If you’re reading this section before you’ve taken most of the preliminary steps to open your restaurant – congratulations! You’re informing yourself at the optimal time to prevent delays to your opening day.
Waiting for restaurant business licenses and permits is a common reason why new restaurants have to postpone opening their doors. You haven’t seen red tape until you’ve applied for all the licenses and permits for a restaurant.
But don’t worry – you’re in the right place to see the light at the end of the “bureaucratic tunnel”. In this section, we’ll unravel the mysteries of applying for restaurant permits and licenses by clarifying:
How to determine which licenses and permits you’ll need
Where to look for applications
What you need to apply
How much they cost
Keep in mind, if you’re working with a restaurant consultant, an architect, or a contractor, you should ask them to help you apply for permits and licenses. You won’t want to navigate this process alone if you can help it, so make sure to get a pro involved if the option is available to you.
What Licenses and Permits are Needed for a Restaurant
What licenses and permits are needed for a restaurant will depend on many variables.
A full-service restaurant with a patio will need different permits than an after-hours club that wants to stay open past last call. Or if you’re leasing a location that needs a complete overhaul on its interior, you’ll need to secure building permits you wouldn’t need if you had found a ready-made space.
Due to the varied cost and requirements involved in obtaining restaurants licenses and permits, many city offices have created tools to guide business owners through the process of finding out what they need before they move forward with applications. Whether online, on the phone, or in person, city officials will ask a series of questions about the following details of your business:
Size and legal structure
The space you’re leasing or buying
The activities that will take place at your business
Even if you don’t have all of the answers to every question, provide as much information as you can so you can start early. It’s not uncommon for a full or quick service operation to need upwards of 30 restaurant license and permits, so the sooner you know what you’re in for, the better.
New York City
If you’re opening a restaurant in New York City, you’re in luck. The city website offers a starter guide for small businesses, which houses an intuitive online questionnaire meant to assess your personal licensing needs.
Sign up for an account and click on “Start a Business”. You’ll be presented with a 10-minute questionnaire that you can either finish all at once or save your answers and come back to later after you have all of the information. You can also finish the questionnaire based on what you know so you can get started, and then change your answers once you learn more about your business.
As an example, we ran through the process for an independent incorporated restaurant that serves alcohol. We assumed the restaurant will be in a leased permanent space with a patio, and it needs renovations.
Based on our answers about this restaurant, these would be the permits and licenses needed, in addition to compliance regulations that must be abided. The requirements are categorized by creating your business, preparing to open, open and operating, and regulations.
Create your business
Employer Identification Number (EIN)
Prepare to open
Certificate of Occupancy Buildings
Gas Authorization–Restaurant Equipment
Grease Interceptor Information
Portable Fire Extinguisher Requirements
Range Hoods for Restaurants and Cafeterias
Food Protection Certificate
Food Service Establishment Permit
Resuscitation Equipment for Restaurants
Recycling and Waste Removal
Required Posters and Signs for Restaurants
Milk Dealer License
Unemployment Insurance Labor
Sales Tax Vendor Registration (Certificate of Authority)
Employee Disability Coverage
Alcohol Dealer Registration
Open and operate
Sidewalk Cafe License
Information About Pest Control
Canopy Permit Transportation
CityRacks Program Transportation
Commercial Vehicle Parking Information Transportation
Parking, Standing, and Stopping Rules for Commercial Vehicles
Commercial Vehicle Registration
Required Equipment for Commercial Vehicles
Workers’ Compensation Insurance
Special Occupation Tax Registration
Comply with regulations
Application for Approval of Backflow Prevention Devices
Required for the additional privilege to remain open and permit the sale of alcoholic liquor until 4:00 a.m., Monday-Saturday, and until 5:00 a.m. on Sunday.
You’ll also want to complete this list of forms, especially the Restaurant Start-Up Worksheet, which you’ll need to print, fill out, and take to the City of Chicago office. A completed Restaurant Start-up Worksheet will help a business consultant determine which licenses you need.
Limited-service restaurants: fast food restaurants, coffee shops
Mobile food concession, cart or truck
Retail and commercial bakeries
Bars, pubs, and other drinking places
All new restaurants must be registered with their state or province, and the guidelines vary depending on the type of business you’re opening: a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, etc.
Visit your city’s license center online; a quick Google search of your city name plus “business license” should bring up a government website with a thorough breakdown of each business type, how you can register, and access to the forms you’ll need to complete.
