Restaurants: General Business License

Restaurants: General Business License

A business license allows prospective restaurateurs to conduct business at a particular location. Without one, the local government can fine or even close the operation. Requirements vary by venue, but, in most instances, the restaurant entrepreneur will need to obtain a business license from the state, county and/or city.

The United States Small Business Administration (SBA) provides in-depth information and links regarding obtaining a business license.

Applicants also should check with their State and local government offices for specific regulations. Links to all State licensing divisions can be found on the SBA website.

Other Licenses and Permits

Various licenses and permits may be required by state and local governments. State and local governments regulate the food service industry pursuant to their local health departments, with guidance from the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Additional permits apply to the sale of alcoholic beverages. Many localities also have environmental regulations for restaurants. The FDA provides links to all state regulatory bodies that govern retail food safety.

Restaurant Industry Certifications

In the competitive restaurant business, certifications can show your competence and set you apart. Whether you are climbing up the management ladder or working on your culinary skills, there are programs that can assist you in attaining your goals. In addition to highlighting skills, certifications also highlight the food safety of the restaurant establishment. Most certification programs are through restaurant industry trade associations and/or their educational affiliates.


The American Culinary Federation (ACF) offers 14 different certifications, from entry levels to experts. Among the most sought after designations are the Certified Executive Chef, Certified Pastry Chef and Certified Master Chef.

  • Certified Executive Chef: This certification indicates the holder is the head of a foodservice operation or restaurant. He or she understands current nutrition standards as well as government food safety and sanitation regulations. Moreover, the holder is capable of culinary supervisory management, as well as budget, payroll, and other financial and inventory management. The certification applicant must have at least three years of Chef de Cuisine or Executive Sous Chef experience. In addition, the professional needs a high school diploma or GED and should have 150 continuing education hours.

    The CEC applicant is required to take written and practical exams which test their culinary knowledge and skills.

Certified Master Chef (CMC): The CMC level represents the highest and most demanding level of professional achievement Candidates must already have attained Certified Executive Chef or Certified Culinary Educator designations; completed course work in management, cost management and wine; hold sanitation and food safety certificates; and have references from at least two CMCs. The certification is issued after the candidate has passed a rigorous eight-day test of culinary skills and knowledge.

ServSafe Certifications

A division of the National Restaurant Association, the ServSafe program offers certifications for managers so as to comply with state and local health and food safety regulations.

  • Food Protection Manager Certification: This certification covers sanitation (including personal hygiene, food contamination, and food borne illnesses), the flow of food in the operation (cross contamination, time and temperature control, storage, receiving, cooling and reheating, and preparation and serving of foodstuffs), and how to maintain sanitary facilities and properly manage pests.

    The Food Protection Manager Certification shows the holder has met the American National Standards Institute's (ANSI) standards for safe food handling. It also ensures the restaurant professional knows how to protect the customers, food and employees from unnecessary illness, contamination, and damage to the professional's or restaurant's reputation. Certification is accomplished by meeting all state and local regulatory requirements and by passing an examination. Most jurisdictions require re-certification after five years.

  • Fundamentals of Responsible Alcohol Service Certification: ServSafe also offers courses for this credential, which is accomplished after passing an examination and complying with local alcoholic beverage control commission regulations. The training includes checking for false identification, the laws and your responsibilities as an individual or establishment that serves alcohol and methods of determining intoxication for responsible alcohol service.

Foodservice Management Professional (FMP)

Offered by the National Restaurant Association's Educational Foundation, this certification is earned by foodservice professionals who exemplify high levels of knowledge, experience, leadership and professionalism. Candidates must have at least three years supervisory experience or two years with a business or hospitality degree; be previously certified as a Food Protection Manager; and pass the FMP Certification Exam, which covers such topics as management, operations, human resources, marketing and finance.