Restaurant license requirements

Written by lee morgan
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Restaurant license requirements
Several licenses and permits are required to open a restaurant. (restaurant image by Dmitry Nikolaev from

Opening a restaurant requires a lot of groundwork. Planning, market research, construction, hiring, training, equipment purchase and even menu design happen before the opening date is revealed, in many cases. The restaurant still can't legally open without acquiring some very important paperwork. Depending on local laws and codes, a restaurant may need several licenses and permits to open the doors.

Business License

Opening a restaurant is like other businesses when it comes to acquiring a business license. The license is mandatory for businesses operating within certain counties or cities. It's easy to obtain and usually only requires a visit to a local government building to pay a fee and fill out some general paperwork. The license is usually renewed each year and must be displayed inside the restaurant. It allows local government officials to easily identify your business for tax purposes.

Health Department

One of the most important documents you'll need is a health inspection certificate. This certificate acts as your license to legally operate a food service establishment in the state. A state health inspector will check for cleanliness, equipment functionality and other requirements to ensure you can serve safe food to the public. The existence of dirty conditions, nonworking cooling or hygiene systems, rodents or other factors will lower your score and delay your opening. These inspections are always done prior to opening and on random dates after opening.

Fire Safety

For safety purposes, a restaurant must have a fire safety inspection. A fire marshal typically performs the inspection and checks for fire extinguishers, properly placed exit signs and maximum capacity limits. If you have gas-burning cooking equipment or certain other kitchen equipment, the inspection may also include a vent hood inspection and a fire suppression system test. A successful inspection certifies the restaurant to open under local fire laws.

Alcohol Sales

While not necessary for many restaurants, any establishment that will serve beer, wine or liquor must obtain a license to sell alcohol. This license can be costly in many states. Since alcohol sales increase a restaurant's chance of success, buying a license is worthwhile to the business owner. The state's alcoholic beverage commission or similar body collects money for the license and may require testing for restaurant staff serving alcohol.

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