The Nuts and Bolts Needed to Get Your Restaurant or Business Open

Know what licenses, permits & certificates you need for your business.

Owning a business, particularly a bar or restaurant, is a big commitment and requires organization and attention to detail, as there are a lot of responsibilities to handle simultaneously. As you set up your business, you will need to make sure that you have all the necessary licenses, permits, and certificates to meet the legal requirements. You will also need to keep a calendar, spreadsheet, or some other reminder system to make sure that renewals are handled timely to avoid interruptions in business. The following are the “nuts and bolts” that you will need to put in place before you begin operating.

Employer Identification Number (EIN). Think of an EIN like a Social Security Number for your company. An EIN is the business’s numerical identity in the same way a SSN is for an individual, and it is needed for most other applications for your business, including opening a bank account in the business’s name. You can apply for an EIN through the IRS.

Certificate of Authority to Collect Sales Tax. For sales that are subject to sales tax (including food and beverage), you must register with the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance for a Certificate of Authority. The Certificate lets you collect sales tax on these taxable items from the buyer, which you will then be responsible for remitting to the NYS Tax Department. The best way to apply is online at the NY OPAL website (

Health Permit. A health permit shows that you will operate your business (handle food and beverages) in a way that conforms to NYS Public Health Law and the State Sanitary Code. You can apply for a health permit through the County Health Department. You must have proof of Worker’s Compensation insurance or exemption, and an inspection is part of the application process.

Certificate of Occupancy. To prove that your retail space meets building code and safety regulations, you need to apply for a Certificate of Occupancy (also called a Certificate of Compliance) through your local city or fire department. A qualified inspector will visit the premises and determine whether a C of O can be issued.  Some municipalities require a separate electrical inspection by a certified inspector and a “stamped” set of plans by a licensed engineer or architect.

Business Permit. Some cities, including the Cities of Rochester and Buffalo, require that bars and restaurants apply for a business permit in order to operate. The City reviews the application to check that the business meets zoning and code requirements. A background check is performed and a property inspection may be required.

Liquor license. If you want to sell beer, wine, or liquor (or any combination thereof), you must apply for a license through the New York State Liquor Authority. This can be a long, difficult process, and it is often recommended that you seek the advice of an experienced attorney to assist you. There are liquor licensing businesses that can help you with the application, but only an attorney can use the Attorney Certification Program that fast-tracks your application. This can be a huge time-saver, as applications that are not attorney certified can take 4-6 months (at least) to process. Typically, the business purchase is held up by liquor license approval from the SLA, so any way that you can expedite processing will be to your advantage as you negotiate the deal with the Seller. Your business must be ready to open and operate with all the required licenses, permits, and certificates in place before the liquor license can be issued.

Alcohol Dealer Registration. Along with a license through the New York State Liquor Authority, any business that sells alcoholic beverages must also register with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau prior to engaging in business. This is merely a tax reporting form, like the Certificate of Authority to Collect Sales Tax. You need an EIN to apply, and the process takes at least two weeks.

Sidewalk Café, Jukebox, & Live Music permits. Some towns and cities require special permits to use the public sidewalk as part of its service area or to play live music or recorded music through a jukebox. The City of Buffalo, for example, requires a separate permit for live music and a juke box (“Coin Controlled Amusement”). Check with your local municipality to determine if any of these permits are required and to find out about the application process.

Cigarettes and Tobacco Products. If you want to sell cigarettes and tobacco products, you must apply through the Department of Taxation and Finance for Cigarettes and Tobacco Products Sales Retail Dealers Registration. This permit only allows for the over-the-counter sales. If you want to sell these products through a vending machine, it requires a Vending Machine Registration Certificate, which can also be applied for through the Department of Taxation and Finance.

Lottery. You need a Lottery Agent License through the Division of the Lottery to sell lottery tickets on your premises to the public. To be eligible, you need to have a Certificate of Authority to Collect Sales Tax and Crime Insurance, and you will need to pay a Self-Assurance Fee and have an inspection.

Certificate of Insurance. For any business with employees, even family members, requires carrying Worker’s Compensation and Disability insurances. Policies can be obtained from the State Insurance Fund or through a private carrier.

Certificate of Assumed Name (dba). Any individual or partnership that uses a trade name must file for a Certificate of Assumed Name in each county in which it has an office or retail location. For Limited Liability Companies and Corporations, the Certificate of Assumed Name must be filed if your sign has a business name that differs in any respect form the official name filed with the Division of Corporations. Business entities file the form with the Department of State in Albany, rather than at with the County Clerk.