Consider dining at less conventional times, like 5:30 p.m. “If a table has four seats, the restaurant needs to make two turns for the math to work,” says John Winterman, co-owner of Francie in Brooklyn. “Dining earlier (or later) allows restaurants to maximize their revenue.”
There’s a reason for that policy. “Diners are occupying the table for longer while they’re waiting,” said a host at an Italian restaurant in midtown Manhattan. “If that happens three times in a night and people were hanging out for 20 minutes each waiting for friends, I would have lost 60 minutes of business, which could be enough to flip a table.”
If you’re seated on time but before your party arrives, the clock starts when your butt hits the seat. One host says, “If half your party is late, it doesn’t mean you all get to sit longer.”
Some hosts give away tables after 10 minutes, while others have longer grace periods. If you’re running late, always call the restaurant so they have time to make other arrangements and not lose business. Remember: Your reservation begins at the time you first reserved—not whenever you show up.
Some reservation apps penalize no-shows: On OpenTable, for example, if you are a no-show four times in 12 months, your account is suspended.
If you can’t make your reservation, it’s important to call the restaurant and let them know with as much notice as possible. Pre-pandemic, guests waiting at the bar might have helped make up for no-shows, says John Winterman. “But in the current climate, a lost reservation is just that: lost, irretrievable, irreplaceable.”
Unless you enjoy paperwork and certification efforts, acquiring the restaurant licenses needed to bring your culinary creations to the rest of your neighborhood might not be the most exciting step in opening a new restaurant. However, licenses and permits are a necessary part of the process that every restaurateur must adhere to.
This guide to restaurant licenses has the information you need to open a restaurant.
Most restaurants across U.S. neighborhoods will require the following licenses:
Depending on the type of food establishment you intend to open, your area may require additional restaurant licenses and permits, such as:
Different permits may require annual renewals (and fees) in many cities and states.
Each state requires its own list of restaurant licenses and permits, though many are consistent nationwide. Some cities and counties require restaurants to acquire additional certifications or enforce stricter thresholds for approval.
While budding restaurateurs may have a rough idea of the ones they’ll need (e.g., food service, liquor license), some may be unexpected. Further, many departments across governmental levels will follow different processes when issuing their own.
This article will help you get started, but it may not cover every license and permit you’ll need to set up shop in your specific neighborhood—or the exact steps necessary to obtain them. Given the potential penalties, make sure you thoroughly check your area’s requirements before any public openings to ensure you won’t run afoul of them and jeopardize your success.
Some restaurant licenses and permits take a long time to acquire. To keep your opening efforts running smoothly, check to see how early you can begin each process.
While most of the information should be available on each license-issuing department’s site, take some time to contact them directly, clearing up any potential confusion and gathering insight on typical pitfalls.
Proper planning and a head start will help prevent hold-ups that add up by pushing your grand opening out further.
Thankfully, some of the licenses you’ll need to get started can be acquired right away and without physical premises or inspections.
Though applying for a business license is usually a simple process, you’ll have to make some decisions about your restaurant’s name and legal structure.
Registering a business license typically costs $50, but the license’s cost may vary by location.
Once you’ve brainstormed your favorite names, be sure to check their availability, including website domains and social media handles. Avoid using names already taken by other restaurants in your state and especially those that have been nationally trademarked, as such violations lead to lawsuits.
In order to register your business and its name, you’ll also need to decide your restaurant’s legal structure. Different structures offer different advantages:
Sole proprietorships or those wishing to use a different name from their paperwork need to consider establishing a DBA (i.e., “Doing Business As”) for protection against contract disputes and others using the same or too similar of a name.
An EIN is a nine-digit tax administration number issued by the IRS. The IRS processes EIN applications for free but limits the number of issuances to one per day per “responsible party” (i.e., the individual who “controls, manages, or directs the applicant entity and the disposition of its funds and assets”). The responsible party for your restaurant must be a real person, and any EIN application they file must include their social security number.
