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What is Required for a Restaurant or Cafe to Legally Serve Food?

If you are planning to open a restaurant or a café, you have to be ready for a relatively complicated process before you can legally serve food. You will, of course, start with an idea, find an ideal restaurant location, source financing, and then get all the necessary licenses. 

The whole process of opening a restaurant or café will involve quite a lot of paperwork and time. But worry not, as this guide is meant to fill you in on what you need before setting up shop so you can make everything less overwhelming. 

Food Service License

The legal standards for getting food service licenses are set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but enforced by state health departments. That means the standards can sometimes vary slightly from one state to another.

However, the typical process of acquiring a license will involve making an application online and paying a fee of between $100 to $1000, depending on the restaurant’s capacity. After the application, health department personnel will come to the location for inspection, after which you will get approval if your restaurant meets the threshold. 

Business License

A business license is a requirement irrespective of the type of business you intend to run. You can choose to apply for a business permit online or visit the city hall if you are unsure how the process runs. 

Often the application process involves paying the permit fees, which can vary widely based on state. Also, the licensing fee can vary based on your restaurant’s address which means similar establishments can pay different fees even when they are in one state. A business license is renewable every year.

Employer Identification Number (EIN)

All businesses must obtain an EIN before they can hire their first employee. It is practically impossible to run a restaurant without having employees, meaning you will need an EIN.

The employee identification number is applied online by visiting the IRS website, and it is free. After an application, you get your EIN immediately, but it can take up to four weeks before you can get the physical copy by mail.

Food Handler’s Permit

The food handler’s permit is also known as an employee health permit. All employees involved in the handling of food must have one. To receive the permit, the applicant must complete a food handler course approved by their state and pay a fee of between $100 to $500.

The food handler course focuses on proper sanitation practices, food storage and handling, and ways of eliminating the chances of spreading food-borne diseases. To learn more about a food handler’s permit, you may need to google your state’s food handler’s requirements or visit your state’s health department offices. 

Music License

If you intend to play some music in your restaurant, you will need a license. Having a music license in your restaurant allows you to play any music without copyright infringement. A music license covers all types of music, whether played live, from a CD, or on a streaming service.

You can obtain a music license through the ASCAP or BMI. The cost of the music license can vary based on: 

  • Whether the music is live or recorded
  • Whether the music is audio-only or is audiovisual
  • The number of days in a week or month you intend to play the music
  • Whether or not there are admission fees to your establishment

Other Licenses

Besides the listed licenses, you may also need to have:

  • A sales tax permit
  • Valet parking permit
  • Building health permit
  • Dumpster permit

Other permits that are state-specific or dependent on any additions to the services you intend to offer in the restaurants may also be applicable, so you may want to visit the city hall for clarification.