Everything You Need to Know About Food Service Licenses

Grace Lee-Weitz
Post by Grace Lee-Weitz
March 18, 2022
Everything You Need to Know About Food Service Licenses

Food is an integral part of any restaurant, bar, and brewery. For a brewery or bar serving food, whether it's through their own kitchen, a food truck, a pop-up, or another option, it keeps customers in the taproom longer, increases average check amounts, and adds to a better overall experience.

“If you do sell food as a brewery, you will also sell more beer,” says Tim McLaughlin, CEO and Founder of GoTab, a Restaurant Commerce Platform (RCP) used by large and mid-sized restaurants, breweries, bars, and hotels. “If you’re a brewery that does not sell food, you should find a truck or some other way to sell food.” According to McLaughlin, GoTab has worked with many breweries that have done studies and every single one finds they sell more beer when they sell food.

And while there are many considerations to designing a food menu kitchen, arguably the most important first step is to apply for a food service license.

A restaurant, bar, or brewery needs the necessary permits to legally serve food. We’re going to be blunt here: Getting a food service license can be a tedious process, but as a business owner it is crucial that you follow all the necessary steps.

Without the proper permits and licensing, you won’t be able to legally serve food and could potentially miss out on a crucial boost to your bottom line.

What Is a Food Service License?

Chef at fast serve counter waiting for guests order
(Photography courtesy of: Clem Onojeghuo | Unsplash)

Any business that serves cooked food on-site needs a food service license. Whether you're a restaurant owner or food truck operator—and food is your business—or bar or brewery operator and you’ve chosen to add food to your menu, you need a food service license.

Essentially, this specific permit means that your establishment has met all the necessary federal and local regulations to safely serve food to customers.

Local state health departments issue food service permits, so obtaining one means you’ve been approved by your local government to serve food.

For that reason, food service licenses vary by state. You absolutely need to check with your local health department to understand what the application process will look like.

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3 Things to Consider When Applying for a Food Service License

While the process will differ by state, here are the steps you’ll need to take:

Do Your Research

Before even applying for a food service license, you need to understand the federal and local laws. Check the FDA’s website for food and drug processing laws along with your local health department for food handling laws relevant to your state and county.

For the most part, you can Google “food service license [insert state here]” to be directed to your local government page on food service licenses. But if you’re looking for an easy place to start, the FDA has a page called “State Retail and Food Service Codes and Regulations by State” that will direct you to the right place.

Chef cooking in kitchen on range with flare up
(Photography courtesy of: Lasse Bergqvist | Unsplash)

Fill Out and Submit the Application

As we mentioned, it’s important to remember that this process will differ by state. Generally, here is what you can expect:

  1. Find the Application - Most applications can be found online. Check your local state health department to find the appropriate food service license application.
  2. Fill Out the Application - When filling out the application, you’ll most likely need details about your establishment such as the name, address of the kitchen (this applies to food trucks as well), personal information, etc. Note: Typically, you will need to pay an application fee in addition to the fee for the actual food service license.
  3. Pay the Fee for the Food Service License - Depending on the location, number of seats, and size of the staff in your restaurant, the cost for a food service license can vary widely. Anywhere between $100 to $1,000 is not unusual. Once you pay the fee you’ll receive your proper licensing. Typically, food service licenses are effective for one year before they expire. You need to renew each year, but the renewal fee is often less expensive than the original payment.

Pass the Health Department Inspection

Every business that serves food will be required to pass inspections from your local health department.

The health inspector determines that your restaurant, bar, or brewery is up to code and can safely and sanitarily serve food to its customers. The inspector will check everything from the temperature of your walk-in coolers or refrigerators to the standards of your bathroom to the dates labeled on your products.

It’s important to note that you will typically be charged a fee for the health inspection (separate from the fee for a food service license).

Remember: You will need to pass the health inspection in order to legally obtain or keep your food service license. If you fail the inspection you risk losing your permit, or if you’re applying for the first time you’ll need to go through the whole inspection again and pass before you can receive your food service license.

You Have Your Food Service License… Now What?

Once you do have a food service license you’re ready to rock n’ roll with your food menu. One of the first things you’ll want to consider is the best way to display your menu to your customers.

Untappd for Business helps you create beer menus and publish them everywhere.

Whether your business needs a print, QR code, or digital menu, Untappd for Business makes it easy. By becoming a Verified Venue, you can share your current tap list or food menu with the world’s largest community of beer enthusiasts.

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Design your beer and food menus and publish them anywhere! Print, QR code, or digital signage - the possibilities are endless with Untappd for Business!

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Grace Lee-Weitz
Post by Grace Lee-Weitz
March 18, 2022
Grace is the Managing Editor for Hop Culture and Untappd. She also organizes and produces the largest weeklong women in craft beer festival in the country, Beers With(out) Beards and the first-ever festival celebrating the colorful, vibrant voices in the queer community in craft beer, Queer Beer. An avid craft beer nerd Grace always found a way to work with beer. After graduating with a journalism degree from Northwestern University, she attended culinary school before working in restaurant management. She moonlighted as a brand ambassador at 3 Sheeps Brewing Co on the weekends before moving into the beer industry full time as an account coordinator at 5 Rabbit Cerveceria. Grace holds her Masters degree in the Food Studies program at NYU.