When you’re registering your business, investigate two costs: up-front registration fees and annual renewal fees. Some cities require restaurants to pay a flat yearly fee, while others require payment of a percentage of sales.
New York City
To register your business in New York City, you’ll need to review this guide and file for a business certificate at your county clerk’s office in Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, or Staten Island.
Brooklyn (Kings County) $120
Manhattan (New York County) $100
Staten Island (Richmond County) $120
Note that you’ll need to know the legal structure of your business before you can file for registration.
Once you’re ready to register your business, you’ll need to retrieve the appropriate form and file with your respective county clerk’s office:
You can apply online for a business license, or with a business consultant at the Small Business Center. Call 312-74-GOBIZ (744-6249) to make an appointment.
To register your business in Toronto, it will cost $60 to register and another $60 to renew annually through ServiceOntario. You can also search other registrations to check if the name of your business is already being used for a fee of $8–$26 depending on the types of records you want to include.
At time of registration, you’ll need:
The name and address of the business
A description of what your business does
Your name and home address
You may also want to register your business name through the Canada Revenue Agency’s Business Registration Online (BRO) service. At the same time, you can register for other CRA accounts like your GST/HST registration or Payroll Deductions.
Certificate of Liquor Liability or Dram Shop Insurance in the amount of $300,000 per occurrence. The Local Liquor Control Commissioner must be named as the certificate holder, and there must be a 30-day cancellation notice on the certificate
Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training Program Certificate for the manager or owner of your business
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene requires that supervisors in restaurants complete a course to get a Food Protection Certificate. When you open your restaurant, there must be a person who holds a Food Protection Certificate at your restaurant at all times.
You can get the certificate through a 15-hour course (in person or online) for free, but you’ll need to pay $24 to take the final exam and get the certificate.
Every staff member in a Chicago restaurant who prepares, stores, or serves food, handles food equipment, food utensils, or food-contact surfaces needs to have a food handler certificate within 30 days of their start date. You can register for the course here. The course costs $165.
In Toronto you can take several Accredited Food Handler Certification Programs, each with their own costs that fall between $20–$150. According to bylaw 678-2006, you’ll need to ensure that there is at least one certified food handler who is supervising every area where food is prepared, processed, served, packaged or stored.
New York City
In New York City, you need a permit for any billboards, signs, and awnings. You need a PW1 construction permit to build a sign larger than six square feet, but you’ll need an additional permit for a lighted sign or billboard. You’ll need to fill an application Department of Buildings Borough office in the borough where the sign will be located.
Use this form when applying for a sign work permit to erect, alter, or install a sign/sign structure that is larger than 200 square feet in an area that is subject to inclusion on the sign inventory as set forth in Section 49-15 of Title 1 of the Rules of the City of New York.
Your permit fee is calculated based on the type of sign and the dimensions (square footage) of the sign. Note that your permit will need to be renewed on an annual basis.
In Toronto, there are several forms and documents that you may need to consider depending on the type of sign you have for your business. You’ll most likely need to apply for a First Party sign, which identifies a business or service located on the premises – so, your restaurant. Check out some general information about sign permits here.
To apply for a First Party sign permit, you will need:
Only electronic applications are accepted, and can be sent as PDFs to signbylawunit[at]toronto.ca.
The fees for sign permits are:
Wall signs: $34.15 per square metre
Ground signs: $34.15 per square metre
Projecting signs: $34.15 per square metre
Overhanging structure signs: $34.15 per square metre
Roof signs: $40.95 per square metre
Topiary signs: $302.93 per sign
Music licenses cost restaurants anywhere from $200–$2,000 per year. When obtaining licenses and permits for a restaurant like music, make sure to provide specific information like the square footage of your venue and how often you play music, as these factors will impact the amount you are required to pay.
You have two options to cover any music played in your venue: pay performance rights organizations (PROs) directly, or pay for a pre-licensed solution.
Performance Rights Organizations
note: each of these licenses cover different artists, so we recommend purchasing all three so your restaurant can play a wide variety of music.
To get a license to play music in a restaurant with BMI, restaurant owners must apply by filling out this form. Rates depend on total capacity and, similarly to ASCAP, whether you’re using things like a jukebox, hosting live music, or charging admission.
Businesses must determine which tariffs their use of music is subject to. For example, if you’re planning to use background music, the minimum license fee is $95.51; additional costs are added based on the room size and number of years in operation.