Additionally, responsible parties who have already obtained another EIN via the online application process must submit future requests by mail or fax, which suffer from longer processing turnarounds.
It’s critical to obtain an EIN early in your efforts to open a restaurant. Aside from a federal requirement for filing taxes, you must provide your EIN to financial institutions to open accounts in your business’s name.
If you’re operating in a state that charges a sales tax, a resale certificate seller’s permit will allow you to avoid double taxation. Since you plan on reselling those taxable items—for instance, the wholesale purchase of ingredients—the permit voids the sales tax on the initial purchase. It will then be later included with your patron’s receipt when those ingredients turn into your cafe’s famous blueberry muffins.
Some states, such as California, Florida, and Texas, also require a seller’s permit to authorize the collection of sales tax. Applying for a seller’s permit is one of the license processes that vary by location, as Floridians may apply online while Californians and Texans must do so in-person or by mail.
You’ll need to address your certificate of occupancy once you’ve finished building or moving into your location. This declares that the property and restaurant food safety requirements are up-to-code as well as the maximum number of people allowed at one time. Certificates of occupancy are issued by your city or county government.
New certificates of occupancy are required for recently constructed or changed-use (e.g., converting a retail space to a restaurant) buildings. If another restaurant previously occupied the space, you may only need to file paperwork to update the certification. That process varies depending on where you intend to operate, however, as San Antonio does not require additional inspection, but Tacoma does.
Certificates of occupancy typically cost about $100.
Aside from your startup licenses and permits, you’ll need to begin the round of restaurant-specific applications most people think of when it comes to food licenses.
Serving food in your restaurant requires a food service license. The city and county health departments typically issue these permits following an inspection of your preparation and storage areas.
The cost of a food service license varies by location, but check to see if certain types of restaurants require an additional license fee as part of the application process. For example, Food Service Establishment Permits for New York City’s restaurants cost $280 annually, plus another $25 if you “manufacture a frozen dessert.” Purchasing an operating restaurant may not transfer food service permits, as some cities, such as Seattle, require a new issuance.
Some restaurants may need to apply for a building health permit in addition to their food service license to prove their property’s sanitation meets city, county, or state standards for restaurants.
In addition to the permit for serving food on your premises, restaurant employees must complete a food handling certificate or license to work in most U.S. neighborhoods. Yet again, check the specific requirements. For example, the California Food Handlers Card remains valid across the entire state for three years with the exceptions of Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties, due to their preexisting certification programs.
The Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board in each state handles liquor license applications and issuances. ABC processes vary—and some may take up to a year—but a liquor license is generally considered the hardest permit to obtain and easiest to lose.
Depending on your type of restaurant you may need different licenses or even multiple, in cases where beer and wine are handled separately from liquor. Some of the typical liquor licenses are:
Restaurants may end up spending anywhere from $12,000-$400,000 for a liquor license. For example, New Mexico’s ABC enforces a hard cap on the number of statewide liquor licenses, which means most restaurateurs must purchase theirs from someone else.
Some of the less expected licenses and permits that restaurants must have include:
While acquiring all your licenses and permits, start promoting your restaurant around your neighborhood to get more customers and build up both excitement and the line for your unveiling on opening night. Setting up and posting on social media accounts will help build your internet presence, but Nextdoor Business Pages offer the best place to directly connect with your neighbors.
With a hyperlocal focus, Nextdoor is where neighborhoods happen. Your Business Page helps your restaurant become a trusted and valued part of a thriving community. Instantly reach and communicate with your restaurant’s most valued patrons—your neighbors—with Nextdoor.
Whether you have an existing business or are looking to start one, a liquor license for your New York City business could increase traffic and revenue. But getting one isn’t a walk in the park. You must be aware of the process—the specifics of the licensing programs, eligibility, and how to apply.
The New York Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Law and State Liquor Authority (SLA) can be an excellent place to start. However, it’s best if you have a basic understanding of the license requirements and laws before you kick off your liquor license journey.
