Licenses and Permits for a Restaurant


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 permits and licenses is a common reason why new restaurants 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 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

Note that 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

Restaurant Permits and Licenses

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 building permits you wouldn’t need if you had found a ready-made space.

Due to the varied nature of permits and licenses, 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 are leasing or buying
  • The activities that will take place at your business
  • Equipment and emissions
  • Inventory you sell outside your restaurant
  • Square footage of indoor and outdoor space
  • Alcohol sales
  • Renovations and changes to the building structure
  • Staff insurance and training needs
  • Waste disposal
  • Vehicle operations
  • Inventory (e.g. dairy products, kosher products, etc.)
  • Entertainment options
  • Promotional events

Even if you don’t have all 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 licenses and permits, and 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.

  1. Create your business
  • Employer Identification Number (EIN)
  1. 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
  1. 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
  1. Comply with regulations
  • Air Code
  • Application for Approval of Backflow Prevention Devices
  • Asbestos Rules and Regulations
  • Idling Regulations
  • Information About Trans Fats
  • Smoke Free Air Act – Information
  • Commercial Vehicle Restrictions
  • New York City Traffic and Parking Rules
  • Air Facility Registration
  • Special Event Permit

Chicago

The City of Chicago offers an introduction to restaurant licensing, available on their city website.

The homepage lists common licenses you may need to open your restaurant, including:

Retail Food Establishment License

Required to sell or serve food directly to the public.

Public Place of Amusement

Required if establishment offers entertainment whether or not a cover charge or admission fee is required for entrance.

Liquor License – Consumption on Premise

Required for the retail sale of alcohol to be consumed on the premises at a place of business where the sale of alcoholic liquor is incidental or secondary to the primary activity.

Liquor License – Tavern

Required If the establishment’s business is to sell alcohol, to be consumed on the premises.

Outdoor Patio / Café

Required to sell alcoholic liquor in a privately owned outdoor location adjacent to premises licensed as a Tavern, Not-for-Profit Club, or Consumption on Premises-Incidental Activity.

Liquor License – Late Hour

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.

Toronto

To find out which permits you need to run a restaurant in Toronto, visit the Canada Business Network website.

The Government of Canada has made it easy to determine which licenses and permits you’ll need with a questionnaire. We started by entering the values “Toronto, ON” then “full-service restaurant”.

After you enter these criteria, you’ll be able to choose which permits you’ll need from the following list:

Starting or managing a business (general)

  • Recruiting or hiring workers (1 permits)
  • Signs, billboards and other advertising (4 permits)
  • Registering your business (12 permits)

Serving, selling, exporting, importing

  • Serving or selling food or alcohol (8 permits)

Construction, development and zoning

  • Constructing, renovating, demolishing or moving buildings (6 permits)
  • Development, including environmental assessments and zoning (6 permits)
  • Constructing roads or railways, including road cuts (2 permits)
  • Road and highway access, entrances, allowances (1 permits)
  • Changing building occupancy or building use (1 permits)

Electrical, plumbing, heating, pools, etc.

  • Plumbing, water connections, drainage, sewage and septic (3 permits)
  • Heating and air conditioning (1 permits)
  • Electrical installations or changes, including electricity transmission (2 permits)
  • Elevators (1 permits)

Using roads, sidewalks, and public facilities

  • Obstructing sidewalks (patios, sidewalk sales) (1 permits)
  • Parking (2 permits)

Vehicles, watercraft and aircraft

  • Owning or operating road vehicles, off-road or farm vehicles (1 permits)

Business and professional services

  • Gaming, entertainment or recreation, including special events (4 permits)
  • Passenger transportation services (taxi, bus, rail) (1 permits)

Dangerous goods and waste

  • Treating or disposing of waste (1 permits)

You can also perform searches for:

  • Limited-service restaurants: fast food restaurants, coffee shops
  • Mobile food concession, cart or truck
  • Retail and commercial bakeries
  • Bars, pubs, and other drinking places

Business license

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.

Filing fees

  • Bronx $100
  • Brooklyn (Kings County) $120
  • Manhattan (New York County) $100
  • Staten Island (Richmond County) $120
  • Queens $100

Note that you’ll need to know the legal structure of your business before you can file for registration. Review your options here.

