How to Open a Restaurant: License and Permit Checklist

If you want to know how to open a restaurant, you’ll need to make sure that you have all of the food permits and food licenses required by the State of New York to operate legally. You’ll want to conduct your own due diligence on starting a business in NYC as some of these requirements may change.

The restaurant licenses that you’ll need are:

Food Service Establishment Permit

New York City’s food service license costs $280 for initial application fees and renews at the same rate annually. If your establishment will be manufacturing frozen desserts, you’ll have to pay an additional $25 annually.

You’ll find that all eateries or any establishment that plans to serve customers will need to apply for a food license in NYC. A few of the many businesses and non-businesses requiring this permit are:

  • Restaurants
  • Pizzerias
  • Bars
  • Night clubs
  • Senior centers
  • Schools

Even charitable organizations and religious centers that serve food will need this permit to operate legally. Cash does not need to be exchanged for this permit to be required. Even if you plan on distributing all of the food for free, a permit is a necessity.

food permit

Food Protection Certificate

While technically not a business permit, the Food Protection Certificate is required by the state. The Health Code requires you to have a supervisor for food operations that has this certificate on duty during all hours of operation.

A classroom course is required, spanning over five days and ending on the final day when you take your exam. You can complete the classroom portion of the certificate online, but all tests will need to be done in-person.

Application fees cost $24 to $114, and you can apply online.

Liquor License

A liquor license in NYC can cost $12,000 to $400,000 if you plan to operate an establishment that can serve all forms of liquor. You can, as most restaurants do, offer only beer and wine to your patrons.

The license cost for serving beer and wine can be as low as $3,000.

Factors that are involved in determining price vary by location, but the factors may include:

  • Operation size
  • Operation scope

You can contact your local officials to inquire about the cost of the liquor license in your area.  A New York City liquor license is not difficult to obtain but it can be costly.

There are also two main types of liquor licenses:

  1. On-license, which means that you’re selling the liquor with the intent that the consumer will drink the beverage in your establishment.
  2. Off-license, which is the complete opposite and is often obtained by establishments, such as liquor stores, where the customer is going to consume the alcohol off-site.

A beer and wine license may be limited, but it is the most common business license in NYC for restaurants that do not want to serve hard liquor.

The restaurant license will require that you cannot earn too much, often 40% of all sales, from alcohol. You can sell any alcoholic drink with the permit, but you have to make sure sales are kept below the 40% threshold.

liquor license nyc

Music Licensing

Often overlooked but a necessity, music licensing is only one of the licenses and permits needed to open a restaurant if you plan on playing music. If you fail to license or obtain music legally, you can be charged between $750 and $30,000 per song.

You can find business streaming solutions that alleviate the need to contact numerous licensing organizations and pay very high licensing fees.

The music licensing cost is negligible compared to the costs of violating license requirements.

Of course, you should have a valid business registration in New York. The filing fees will vary based on the county, so contact a lawyer or accountant to register your business. Online services can also help you with starting a business in NYC.

Employer Identification Number (EIN)

An item often left off on most restaurant checklists is the EIN. It is easy to obtain and isn’t truly one of the NYC permits because it’s a requirement from the federal government. If you plan on hiring employees, you’ll need to obtain your EIN from the IRS.

You will use it in the same way that you use a social security number, but for your business. When you file taxes, you’ll need to provide an EIN to identify your business.

Certificate of Occupancy

If you purchase or rent a building, you’ll need to obtain what is called a Certificate of Occupancy, or CO. New buildings must obtain a CO, while existing buildings may need to have their CO amended for your type of business.

You’re not legally allowed to operate your restaurant without this certificate, so while this may not be a business permit, it’s just as important.

The CO will ensure that the business is:

  • Safe for employees
  • Safe for patrons

An inspector will survey the building and determine whether or not a CO will be issued. If it is not issued, the inspector should provide you with information on why your building failed inspection.

You can learn more about a CO here.

business license nyc

Sign Permit

When opening a restaurant in NYC, you may or may not be required to obtain a sign permit. It is not required if your sign is:

  • Under 6 square feet in size
  • Not illuminated

Otherwise, you may have to obtain a permit based on the borough you live in. You can find all of the local telephone numbers on the NYC Buildings official website. 

If you plan to install a sign that requires a permit, you may also need one of the following permits:

  • Electrical
  • Illuminated sign permit


Note: Keep in mind that NYC business licensing will differ based on the establishment you’re opening. For more information on permits and licenses, should be consulted.

Opening a business in NYC offers you a large demographic, a city filled with tourists, and the opportunity to own a business in one of the world’s largest cities. You’ll need to obtain and renew NYC business licenses, obtain your food vendor license in NYC, and also obtain numerous other licenses.