How Do I Open a Restaurant in Florida?
Updated: Mar 8
Although opening a business may seem straightforward, it can get complicated quickly when that business involves a highly regulated industry such as food service, alcoholic beverages, tobacco, CBD/hemp and many more.
In this blog series -- titled "How do I...?" -- we will take a look at a few of the most common business types we work with here at Baker Law, P.A. and present an overview of the basic licensing and permitting generally required to get started. Of course, these basics may not apply to all situations, so always consult an attorney to understand exactly what is required for your unique business.
In this first article of the series, let's discuss opening a restaurant in Florida. Typically, the first step will always be forming a company, the most common types being a limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation. If you plan to operate under a business entity, which is highly recommended to protect your personal assets from liability, it is important to form your company first, because when it comes time to sign a lease for a business location, open a business bank account or apply for licensing, you will want to apply in the name of the company, not your individual name. For instance, many people make the mistake of signing a lease in their individual name, only to find when they apply for alcohol licensing that they need to spend time and money amending the lease to reflect the company as the Tenant or it will be rejected by the State.
So you've got your LLC or corporation formed -- now what? The next step is obtaining a Federal Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), most commonly known as an Employer Identification Number (EIN), for the company, from the Internal Revenue Service. The EIN is a unique identifier for your business. A common misconception likely based on the name "Employer Identification Number" is that you only need an EIN if you plan to have employees. However, this is incorrect, as an EIN is required to file your LLC/corporate tax return, open a corporate bank account, and apply for nearly all licensing and permitting for your company. More information on obtaining an EIN can be found at the IRS website here: Employer ID Numbers.
Once you have your company formed along with your shiny new EIN, you get to register to pay more taxes! Your EIN is used to pay your federal income tax, but since your restaurant will be selling prepared food, which is subject to state sales tax in Florida (as well as any applicable local sales tax), you must register for a Sales Tax Certificate, commonly known as a Seller Permit, with the Florida Department of Revenue ("DOR"). You will use the Seller Permit to pay your sales tax on a monthly, quarterly, semiannual or annual basis, depending on the amount of tax you collect. The DOR's Business Owner's Guide for Sales and Use Tax contains a wealth of information for new business owners unfamiliar with sales tax requirements in Florida.
OK -- so you have your company formed, your EIN for federal income tax, and your Seller Permit for state sales tax. Now, if you are operating under a different name than your LLC or corporation, the Florida Fictitious Name Act requires that you file a Fictitious Name Registration with the State. A Fictitious Name is the proper term for what is commonly known as a "DBA" or "Doing Business As" name. Most companies operate under a DBA. For instance, "Publix Super Markets, Inc." is a corporation that operates under multiple DBAs such as "Publix Liquor Store" and "Publix Pharmacy." The DBA must also be published pursuant to Florida Statutes, Chapter 50.
While you're forming your company, getting the EIN and Seller Permit, and registering the DBA, you'll want to be scouting for a suitable location for your restaurant. If you plan to sell any alcohol, it's always a good idea to contact the local zoning department for the city or county to make sure alcohol sales will be allowed at that location. Nearly all cities and counties have distance separation requirements, which mandate minimum distances between alcohol establishments and schools, churches, residences and other businesses selling alcohol. Some areas flat out prohibit alcohol sales in certain districts as well, so this is an important step before signing a lease. You do not want to get locked in to a 5-year commitment to a location only to find out you are not allowed to sell or serve any alcohol.
Now, you're ready to apply for your food license and alcohol license. Depending on the menu items offered and method of food preparation, the food license will likely be regulated by the Division of Hotels & Restaurants or the Florida Department of Agriculture. Less often, a food license will be under the jurisdiction of the Florida Department of Health. Most new restaurants require a plan review prior to licensing, where the State reviews proposed plans for the restaurant and approves, rejects, or approves with conditions. Alcohol licensing is regulated by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco ("DABT"). The alcoholic beverage licensing application process can be quite complex, and since this article is primarily focused on starting a restaurant, we will not go into detail, but you can review our Blog for additional alcohol licensing-related articles.
Once the plans are approved, you will need to submit the restaurant license application. Once processed, the appropriate agency will schedule an inspection to come to the premises and verify that all is in order. You will need to do the same with the DABT for your alcohol license. However, the DABT allows you to purchase a temporary license as the permanent alcohol license can take several months to process and approve.
When you have your restaurant license and temporary alcohol license, the last step usually involves local licensing at the city and/or county level. These local licenses can include occupational licenses, business tax receipts, certificates of use, and more, and they vary throughout the different cities and counties in Florida. They typically require all other licensing to be in place before issuance, but this is not always the case. Fees generally range between $50-$500 per year.
I hope this has been an informative article to help understand the basics for restaurant licensing in Florida. As always, we recommend consulting with an experienced attorney to assist with your business licensing. Contact Baker Law, P.A. today and let us handle your restaurant licensing, hemp/CBD licensing, liquor licensing, tobacco licensing and much more. Cheers!
About the Author
Jonathon W. Baker, Esq., President of Baker Law, P.A., has extensive experience in business, licensing and regulatory law at the local, state and federal levels. He routinely represents clients in all stages of business formation and licensing for alcoholic beverages, food service, hemp/CBD and many other varieties of licensing and permitting. He has years of experience representing borrowers and lenders in liquor license financing and foreclosure litigation. Outside of his law practice, Jonathon is a trained musician who has played multiple styles of guitar for over 20 years and also enjoys exercising and spending time on Florida's sunny beaches.
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