Young woman researching what permits and licenses she needs to open her boba tea shop

You decided on a restaurant name, the menu is set, and the concept is fully baked. What else do you need to open your restaurant? 

For starters, a lot of paperwork. Sure, no one loves filing paperwork with the state or tracking down licenses but they’re a necessary evil of opening and operating a restaurant. (Some would even argue they help keep the public safe!)

However you look at it, establishing your restaurant as a business is the first real step toward welcoming your first customers. 

Ready to launch your restaurant business? Here are 7 documents you need to legally open and operate a restaurant in the United States. 

Business license

A business license is a government-issued license that gives you the authority to operate in your local area. The costs and procedures vary from state-to-state but a business license is required to operate in any state within the grand ol’ USA.

>> To file for your restaurant business license, visit your state’s business department online or use an all-in-one service like Table Needs Filer.  

Business entity, such as an LLC

Creating an LLC for your restaurant protects your personal assets, gives you access to funding, banking, insurance options, and saves you money on taxes. 

>> File for an LLC yourself directly with your state or lean on an easy, affordable service like Table Needs Filer to make sure your paperwork is filed correctly. 

Employer Identification Number (EIN)

An EIN establishes you as an employer and gives you the ability to put employees on payroll. Getting an EIN is easy and totally free. 

>> To get your EIN, head over to, fill out the form, and you’re all set. 

Food service license

A food service license is provided by your city or county health department and shows that your restaurant safely handles, prepares and serves food. The health department inspectors are the folks who will pop in from time to time to inspect your restaurant and ensure that everything is up to code and meeting regulations.

>> To file for your food service license, contact your city or county health department. 

Employee health permit

An employee health permit, also frequently called a food handler’s permit, indicates that specific employees have taken and passed a state-issued test all about food safety. Every employee who is handling food in some way must pass the test to be awarded a permit. 

>> To get started with employee health permits, search your state’s website for “food handler safety course” or “employee health permit course.”

Sign permit

Want to hang a new sign or change out an existing sign outside your restaurant? You’re going to need a permit for that! A sign permit shows that your sign is in accordance with county regulations for size, position, brightness and other factors. 

>> To get a sign permit, contact your local government’s zoning department and request an application plus a checklist of requirements.

Certificate of Occupancy 

For brick-and-mortar counter service restaurants, coffee shops, and cafes, you will need a Certificate of Occupancy. This document shows that your building is safe and has passed its final inspection before opening. 

>> To receive your Certificate of Occupancy, you will need to schedule an inspection with your local building or zoning department.

What’s next?

So how do you feel? Ready to open your restaurant? Paperwork might not be the fun part of running a restaurant but once that’s out of the way you can get back to menu planning, designing your concept, and start welcoming guests. 
For expert guidance and help setting up your restaurant – from establishing an LLC to using an easy, affordable point of sale to expert marketing and bookkeeping – Table Needs is here to help.

Follow us for tips, news, and tutorials to run a successful small restaurant. 

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