The New York State Liquor Authority is responsible for issuing licenses and permits. Submitting your application is easy through the New York Business Express website.
However, New York liquor licensing requirements can vary based on your business type and the type of license requested. For example, licensees applying for a grocery store or liquor store license will have a different liquor license application than a catering business that wants to serve alcohol.
Before you can sell alcohol, you must set your business up to collect sales tax by registering with the New York State Tax Department. The department will issue you a Certificate of Authority—the official document that lets you collect tax on your liquor sales.
You’ll need to complete this step even if you’re buying an existing business because you can’t transfer the certificate from one owner to the next. Luckily, the process is simple. The New York Business Express has a portal that allows you to apply online for your sales tax certificate.
Your business should have its own Employer Identification Number (EIN) through the IRS. The EIN, commonly called a tax ID number, is how the IRS identifies your business and tracks tax payments. It’s simple to apply for a number online or by phone, fax, or mail. If you’re near a local office, you can also get one in person.
Additionally, you have insurance obligations as an employer. New York City can require unemployment insurance and workers’ comp insurance, in addition to liquor liability or retail insurance.
Unless you’re operating your business under your legal name—which is unlikely—you may need a Certificate of Assumed Name, commonly called a DBA (doing business as) or simply a “business certificate.”
You may want to get legal advice to determine if a Certificate of Assumed Name is right for your company. When you’re ready to get your certificate, visit NYC.gov to get a listing of NYC county clerk contact information.
You might not need health department approval for your liquor license—it depends on the specifics of what your business will offer. However, if you’re opening a restaurant or bar, diner, or another establishment that will serve food to customers, you’ll likely need a stamp of approval from the health department.
After applying for approval, your business will have an inspection. The average processing time is 15 days, and you’ll need to renew your authorization every year.
Any time a permit or license is to be granted, the Community Board must weigh in with their opinion.Community Boards represent local districts or communities. Their function is to share viewpoints, but their opinions aren’t binding—the State Liquor Authority has the final say in whether your liquor license is approved.
However, a favorable opinion is crucial because attorneys have noted that the SLA is less likely to grant your license based on the Community Board’s opinion.
You’ve likely heard the saying, “location, location, location.” It suggests that location is everything—and that’s especially true for your alcohol business. Under the ABC law, your location can make or break your NY liquor license.
The ABC law includes two specific provisions:
The “200 Foot Rule” states you can’t have a liquor license if your company is on the same street and within 200 feet of a school, church, or place of worship. It only applies if alcohol will be sold for on-premises consumption.
The “500 Foot Rule” also applies to retail licenses where consumers will drink alcohol on-site. It states that a new liquor license can’t be issued if the building is within 500 feet of 3 other businesses with an on-premise liquor license.
The state of New York has many license types available. According to the NYS Liquor Authority, licenses come in 4 main groups:
Each group contains several license types, and each can have specific application requirements. You can choose between off- or on-premises liquor licenses, beer licenses, wine licenses, or “full liquor licenses” that also allow distilled spirits.
If you aren’t sure which license type is right for your company, the New York Business Express can help. It has an application wizard for retailers, manufacturers, and wholesalers to point you in the right direction.
Yes, you can get a one-day temporary permit to sell liquor in NYC. You can choose from:
The type of license you’re looking for determines the application process, and you can learn more about temporary permits at NYC.gov.
There’s no single set cost of a New York liquor license. How much you pay depends on a variety of factors. First, your fee is different depending on the type of license you need. Your price can be more or less if you want your liquor license to allow you to serve alcohol on-site vs. off-site.
Your location also determines your cost. There are 5 boroughs in NYC. The price is generally consistent if you’re in the counties of New York (Manhattan), Kings (Brooklyn), Bronx, or Queens. But you could pay a different fee if your business is in the county of Richmond (Staten Island).
Finally, you’ll encounter expenses beyond the required liquor license filing fee—there are costs to get health department approval, get a business certificate, and perform other steps along the way.