Choose a Location
Find a location
Find a location zoned for your business. Every location is zoned differently - some could require a “Change of Use” or “Conditional Use” application, which can include a public hearing and neighborhood notification.
Visit the Planning Information Center
Visit the SF Planning Department's Planning Information Counter at 1660 Mission St. to understand zoning and building codes. These requirements will determine where you open your restaurant.
Taking over a space that already was a restaurant saves time and construction costs, as long as the restaurant had recently passed inspections and was in compliance with current requirements.
If you plan to serve liquor or beer and wine, check if your potential location allows alcohol. Be sure to start your liquor license application early.
Review SF DPH Construction Guidelines and visit the SF Fire Department
Review the DPH Construction Guidelines and visit the SF Fire Department to determine if you need to make changes to your space. You must consider sprinkler systems, kitchen hoods, fire exits, capacity requirements, etc.
Review ADA guidelines
Review Americans with Disability Act (ADA) guidelines to make sure your business is accessible.
Sign your lease.
Sign your lease. Leases can be tricky, so review the lease carefully with a lawyer before signing.
Your landlord is required to provide information about the accessibility of the building, in case it needs renovations.
Set Up Your Business
Create a plan
Create a plan for the type of restaurant you will open.
Choose a business structure
Choose a business structure. LLCs, Corporations, and Limited Partnerships must register their structure with CA Secretary of State before registering locally.
Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as a Federal Tax ID Number from the IRS. This is used to identify your business and allows you to hire employees. If you are a sole proprietor without employees, you may choose to use your Social Security Number instead.
Register your business
Register your business with the City through the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector (TTX) and the Office of the Assessor-Recorder.
If you register your business before choosing a final location, you will have to update your registration with the new address. This can cost money and time.
Choose and file a business name
File a Fictitious Business Name (FBN) Statement at the SF Office of the County Clerk if you will be using a name other than your given name, the names of your partners, or the officially registered name of your LLC or corporation.
Apply for a Seller’s Permit
Apply for a Seller’s Permit from the CA State Board of Equalization. Every location must have this permit to sell taxable goods.
Obtain workers’ compensation insurance.
Obtain workers' compensation insurance. You will need this in order to obtain the Department of Public Health (DPH) Permit to Operate.
Prepare Your Space
Submit plans and documents to the SF Department of Building Inspection. Change and resubmit plans as needed.
Water and Wastewater Capacity Charge
If your business will use more water than the previous business or resident, you may have to pay a capacity charge to the SF Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
Get an estimate of the water capacity charge from the PUC before you sign a lease. This fee can be high, especially if your location was not a restaurant before.
Fats, Oils, & Grease
Install approved grease-capture equipment (i.e. traps or interceptors) in your kitchen to prevent clogged pipes and sewer backups.
Gas and Electric Services
If your business needs new or additional gas or electric services, contact PG&E Building and Renovation Services to start the application process.
Transit Impact Development Fee
If your business will increase the number of people coming to your area, you may have to pay a Transit Impact Development Fee to the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA).
Small businesses may be eligible for Transit Impact Development Fee waivers or reductions.
If you want to install or change a canopy or sign on the outside of the building, ensure you comply with the SF Planning Department sign guidelines.
Food & Alcohol
Manager’s Food Safety Certification
Obtain a Manager’s Food Safety Certification for yourself and/or a designated employee. This person is responsible for teaching other employees proper food handling.
Food Handler Card
Health Permit to Operate
Apply for your Health Permit to Operate from the SF Department of Public Health within 6-8 weeks of your planned open date. Your application will require Proof of Worker’s Compensation Insurance, Proof of Food Safety Certification, and a Business Registration Certificate.
Obtain a Liquor License from the CA Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC).
Be prepared to wait 3-6 months for your liquor license to be issued. After applying, a notice will be posted at your location to alert the general public that you plan on serving alcohol. If there are no objections, the department will conduct a background investigation and, if cleared, issue the permit.
Liquor licenses can be transferred or purchased from an old owner of a restaurant though you will often pay a premium.
No trans fats
Don’t serve any foods containing trans fats, per California State law. SFDPH enforces the trans fat compliance program to ensure that no food containing artificial trans fat is stored, distributed, served, or used in the preparation of any food.
Recyclable or compostable containers
Use containers that are compostable or recyclable if you serve takeout or allow customers to take food home. The SF Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance prohibits certain food service ware, like Styrofoam containers.
If you will have a Point of Sale (POS) station (also called a cash register), you must register it with the SF Department of Public Health Weights and Measures Program.
If you plan to hire employees, be sure to follow all wage and employment guidelines.
Place of Assembly Permit
If 50 people or more will gather in your bar at any time, you will need a Place of Assembly Permit from the SF Fire Department.
Outside tables and chairs
If you wish to have outdoor tables and chairs, you must be able to provide 6 ft. of sidewalk clearance and obtain a permit from the Department of Public Works.
If you plan to offer outdoor seating, be sure your alcohol license covers serving outdoors.
If you plan on playing music over speakers, you must obtain a music license from at least one of the major music companies, like Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) or the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). Establishments under 3,750 SQ FT that only play radio and television broadcasts are exempt.
Planning on having candles in your bar? You’ll need an Open Flame Permit from the SF Fire Department.
If you wish to have bike racks in front of your restaurant, you must follow the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) bicycle parking guidelines. The MTA installs racks for short-term bike parking (under two hours) in the public right-of-way (on the sidewalk or in the parking lane) by request, at no charge.
Post required posters and permits
Post all required posters and permits including No Smoking signs, minimum wage information, health inspection results, etc.
Equipment maintenance and permit renewals
Mark your calendar. Schedule equipment maintenance and set reminders to renew your permits and licenses as needed.
Be prepared for SFDPH Health Inspections by checking walls, floors, and ceilings for damage; following best practices for food storage; collecting garbage; and ensuring workers have good hygiene.