Opening a restaurant is an exciting yet stressful endeavor. There are so many things to do and think about–where will it be, what licenses and permits do you need, is everything in order? Adding alcohol to the mix also adds a level a complexity with respect to local and state licensing requirements. Before taking that first step, read below for some key areas to consider before locking into a lease.
Carefully Consider Location
You definitely do not want to lock into a lease or be stuck in a space that cannot be used in the manner intended. Accordingly, a first step in seeking out potential restaurant locations is a thorough review of local regulations and zoning restrictions relating to your intended use of the space, including any ancillary uses such as alcohol service and/or entertainment. Keep in mind that simply because an area is zoned for commercial uses does not mean that a restaurant or alcohol service is necessarily permitted. There may be a unique zoning process required to obtain approval for all of your intended uses of a specific property. As such, be sure you give yourself enough “due diligence” time to properly investigate all local zoning approval issues. Many commercial tenants will include due-diligence caveats in their letters of intent or lease negotiations to properly protect their interests in the event an intended use is not permitted at a proposed location.
Obtaining Licenses and Permits
Once you have completed your due diligence investigations and confirmed your proposed location is suitable for all of your intended uses, it is time to plan for obtaining all required state and local permits during your build-out phase and on a timeline that fits your business opening plans. Keep in mind that a restaurant operation including beer and wine service will require a variety of state and local permits prior to opening. Many of these licenses and permits require the submission of lengthy applications and the scheduling of various inspections. Therefore, having a proper timeline and action plan for tackling this task is critical to staying on any projected opening targets.
Educate Yourself on Applicable Regulations
Legally compliant operations are crucial for effective business planning and management. Be sure you review and educate yourself on all applicable operational requirements as this may impact your customer policies, inventory planning, and staffing.
Some suggested areas of regulations to keep in mind are as follows:
- Alcohol Service Regulations (ID checks, record keeping requirements, purchasing requirements, marketing regulations)
- Food Safety Regulations
- Health Code Regulations
- Building and Fire Code Regulations
- Disability Access Regulations
- Local Operating Licensing and Permit Regulations
- Labor Laws
- Tax Regulations
- Menu Labeling Regulations
Develop Internal Protocols
Prior to hiring staff and opening your doors for service, it is important to develop strong internal operating procedures and policies for both customers and employees. Your internal policies should consider a variety of factors including the areas below:
- Employee policies and procedures
- Inventory Management and Record-Keeping
- Customer Complaint Policies
- Crowd Control Policies
- Loitering Policies
- Responsible driver policies related to intoxicated customers
- Alcohol monitoring policies to prevent the diversion of alcohol to minors and/or over-consumption
- Emergency Procedures
Where to Get Professional Help
As you navigate the development of your business plan to the negotiation of your lease and progress through licensing and permitting regulations, there are a variety of resources to help you along the way. Local restaurant and hospitality organizations offer free training and start-up manuals that can provide a roadmap to opening. You can also hire independent restaurant consultants and specialized attorneys that focus on the hospitality industry to guide your business plans and help shield you from liability and common business pitfalls.