to obtain an employee health permit to protect the health and safety of their customers.
How to Obtain an Employee Health Permit for Your Restaurant
There is no such thing as an “employee health permit” for a restaurant. However, some states or localities may require restaurant employees to obtain a Food Handler’s Card, which certifies that they have completed a food safety training course.
To obtain a Food Handler’s Card, employees can usually take an online or in-person training course and pass an exam. The cost and process vary depending on the state or locality. To find out how to get a Food Handler’s Card in your state, see our guide on Food Handler License Requirements.
How Much Does an Employee Health Permit Cost, and How Often Do You Need to Renew It?
The cost and renewal requirements for employee health permits vary depending on the state. Here are six examples*:
|State||Food Handler Card Cost||Renewal Frequency|
|California||$15 - $30||Every Three Years|
|Texas||$10 - $20||Every Two Years|
|Florida||$10||Every Three Years|
|New York||Around $25||Every Three Years|
|Illinois||Around $15||Every Three Years|
|Arizona||Around $15||Every Three Years|
- The above costs and renewal requirements are subject to change. Check with your local health department for the most up-to-date information.
Other Restaurant Permits and Licenses to Consider
After obtaining the above licenses and permits, there are a few others that you might wish to consider, depending on the tastes and style of your restaurant. Here, you will find a few additional licenses that might help you make your restaurant everything that you wish it to be.
1. Liquor License: What It Is, How to Obtain One, and How Much It Costs
A liquor license allows a restaurant to serve alcohol on the premises. Obtaining one requires an application to the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, proof of age verification, and payment of the application fee, which varies by state. The restaurant must also pass a background check, and in some states, there may be limits on the number of licenses available in a particular area.
Here are six examples of the costs of a liquor license for a restaurant in different states*:
|State||Liquor License Fee||Annual Renewal Fee|
|Texas||$5,300||$2,650 (Mixed Beverage Permit)|
|New York||Around $10,000||Around $4,300|
|Illinois||$750||$750 (Annual Renewal)|
|Nevada||Average $800 (Semi-annual)||-|
- The above costs to get a Liquor License may vary depending on your state and type of restaurant. Renewal requirements also vary by state, but generally, liquor licenses need to be renewed annually or bi-annually.
2. Music License: What It Is, How to Obtain One, and How Much It Costs
It is a legal requirement to obtain a music license in the United States if you plan to publicly play copyrighted music in your restaurant. This includes background music, live performances, and even music played on the radio.
Music licensing ensures that songwriters and music publishers are properly compensated for the use of their music.
To obtain a music license in the United States for your restaurant, you would need to contact one of the three performance rights organizations (PROs):
ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers)
BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.)
SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers)
These organizations are responsible for collecting royalties on behalf of their member songwriters, composers, and music publishers.
To apply for a music license, you can visit the website of the PRO that represents the majority of the music you plan to play.
The cost of a music license can vary depending on the size of your restaurant and the type of music being played. For example, ASCAP’s fees for restaurants with up to 3,500 square feet can cost $1,935 per year, while BMI’s fees for restaurants with up to 3,750 feet can cost up to $1,150 per year.
Contact your local PRO for more information.
3. Resale Permit: What It Is, How to Obtain One, and How Much It Costs
Resale permits are also known as sales tax permits, and they allow restaurants to collect sales tax on behalf of the state.
cost of a resale permit can vary depending on the state, but generally, it’s free or low-cost.
Renewal requirements also differ, but it’s typically required on an annual or biennial basis. Here are some examples of resale permit costs for restaurants in different states:
|State||Resale Permit Fee||Renewal Frequency|
|California||$0||Every Two Years|
|Texas||$0||Every Two Years|
|New York||$0||Every Two Years|
|Illinois||$0||Every Five Years|
4. Seller’s Permit: What It Is, How to Obtain One, and How Much It Costs
A seller’s permit, also known as a sales tax permit or resale permit, is required for restaurants to collect sales tax from customers on taxable goods and services. The cost of a seller’s permit varies from state to state and can cost $100 or more. Here are a few examples*:
California: Acquiring a seller's permit in California comes at no charge although certain businesses may incur additional fees depending on the nature of their goods.
