To become a restaurant owner is not as simple as great food and drinks. It’s actually a whole lot of paperwork to get started.

Restaurant regulations and permits vary from state to state, but one thing is the same no matter where you live: if you want to start a restaurant, you’ve got to get some licenses out of the way or risk penalties.

Here are some of the restaurant licenses and permits you’ll need.

Business License

To open a restaurant, even before you have a restaurant business plan fully flushed out, you’ll want to obtain a business license. This license gives you permission to operate your restaurant. Depending on where you live, the process for how to get a business license differs. The business license cost, however, is around $50 for the application. Depending on your state, other costs vary from as much as $25 to $7,000.

restaurant manager and chef looking at licenses

Food Service License

Food service licenses are issued by your health department – which means they’ll also vary depending on where you’re located. They also will require an in-person visit from the health department. They’ll be ensuring you are in accordance with restaurant food safety regulations – and they’ll be back to check in on that from time to time, too. The process for how to get a food service license is pretty simple: you can apply online with the name and location of your restaurant.

Liquor License

Your food service license won’t cover the liquor you intend to serve at the bar – and no amount of bartender tricks will change that. You’ll want to start this process early if you intend to serve alcohol as liquor licensing authorities usually have various levels of licenses you can apply for. The type of license you obtain will be determined by the type of liquor you intend to sell as well as where you are located.

waitress tying on her apron

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Food Handler’s Permit

There are a wide array of restaurant labor laws you’ll have to follow, but an important first step is an employee health permit. This is a legal necessity. This permit ensures your restaurant meets very important regulations for food sanitation, storage, protection, and preparation. On top of this, your workers will also need to obtain a permit to ensure they’ve completed a food safety certification. This is another one you’ll want to start the process for early.

restaurant employees working in a kitchen

Employer Identification Number (EIN)

While we’re on the subject of employees, you’ll also need an employee identification number. This is assigned by the IRS. It’s basically a tax ID number. Fun fact, the IRS only issues one EIN per day. You can apply online to get an EIN and it’s free – so that’s the silver lining.

Sign Permit

Before you put up your carefully designed restaurant sign, you’ll need a permit. Sizing, location and all that is determined by your city.

Now that you’ve got all of that under control, why not think about the fun stuff like restaurant menu design and your restaurant decor ideas.

Written by
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.