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:

Bronx County Clerk’s Office

851 Grand Concourse

Room 118

Bronx, NY 10451

Phone: (866) 797-7214

Fax: (718) 590-8122

Website

Kings County Clerk’s Office

Supreme Court Building

360 Adams Street

Room 189

Brooklyn, NY 11201

Phone: (347) 404-9750

Website

New York County Clerk’s Office

60 center Street

Room 161

New York , NY 10007

Phone: (646) 386-5955

Website

Queens County Clerk’s Office

88-11 Sutphin Boulevard

1st Floor

Jamaica, NY 11435

Phone: (718) 298-0605

Website

Richmond County Clerk’s Office

130 Stuyvesant Place

2nd Floor

Staten Island, NY 10301

Phone: (718) 675-7700

Website

Chicago

The cost to register your business in Chicago varies by restaurant type. Here are your options to choose from as a “food business”:

  • Mobile Food Dispenser (truck), Pre-packaged and Pre-cooked food: $700
  • Mobile Food Preparer (truck), Cooking or Preparing food on vehicle: $1,000
  • Mobile Frozen Desserts, Non-Motorized: $275
  • Mobile Frozen Desserts, Motorized (2 or 3 wheels): $275
  • Restaurant, Grocery Store, Bakery Deli, Café, etc.: $660–$1,100

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.

Toronto

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

Efficiency opportunity

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.

Food service license

New York City

In New York City, you’ll need to apply for a Food Service Establishment Permit. The permit costs $280, plus $25 if you manufacture frozen dessert.

Before you apply for a permit online, you’ll need to refer to the following:

Chicago

To apply for a Retail Food Establishment License in Chicago, you’ll need:

  • The name of your business
  • Business address
  • Square footage
  • Lease or proof of ownership of the property
  • Illinois Business Tax number (IBT)
  • Federal Employers Identification Number (FEIN)
  • Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) Sanitation Certificate and/or receipt of class enrollment
  • Business registration/ownership information
  • Photo I.D.

A two-year term will cost:

  • 0–4,500 square feet: $660.00
  • 4,501–10,000 square feet: $880.00
  • 10,001+ square feet: $1,100.00

The city has also put together a Retail Food License Readiness Checklist to help with your application. You may apply online here or in person at the City of Chicago office.

Toronto

In Toronto, you’ll need an Eating and Drinking Establishment license. You can apply in person here:

Licence & Permit Issuing Office

East York Civic Center

850 Coxwell, 3rd floor

The license costs:

  • $481.81 if you have seating:
  • $355.34 if you do not have seating:

You’ll need to contact Toronto Building to request a Preliminary Property Review. (This can be done by email or in-person at a Toronto Building counter.)

You’ll need the following to apply:

  • Two pieces of government-issued ID, including proof of work status, such as a Canadian Passport or Citizenship Card, Permanent Resident Card, Work Permit, Canadian Birth Certificate
  • Valid photo ID such as a Driver’s Licence, Photo Identification Card, Canadian Passport
  • Criminal reference check

Liquor license

New York City

To apply for a liquor license in New York City, you’ll need to contact the State Liquor Authority.

Here are the costs for various liquor licenses:

  • $1,060 for beer
  • $1,060 for wine
  • $4,552 for on-premises liquor
  • $6,050 for restaurant brewers

You can also refer to these links for the application and more information on getting a liquor license and abiding by New York State liquor laws.

Chicago

Chicago has six different types of liquor licenses, as can be seen here.