Texas: Similarly, in Texas, obtaining a seller's permit is free of charge, but specific businesses may be required to provide a security deposit.
Florida: A seller's permit in Florida carries a fee of $5 and necessitates renewal every two years.
New York: In New York, there is a $50 fee associated with obtaining a seller's permit, which must be renewed every two years.
Pennsylvania: Acquiring a seller's permit in Pennsylvania incurs a cost of $10, requiring annual renewal.
Illinois: In Illinois, a seller's permit is priced at $75 for a five-year period, with renewal required every five years.
- It’s important to note that the cost and renewal frequency of a seller’s permit can vary not only by state but also by the type of business and the goods and services being sold. Restaurant owners should research the specific requirements in their state and ensure they are properly registered and licensed to collect sales tax.
5. Dumpster Placement Permit: What It Is, How to Obtain One, and How Much It Costs
A dumpster placement permit is a type of permit required by some cities and municipalities for businesses to place dumpsters or other waste containers on their property. The cost and renewal frequency of this permit can vary by location.
Here are some examples of the cost of dumpster placement permits in six different states*:
|State and City||Annual Fee||Renewal Fee|
|California - Los Angeles||$224||$44|
|New York - New York City||$150||No renewal fee|
|Texas - Houston||$100||No renewal fee|
|Florida - Miami||$128||$53|
|Illinois - Chicago||$500||No renewal fee|
|Arizona - Phoenix||$81||No renewal fee|
*The above fees and renewal frequencies are subject to change and may vary, depending on the specific city or municipality in which your restaurant is located. Check with your local government offices to determine exact requirements and costs for obtaining a dumpster placement permit for your restaurant.
6. Valet Parking Permit: What It Is, How to Obtain One, and How Much It Costs
A valet parking permit allows restaurants to operate a valet parking service for their customers. The cost of a valet parking permit and the renewal period can vary depending on the state and city in which the restaurant is located.
Here are six examples of costs in different states*:
|State||City||Initial Application Fee||Annual Renewal Fee|
|New York||New York City||$150||$75|
|Pennsylvania||Philadelphia||$1,250 per 20 linear feet||Yearly|
*Due to fluctuations in pricing, these figures might not be exact. Some cities or counties may also require additional fees or permits, such as a special event permit, for valet parking services. Check with local authorities to ensure compliance with all applicable regulations and requirements.
7. Pool Table Permit: What It Is, How to Obtain One, and How Much It Costs
A pool table permit is a license that allows an establishment to operate one or more pool tables on its premises. The cost of a pool table permit and the renewal frequency varies depending on state and local regulations. In some states, the permit fee is a one-time payment, while in others it needs to be renewed.
Here are six examples of costs and renewal periods for pool table permits in different states*:
|State||Pool Table Permit Cost||Renewal Frequency|
|New York||$340||Every Two Years|
- These fees and renewal periods may vary within each state. They represent an average of prices that you can expect to pay. Check with the relevant authorities to confirm the exact cost and renewal frequency for a pool table permit in your specific location.
FREE Resources for Restaurant Owners
- Business License: Register your business – typically with your home state – and apply for a business license at the local city or county level. Research the specific requirements for your area.
- Employer Identification Number (EIN): Visit the official IRS website to fill out a short application for a business EIN. Provide your details and keep the EIN secure for tax-related purposes.
- Certificate of Occupancy (CO): Check your state's occupancy permit requirements. Schedule a building inspection, prepare the required documents, and obtain the CO after passing the inspection.
- Food Service License: Apply for a food service license from the city or county health department. Submit documents such as your menu, floor plan, and proof of insurance. Address any deficiencies found during inspections, pay the licensing fee, and expect regular inspections from the health department.
- Sign Permit: Understand local regulations regarding signs and obtain a sign permit by following the processes outlined by the local government.
Building Health Permit and Food Handlers Permit: These two help ensure the health and safety of customers while they dine in your establishment.
Other permits: These may include those for music, alcohol, dumpster placement, and valet service, depending on your venue. Special circumstances apply to coffee shops, bars and food trucks.