Opening your own restaurant requires a lot more than just a good theme and some tasty food. Every area differs in the requirements, but all parts of the country require multiple permits, licenses, and other paperwork to prove you're ready to become a restaurant entrepreneur.
Unprepared restaurant owners can put people at risk by serving undercooked or unsafely handled food, so these licenses and permits help protect the public. Most areas don't have strict restaurant owner education requirements. However, getting a culinary degree is the best way to prepare yourself for restaurant ownership.
A culinary degree with a focus on restaurant management will prepare you for getting all the necessary permits and licenses in the area you want to open a new restaurant.
What are the Requirements to Open a Restaurant?
Even opening a food truck or stand requires a health and safety permit. For restaurants with fixed locations, the process starts with zoning. Not all properties allow for the opening of a restaurant business.
Many counties have specific property zones that allow for restaurants and similar businesses to keep them limited to a certain part of the city or rural area. This is usually determined by the availability of water and sewage connections since it's hard to run a restaurant with a well and septic system.
Once you've located a property that is zoned for restaurant use, you'll need building permits if you plan to construct a brand-new structure. It's much easier to rent or purchase a building that has already housed a restaurant, or at least start with a building that is ready for renovations and has plenty of space for a kitchen.
Getting Your Business License to Open a Restaurant
Once the physical considerations are out of the way, you'll need a business license issued by the city, county, or municipality where you're located. You may need multiple business licenses if the state also requires one. If you can't figure out who should be issuing this license, check with the U.S. Small Business Administration for guidance. All businesses require these licenses, not just restaurants.
The next requirement that is unique to food-serving establishments is the food service license. Your local health department handles this one, and it's where routine surprise health inspections arise from as well. The food service license ensures you and your staff understand safety protocols and follow them when preparing food for the public.
Like all restaurant licenses and permits, cost can range from a mere $100 to over $1,000 for this step alone. Your restaurant management degree will definitely come in handy because as part of your training you'll learn the safety techniques necessary to satisfy the health department's requirements.
What Other Licenses and Permits Do You Still Need for Your Restaurant?
In some areas, you're done after securing a food service license, business license, and proper permits for your property. But many counties and cities have more licenses for you to pursue to run a full-service restaurant.
Consider how important serving alcohol is to your restaurant concept. If it’s a family-friendly establishment you may not need this license at all. But if you want to attract a wider range of customers, you’ll need to at least serve beer and wine. Make sure you aren't living in a "dry" county that prohibits all alcohol sales before dreaming up a restaurant business that will require alcohol sales.
Liquor licenses tend to be the most difficult and expensive permits to secure for a new business. Depending on state and county requirements, you may be limited in who you can hire or how you can layout your dining area in order to qualify. Check on this license early in the planning stages of your new business to make sure your plans all fit around the exact specifications of your local Alcohol Beverage Control board.
Most states also require a food handler's permit for all or some of your kitchen employees. Your state may only require one employee per shift to have a permit, or they may state that anyone preparing food in the kitchen must carry certification. These permits are handled separately from the general food safety license issued by the health department. Some culinary institutes may offer a short food handler's course for your future employees, or you can turn to one of the many well-known national training programs like ServSafe.
Finally, there are a handful of miscellaneous permits you may or may not need depending on the laws of your specific area. These permits include:
- Permission to set up signs and other forms of advertising outside your restaurant to draw in foot and vehicle traffic
- Grease trap permits to prove you're not releasing food particles and grease into the sewage system
- Certificate of Occupancy from the fire authority to determine how many diners you can serve at a time
- Music licenses so you can play radio stations or songs from certain artists without incurring heavy penalty fees.
Develop your Skills as a Restauranteur
As you can see, opening a restaurant requires a lot of paperwork. If you’re looking for a culinary training program that will train you both inside and outside of the kitchen, and set you up for success in the restaurant industry, than a culinary program from the Oregon Culinary Institute may be just the thing to develop your skills as a restaurant entrepreneur.