Here are the costs for various liquor licenses:

  • Tavern license: $4,400 + $40 publication fee for two years
  • Consumption on Premises-Incidental Activity License: $4,400 + $40 publication fee for two years
  • Caterer’s License: $4,400 + $40 publication fee for two years OR $2,200 if you already have a Consumption on Premise-Incidental Activity License
  • Outdoor Patio License: $1,760 + $40 publication fee for two years
  • Late Hour License (if you wish to serve alcohol past 2:00am): $6,000 + $40 publication fee for two years

You’ll need the following before you apply for your liquor license:

  • City of Chicago Individual History Form (IHF) for people who have 5% or more direct or indirect interest in the business
  • Photo ID: Drivers license, state ID or passport
  • Completed Spousal Affidavit (SPA) if you have a spouse that has 5% interest in the business
  • Lease to the property for a minimum of 1 year
  • Financial Disclosure Form (FDF) detailing the source of funds for the business
  • 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
  • Business Structure Documents
  • Site plan of your premises
  • Detailed floor plan of the business
  • Purchase/Sale Agreement
  • Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) Account ID (formerly known as Illinois Business Tax Number (IBT))
  • Employer Identification Number (EIN)
  • Occupancy Placard issued by the City of Chicago Department of Buildings.
  • Packaged Goods Affidavit (PGA)
  • License if the establishment is located in a “B” zoning classification.
  • Food Service Menu

Toronto

To apply for a liquor license in Toronto, you’ll need to fill out a Municipal Information form. You’ll also need the following:

A Toronto liquor license costs $817.36.

Food handler’s permit

New York City

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.

Chicago

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.

Toronto

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.

Sign permit

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.

A PW1 Plan/Work Application will need to be filled out to start the process, and then there are several permits to choose from, each with their own forms. Your options are:

SIG1 – Property Owner Sign Affidavit

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.

OAC1 – Outdoor Advertising Company Registration Application

Use this form to register as an Outdoor Advertising Company (OAC).

OAC2 – Outdoor Advertising Company Sign Inventory Summary

Use this form to provide a summary of your sign inventory.

OAC3 – Outdoor Advertising Company Sign Profile

Use this form to provide a separate profile for each sign in the sign inventory.

OAC4 – Outdoor Advertising Company Affiliated OAC(s)

Use this form to provide a list of affiliated OAC(s)

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.

Chicago

For now when your restaurant needs a sign in Chicago, you need to complete two forms: the Sign Permit Application online and then print out the interim sign application and fill it out by hand.

You’ll then need to submit both forms to the Department of Buildings for review, which is here:

Chicago Building Department

2045 W Washington Blvd

Chicago, IL 60612

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.

Toronto

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 license

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

United States

note: each of these licenses cover different artists, so we recommend purchasing all three so your restaurant can play a wide variety of music.

ASCAP License

Fees for a music license for restaurants are based on the type of music the business uses, capacity, and how many days a week it hosts lives music.

BMI License

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.

SESAC License

Similarly to ASCAP and BMI, fees are determined based on capacity and method of delivery, such as live music, website, or jukebox.

Canada

Note: each of these licenses cover different artists, so we recommend purchasing all three so your restaurant can play a wide variety of music.

SOCAN License

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.

CMRRA License

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.

Pandora for Business

$26.95/mo. + $99 for mood media player, which connects your computer and the Pandora for Business service with your soundsystem

Includes: Music licensing, the ability to create stations and standardize music across franchises

SiriusXM for Business

$35.99/mo.

Includes: Music licensing, music curated for restaurants, streaming through internet or satellite

SoundTrack for Business (Spotify for Business)

$35.99/mo.

Includes: Music licensing, offline mode, music scheduling

JukeBoxy

$29.95/mo.

Includes: Music licensing, 25 million songs for mobile, tablet, Mac, and PC, and music scheduling

Building permits

New York City

General building

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.

Patio license

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.

Electrical

All electrical installations for your restaurant need to be done by electrical contractors who are licensed by the Department of Buildings. You’ll also need to file the Electrical Permit Application Form (ED16A & ED16As) for electrical work.

Fees for the permit are dependent the on number of amps, equipment, and square footage of your restaurant. A list of fees may be found in the application form.

Chicago

General building

In Chicago, your building permit cost is dependent on scope of construction and square footage. Use the calculator on the City of Chicago website to calculate the cost of your building permit, which is governed by the latest fee schedule.

Patio 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.

Electrical

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.

Toronto

General building

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

Patio license

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:

Electrical

See “general building” permits.

Conclusion

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.
  • You 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, rope in as many people as you can to support you through the journey that is permits and licenses.