While the hospitality side of running a restaurant is arguably the most rewarding, the regulation side of business ensures you can continue doing what you love. Obtaining licenses for restaurants is a critical part of operating your business. However, staying on top of all the licenses and permits needed to open a restaurant can be overwhelming. We’re simplifying things by compiling 19 licenses, permits, and certificates you need to operate a restaurant in the United States.
You’ll learn which business licenses for restaurants you’ll need, how to get them and how much they cost. Because costs can vary greatly from state to state and city to city, we’re sharing examples of fees from around the country.
Note: This article does not contain legal advice. Consult your legal counsel for the latest business regulations.
1. Business name registration
Claim your business name by filing a DBA (“Doing Business As”), Fictitious Business Name Statement or applying for an Assumed Name Certificate. You’ll have to choose a name that isn’t already in use in your state.
How to get it: Conduct an online search for “How to file a DBA in [your state or municipality].” Most DBAs come with an advertising requirement, meaning you’ll need to advertise your new business in a newspaper.
2. Business entity registration
You’ll also need to decide your business structure (LLC, partnership, corporation) and then register your business.
How to get it: Business registration typically goes through your state’s state department. Search “business entity registration [your state]” or “how to form a [LLC, partnership, corporation] in [your state]” online.
Registration requirements may include filing articles of organization, an operating agreement and/or bylaws.
3. Restaurant business license
Depending on the state in which you run your business, you may also need a restaurant business license or certificate to finalize the registration process.
How to get it: Search for your state or city and “restaurant business license” online to find your local requirements. This license for restaurants typically needs to be notarized.
4. Employer Identification Number (EIN)
You’ll need to register your business with the federal government and obtain an employer identification number. An EIN is the equivalent of a Social Security Number for your business.
How to get it: You can apply for an EIN via the IRS’ website or via fax, mail or telephone.
5. Food service license
Next up on the list of business licenses and permits needed to open a restaurant is a food service license, which lets you legally serve food. It usually also registers you with the health department for health inspections.
How to get it: Search “food service license in [your state or municipality]” online to find your requirements. Most applications will ask for information about business operations, water and sewer, zoning and construction.
6. Building health permit
Some states and cities also require a building health permit in addition to a food service license in order to get them in the system to receive health inspections.
How to get it: Look up your state or city and “restaurant health inspection” or “building health permit” online for local instructions. This process usually goes through the local health department.
7. Employee health permit
In most states, anyone who handles food needs an employee health permit, also known as a food handler’s permit
How to get it: Employees who handle food must take a course (available online) that teaches proper hygiene for handling and storing food to keep customers and staff safe. Most states conduct training and certification through ServSafe.
Fees: $15 per employee
8. Certificate of occupancy
A certificate of occupancy lets you legally occupy the space from which you run your business, and certifies that it’s a safe space.
How to get it: Look up your state or municipality and “certificate of occupancy” online. The process typically involves having a building inspection.
9. Seller’s permit
Also known as a “sales and use tax permit” or a “restaurant sales tax permit,” this critical business license for restaurants lets your business collect sales tax
How to get it: Search your state, county or city and “seller’s permit” or “sales tax permit” online to find out how to apply. You’ll usually need to go through your state comptroller’s office or state department.
10. Resale permit
Next on our list of licenses and permits needed to open a restaurant is a resale permit. A resale permit lets you purchase untaxed food at wholesale prices and sell it taxed at your restaurant.
How to get it: Search online for your state or municipality and “resale permit,” “resale license,” or “reseller’s certificate” for instructions.
11. Liquor license
A liquor license lets you legally serve alcohol in your establishment. Liquor license laws vary greatly from state to state.
How to get it: Search for your state, municipality or city and “liquor license” online.
12. Live entertainment permit
If you want to host live entertainment, such as musical performances or dance performances at your restaurant, you’ll need permission via a live entertainment permit.
And, if you plan on selling tickets to events, consider getting a solution that lets you sell tickets integrated with your guest database to reduce admin work.
How to get it: Look up your municipality and “live entertainment permit” online for instructions. Oftentimes you’ll need to show proof of a liquor license to qualify for an entertainment permit.
13. Music license
You’ll need a commercial license to legally stream other people’s music in your business.
How to get it: While you can obtain licenses yourself, this process is costly and a bureaucratic nightmare. Alternatively, you can use a streaming service that makes it easy, like Soundtrack Your Brand from Spotify.
Fees: $35 per month
14. Pool table license
It’s a little known fact that you need a pool table license to operate billiard tables in your venue in most states. Some permits restrict how many pool tables you can have and when they can be used.
How to get it: Search “pool table license” and your state or municipality online for instructions.
15. Sign permit
You may need permission to hang a sign outside of your restaurant. A sign permit provides regulations for the size and placement of signs outside of your venue.
How to get it: Search your area’s name and “sign permit” online. In some cases your local or state government may need to approve your sign’s design and you may need to use a designated vendor to create and install it.
16. Dumpster placement permit
This permit allows you to place your dumpster outside of your restaurant.
How to get it: Look up “dumpster placement permit” and your state or city’s name online for instructions.
17. Valet parking permit
Next on this roundup of licenses and permits needed to open a restaurant is a valet parking permit, which you’ll need if you want to offer guests valet parking.
How to get it: Look up “valet parking permit” and your state or municipality’s name.
- Los Angeles: $427 application fee + $660 valet parking sign installation
18. Food truck permit
If you’re running a mobile food business, you’ll likely need a food truck permit or mobile food vending license. Many cities place limits on how many food trucks licenses they give out and only allow food trucks to park and vend in specific areas.
How to get it: Search your municipality or state and “food truck permit” online for application details.
19. Sidewalk cafe permit
This permit lets you expand your dining room to the sidewalk (and sometimes the street) outside of your restaurant. This license for restaurants gained popularity because of COVID-19, when many restaurants could only operate safely outdoors.
How to get it: Search for your city, state or town and “sidewalk cafe permit” online to find out how to obtain one.
Wrapping up: 19 licenses for restaurants
As you can see, there are many regulations, licenses and permits needed to open a restaurant. Some are more relevant depending on the type of hospitality business you run and may cost more money than you think. Budget for these permits, like you would for front-of-house technology costs and operating expenses.
Obtaining permits is complicated, but SevenRooms makes running your restaurant easy. Book a demo today.
Licenses for restaurants FAQs
1. What does it mean for a restaurant to be licensed?
A restaurant business license is a permit issued by the government that allows an individual or company to legally conduct business in a specific geographical jurisdiction.
2. Which licenses do you need to run a restaurant in the US?
You need a number of licenses and regulations to run a restaurant in the US, including a food service license, building health permit, liquor license, live entertainment license, sign permit, sidewalk cafe permit, certificate of occupancy and others.