restaurant food service staff

To officially become a restaurant owner, you’ve got to get some restaurant licenses and permits out of the way. That is if you want to avoid fines. While the requirements and laws vary slightly depending on where you’re going to open your doors for business, most states have a similar list of applications to go through. One of which for restaurant owners is a food service license.

When your to-do list is already overflowing with menu ideas to test, soft restaurant grand opening marketing promotions to launch, and an eager staff to train, how to get a food service license likely isn’t the most exciting item to check off.

Here’s everything you need to know about how to get a food service license.

What is a food service license?

You need a food service license if your business serves food. As a restaurant owner, this is obvious. But in many states, the type of license(s) you need depend on the type of restaurant you have. For example, dine-in restaurants might be licensed by the number of seats they have. Take out or food trucks still need a food service license, but it might be called a food vendor’s license instead.

restaurant owners talking

How to get a food service license

So not to overcomplicate things (whoever said that about licenses and permits, huh?) you’ll want to start by reviewing the food vendor’s application requirements for your specific state with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

You can obtain a food service license application from your local health department, either online or in person.

In general, here’s what you can expect the application process to look like:

restaurant licensing and permits guide cover

When all is said and done, to obtain even just one of the proper licenses and permits can cost as much as 10,000 dollars. Luckily, the only resource you’ll need to open your doors with the right licenses and permits is here.

Get The Guide
  • You will fill out the application and submit it. Be prepared to supply information like the name of your restaurant, an address for a permanent kitchen (even if you’re registering a food truck), and owner’s personal information. You’ll also pay a fee.
  • The health department will make an in-person visit to your restaurant. This is the make sure you are in accordance with all of the restaurant Food Safety Regulations. These vary by state and you can review them here.
  • Once your Food Service License is approved and obtained, the local health department will continue to make regular visits to inspect your restaurant. Remember: If you fail an inspection, you could risk losing your food service license. Pay attention to those food safety regulations.

What does a food service license cost?

Food service license fees are often based on the classification and size (number of seats or units) of the restaurant, as well as where it is located. It may also vary based on the number of employees as well. It is best to check with your local health department.

The cost can range from $100 to $1,000.

You need a food service license if your business serves food.

Food service license renewal application requirements

Depending on where your restaurant is located, your food service license may expire automatically. It is important to pay attention to the food service renewal application requirements.  

A good rule of thumb around new applications is if something changes about your establishment, your license needs to be renewed.

A new application form must be filled out for:

  • New establishments
  • Change of ownership
  • Change in physical location of establishment
  • Change of license type
Now you’ve got a food service license out of the way. Great! Have you gotten all of your other restaurant licenses and permits squared away, too?

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In a perfect world, Theresa would spend her days reading good books and writing all the time... and she'd own all the shoes her heart desired. When she's not on the hunt for shoes, you can find this Rhode Island transplant on the hunt for food that comes close to "Long Island". Her favorite? Caffe Dolce Vita in Providence's historic Federal Hill.