Are you working on opening your own restaurant? Or maybe you already have one and you're looking to expand or open a new location. Depending on how long you've been in the business, you may not be prepared for all the red tape in the restaurant industry. While many of the relevant laws and regulations vary by state, understanding the various types of permits, licenses and laws you may encounter on your way to opening up a new restaurant can help you make sure you stay compliant throughout the process.
As the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) notes, before committing to a construction project (whether you're building a new place or renovating an existing one), you should understand basic zoning laws and determine local zoning ordinances and regulations. Property is zoned for either residential or commercial use; you cannot build a commercial building in an area that has been designated as residential-only and vice versa.
Once you think you've found that perfect location, contact your local zoning agency to make sure that it's appropriately zoned for your business purposes. If you're not sure how to get in touch with your local zoning agency, the SBA recommends an internet search that includes your city, state and the word "planning." If you still have questions about a particular zoning issue, you may want to consult with a local land use attorney to help ensure that you remain compliant.
Building Permits and Licenses
Building permits are often required for new construction projects or any alterations to an existing structure, including electrical and plumbing work. Therefore, if you want to build an addition to your restaurant — for instance, a covered patio — you will need to obtain a building permit to do so. You don't want unexpected red tape to hold you up midproject, so before you begin, get a building permit issued by the city your restaurant is in. Typically, your proposed project will then be reviewed for criteria such as zoning compliance, occupancy and building codes.
Other Licenses and Permits
A restaurant can be a fun and rewarding business to run, but there can also be a lot of red tape in the restaurant industry, especially when you're getting started. There may be federal licenses, state licenses and permits you need to apply for and file before you can open. For example, if your restaurant will be serving or selling alcohol, you have to register your business and acquire specific federal permits from the U.S. Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Requirements will vary depending on the state you're operating in, but you can check with the SBA for more information on required licenses and permits for your state.
Whether you spent years in the industry honing your restaurant management skills, or this is a brand-new frontier, you've come a long way and worked hard to get here. While the red tape involved in breaking ground on a new restaurant project may seem daunting, with some careful preparation and thorough planning, you'll be writing out the guest list for your soft opening in no time.
For more restaurateur recommendations, check out our interview with Slap Shotz Gastropub owner Jeff Sinkiewicz, who shares the lessons he learned when opening his second location.
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