food service licenses

A Complete Guide to Food Service Licenses You Need to – Know Before Launching Your Restaurant


There is no shortcut or simple process to launching a new restaurant. You may have the next big idea for your restaurant, but it takes consistent effort and a detailed plan to bring that unique idea to fruition. Whether you’re scouting a location for your new restaurant or drafting a detailed business plan, you’ll have to get specific food service licenses to operate in the food and service industry.

What Makes Up a Food and Service License?

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If you’re a new restaurant owner, working hard on planning your marketing strategies, you’ve probably thought “What licenses do I need to start my restaurant?” Well, you’ll need to get different licenses, and ultimately, it comes down to the kind of food service business you plan to run.

Remember that general operating business licenses are separate from licenses that tie together with food and drinks. In any case, don’t generalize licenses and permits, and don’t expect to get all of them overnight. The more you understand the process of getting food and service licenses, the sooner you’ll be able to launch your restaurant.

Essential Food Service Licenses to Get Before a New Restaurant’s Opening

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Getting essential food service licenses and taking care of the paperwork is part of the process. As a restaurant owner, you should look at each food service license and get it approved before your restaurant’s launch date. It takes one Google search to realize you’ll need more than a few licenses to start a restaurant.

But to help you simplify your choices, let’s break down the essential food service licenses you should be aware of before launching your restaurant.

  • Employee Identification Number

If you want to conduct tax-based business operations in compliance with the IRS, make sure to get an Employee Identification Number or EIN. Understand that only the IRS can issue you an EIN. You will also need to take care of the EIN paperwork before starting a new restaurant.

  • Business License

Without a business license, you cannot operate your restaurant legally. Whether you’re planning to start a small or a big restaurant, you’ll need to get a business license. Remember, this type of license doesn’t relate to a standard food and service license. Depending on state-specific tax laws, you’ll need a state and federal license for your business.

  • Certificate of Occupancy

Once the inspection of your restaurant’s building is complete, you’ll get a certificate of occupancy from your local jurisdiction. Getting this certificate ensures the building where you plan to conduct restaurant operations is safe for employees, management, and customers.

  • Workers’ Compensation

Worker’s compensation protects employees if they get hurt or injured while on the job. But each state has its labor laws. So, make sure to check out your state’s specific labor laws and get familiar with federal-level labor laws simultaneously.

  • Seller’s Permit and Sales Tax Vendor Registration

A seller’s permit is famous as a sales tax registration for vendors and a certificate of authority. With this permit, you can collect tax on all prepared food. Local state regulations determine the license’s name. In short, remember that a resale permit allows you to buy unprepared wholesale food, whereas a seller’s permit allows you to collect food tax.

  • Sign Permit and Resale Permit

As a restaurant owner, you cannot use any signage for display for your new restaurant. In fact, you’ll have to follow the rules about sign placement, materials, lighting, and size carefully.

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Get in touch with your building’s landlord and learn about local jurisdiction rules before you finalize a design and ensure your sign doesn’t violate local regulations.

Similarly, the food you prepare and serve requires sales tax collection. This is where a resale license or permit comes into play. It allows you to make taxable and non-taxable purchases.

  • Food Service License

A food service license is the main operational license you’ll need to get for your new restaurant establishment. You will also need special licenses related to the food service landscape you plan to operate. A food service license gives you a legal ticket to non-alcoholic drinks and food.

Local health departments grant food service licenses to ensure restaurants comply with current food and safety regulations. But unlike most licenses, you’ll have to maintain high standards around your restaurant to keep this license.

Expect more than one visit from the local health department for inspection. As long as you follow the local health body’s rules and regulations, you don’t have to worry about your license getting revoked.

  • Liquor License

If you plan to serve alcoholic drinks in your new restaurant, you’ll have to get a liquor license before the launch. But unlike most food service licenses and permits, it takes more time to get a liquor license.

For instance, you’ll need one license to serve wine and beer, and a different license to serve and sell liquor drinks. Getting a license to serve wine and beer is easier than acquiring a standard liquor license. And that’s because a liquor license requires restaurants to get approval from the liquor control board of the local government.

  • Special Event Permit

Today, many restaurants sell goods and serve food and beverages to customers at the same time. If you’re planning to sell various products, make sure to get a special event permit. Since each state has different requirements, get familiar with new requirements to get a special event permit quickly. You can reach out to your state’s health department to learn specific information that ordinarily may not be available online.

  • Music License

If you want to play any type of music in your restaurant, you’ll first have to get a music license. A music license requires paying a nominal fee to play music in a restaurant. The only exceptions include playing TV for customers in the restaurant.

  • Live Entertainment License

If you want to host music performances by independent or professional musicians, you will need to get special licenses to support different kinds of entertainment events. Whether you want to host a play or a music concert, you’ll need to get a separate license on top of a standard music license. You can get public performance licenses from ASCAPSESAC, and GMR platforms.

  • Health Permit of Building

You’ll need a health permit for your building from the local health department. All states require a building health permit from the health department.

The local health department inspects and verifies the building where you plan to launch a new restaurant. Local health body checks whether or not the building environment and structure is fit to prepare and serve food and beverages.

  • Health Permit of Employees

Like a health permit for your building, you’ll also need to get a health permit for your staff. Most states require restaurant establishments to get a licensing course of food handler certification. It points to the individuals involved in preparing, producing, and packaging food throughout the in-house operations.

While you don’t have to get a health permit for every single employee, it is better to certify all your restaurant staff. Follow the lead of the best restaurants and educate your new staff about how to handle food properly and use different techniques to store food.  

  • Specialized Food Service Licenses

Each restaurant is unique in its own right and depending on the operations – you may have to get special licenses and permits. For instance, if you plan to run promotional events outside your restaurant location, you’ll have to get a temporary service license to ensure food safety.

You may have noticed restaurants and food vendors often run food trucks to promote a new line of products. It requires getting a mobile food vendor and restaurant license. Even if you plan to run restaurant operations solely from the original location, you’ll need to get fixed food and service license.

  • Recycling and Waste Removal

That’s right – you can’t just throw away waste outside the restaurant premises. You’ll need to get a license for a garbage receptacle on your restaurant premises.

A recycling and waste removal license allows you to put your garbage dumpster outside your restaurant building. Make sure to wait for the state to issue a waste license so that you can legally dispose of oil, food, and other waste materials outside your restaurant premises.


Every new restaurant goes through the process of sorting and applying for various operational and food service licenses. Once you’re aware of the food service licenses and permits you’ll need to obtain before the restaurant’s launch, you won’t have to deal with unexpected uncertainties or legal regulators calling your after you open your doors. 

Whether you want to launch a new restaurant and serve alcohol or operate as a food vendor, don’t expect to obtain everything you need to start overnight. You’ll have to be realistic and take strategic and precautionary measures like getting operational and safety licenses in order to get started. It is important to make sure you have a detailed checklist to ensure you are compliant with state laws before opening a food service business.

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