Licenses and Permits for the Food Businesses




Find out which permits you need for your restaurant or catering service

Food businesses -- whether restaurants, catering businesses or food carts -- require several licenses and permits to operate. The licenses and permits must be obtained before the food facility opens for business. Each city, county and state has its own licensing and permitting requirements. The following lists the most commonly required licenses and permits.



Every food business must get a business license to operate. Depending on the city and state, and type of business, the business may be charged a percentage of its gross sales or a yearly fee, along with the license fee.



Business owners need to apply for a seller’s permit with their state so they can purchase food and other goods at wholesale prices without paying sales tax.



Food establishments that operate inside a building are required to obtain a building license with the city or county. An inspection by the fire department, environmental safety board or other safety organization may be required before the license is issued.



All food businesses must get a county and sometimes state permit to operate. Health permits for businesses are obtained at the local health department. The business must have a business license before it can apply for a health permit. The health department will perform regular health inspections of the food facility to ensure the business is following health regulations.



Some cities and states require one or more employees at a food facility to get a food handler’s permit. The city or state may require one or more employees to take a food safety class before the permit is issued. It is a wise idea and sometimes required that a person with a valid food handler’s permit be on the business premises at all times during open business hours. Because of this, it is a good idea to have multiple employees obtain a food handler’s permit.



Before hanging a sign in front of a business, a sign permit must be granted by the city or county. Cities and counties usually have restrictions on the size, shape and location of business signs.



If a business wants to sell alcoholic beverages, it must get an alcohol beverage license from the county alcohol beverage control board. Beer and wine licenses are easier to get; hard liquor licenses are more difficult. Some areas limit how many businesses can sell hard liquor in a particular area. If there are already too many hard liquor licenses in the area, a business owner can try to purchase a hard liquor license from another business. Most alcohol beverage license boards will not issue a liquor license to a business owner who has a past felony record.



Businesses that want to play copyrighted music in the restaurant must obtain a music license. Businesses that play copyrighted music without a music license can receive heavy fines. The three main music clearinghouses that issue music licenses are BMIASCAP and SESAC. Each music clearinghouse owns the rights to different songs. Getting a music license with all three major clearinghouses can reduce a businesses risk of being fined.



It is important to meet all the regulatory requirements for your business to avoid costly fines and business closures. Each city, county and state has its own licensing and permitting requirements. Business owners can search for the specific business license and permit requirements in their area at the U.S. Small Business Administration website.