Food Businesses

Food businesses – whether restaurants, bars, catering businesses or food carts – require several licenses and permits to operate. The licenses and permits must be obtained before the food facility opens for business. Some licenses and permits require others to be issued first so advance planning is critical. Each city, county and state has its own licensing and permitting requirements. The following lists the most commonly required licenses and permits.

Business License

Some cities, towns and villages require food business to get a business license to operate. Depending on the city and type of business, the business may be charged a yearly license fee.

Certificate of Authority to Collect Sales Tax

Business owners need to apply for Certificate of Authority with New York State Tax and Finance so they can collect and remit state sales tax.

Building Code Permits and Certificate of Occupancy

Food establishments that operate inside a building are required to obtain a certificate of occupancy with the city, town or village where the building is located. If renovations are necessary, a building permit will likely to be required. An inspection by electric inspectors, plumbing inspectors, elevator inspector, well and septic inspectors, the fire department, environmental safety board or other safety organization may be required before the license is issued.

Health Permit

All food businesses must get a health permit to operate. Health permits for businesses are generally obtained at the county health department. However, some businesses fall under the jurisdiction of State Department of Agriculture and Markets. The health department will perform regular health inspections of the food facility to ensure the business is following health regulations.

Food Handler’s Permit

Some states require one or more employees at a food facility to get a food handler’s permit. The state may require one or more employees to take a food safety class before the permit is issued, it is prudent, and sometimes required, that a person with a valid food handler’s permit be on the business premises at all times during open business hours. Because of this, it is a good idea to have multiple employees obtain a food handler’s permit.

Sign Permit

Before hanging a sign in front of a business, a sign permit must be granted by the city, town or village. The municipality will usually have restrictions on the size, shape, and location of business signs contained in the City/Town Code or Zoning Laws.

Alcohol Beverage License

If a business wants to sell alcoholic beverages, it must get an alcohol beverage license from the New York State Liquor Authority. Beer and wine licenses are easier to get; hard liquor licenses are more difficult. Surprisingly, wine stores are categorized with hard liquor stores for most off-premises retail sales, but with beer for most on-premises retail sales. Some areas limit how many businesses can sell hard liquor in a particular area. New York requires a public hearing if there are more than 3 places selling hard alcohol within 500 feet. If there are already too many hard liquor licenses in the area, a business owner can try to purchase a hard liquor license from another business or acquire the business itself. The State Liquor Authority will not issue a liquor license to a business owner who has a past felony record, is a noncitizen or permanent resident, is a police officer or is under 21 years old.

Music License

Restaurants and bars that want to play copyrighted music in the background must obtain a music license. Businesses that play copyrighted music without a music license can receive heavy fines. The three main music clearinghouses that issue music licenses are BMI, ASCAP and SESAC. Each music clearing house owns the rights to different songs. Getting a music license with all three major clearinghouses can reduced a business’s risk of being fined.

Other Licenses

It is important to meet all the regulatory requirements for your business to avoid costly fines and business closures. Each city, county and state has its own licensing and permitting requirements.