To get this license you will need to purchase a mechanical licensing agreement or a pay-as-you-press license. According to the CMRRA, they “currently issue mechanical licenses on the basis of 8.3 cents per song, per copy manufactured, where the playing time is five minutes or less.”
Music Streaming Services
Another option is to pay for a licensed music streaming solution, which does the dirty work of vetting approved artists and playing only that music. Music streaming services tend to be cheaper, but the number of artists available to play can be more limited – and the option to customize your playlist or throw on your iTunes account is off the table. Check out each platform to determine the kind of music available on each, as you’ll likely want to invest in only one of these.
Includes: Music licensing, 25 million songs for mobile, tablet, Mac, and PC, and music scheduling
New York City
Similar to when you apply for a sign permit, you’ll need to start by filling out a A PW1 Plan/Work Application to begin the process. You’ll then need to go through these steps to determine what kind of construction permits you’ll need. The Department of Buildings permit costs $95 for the first $25,000 of work, and $5 for each $1,000 worth of work above $25,000.
If your restaurant has a patio, you’ll need a Sidewalk Cafe License. There are three types of sidewalk cafés:
Enclosed sidewalk cafe: An enclosed area on the public sidewalk in front of the restaurant that is constructed predominantly of light materials such as glass, plastic, or lightweight metal.
Unenclosed sidewalk cafe: An outdoor area on the public sidewalk in front of the restaurant that contains removable tables and chairs.
Small unenclosed sidewalk cafe: An unenclosed sidewalk café containing no more than a single row of tables and chairs next to the building. The tables and chairs can occupy no more than 4 feet, 6 inches of the public sidewalk.
Fees are dependent on the city zone and square footage and square footage of your patio. The fee minimum is between $1,800–$5,000 for a two-year term. Here is a list of requirements you’ll need to fulfill before you apply for your sidewalk license.
In Chicago, sidewalk cafe licenses are on a nine-month term, and restaurants must apply for a new license at the end of every term in December.
The fee for a sidewalk cafe license is dependent on the size and location of your patio, but you will pay a minimum of $600 for the permit. This packet has everything you need to apply, including a list of requirements and the application form.
All the electrical work must be performed and signed off by a supervising electrician. Also note that your application requires a notarized signature.
The cost of your permit is dependent on the number of amps, equipment, and square footage of your restaurant.
When applying for a building permit with the City of Toronto, there are several schedule documents you’ll need to review before applying for your building permit.
Go through the list presented on the page and confirm which items will apply to your restaurant. This will give you a rough estimate of the fees you’ll need to pay for your building permit.
Permit fees are calculated based on a formula:
Minimum fee of $198.59 is charged for all work.
An hourly fee of $85.79 is charged for all work.
Permit fee = SI x A
SI = Service Index for classification of proposed work
A = Floor area in square meters of work involved
To get a sidewalk cafe permit, you must apply in person at the Licence & Permit Issuing Office. Depending on the size of your patio and where it’s located, the fee is between $24.69–$90.72.
There are two application forms you can fill out, depending on your area:
So… that’s licenses and permits for a restaurant. We know it’s a lot, but we also know the process of applying for permits and licenses doesn’t have to be painful if you:
Start the process early.
Work with a lawyer or restaurant consultant to guide you through the process.
Or you may just have a friend or family member who’s opened a business before and understands your pain. Whether it’s to commiserate or get some advice, involve as many people as you can to support you through this journey of permits and licenses.
Taking the Next Steps
Now that you’re aware of the licensing requirements for your new restaurant, what’s next? It’s important to think ahead and create a timeline for opening. Obtaining permits and licenses for a restaurant can take time. The process includes gathering all the correct applications, filling out the paperwork carefully and accurately, and submitting them and waiting for approval. Start planning several months ahead of when you plan to cut the ribbon on your new business.
During this time, complete the proper research to ensure you acquire all the necessary permits for your specific location. Local requirements may request different licenses and permits needed to open a restaurant, depending on where you’re operating. Additionally, it’s important to be prepared for the cost of the licensing paperwork. Depending on what you serve, where you’re located, and other factors, restaurant permits can cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to about $1,000.
The best way to cover all your bases and feel equipped to handle the responsibility of licensing your business is by requesting RestoHub’s Permits, Licenses, and Legal Checklist. Fill out our download form or contact us today to learn more.
Silvia is the former Digital Marketing Manager for TouchBistro. During her time with TouchBistro, she managed and coordinated content for the RestoHub blog.