Running an eatery can often be complicated. Restaurants are tightly regulated by state and city authorities. Even the most diligent of owners can miss an important rule and end up fined or shut down.
Thankfully, there are a number of resources available to you as you start your restaurant. You can contact your local city licensing board for assistance. Specifically, they should provide a step-by-step guide as to what's required in your city.
What follows is an overview of some of the most important restaurant regulations when starting or running a business. Of course, even when the city is happy you've met your obligations, you still have to take care of customers at the end of the day.
Space: Zoning and Construction Requirements
The laws surrounding your physical space involve the building and renovations. Specifically, you need to consider:
- Municipal zoning laws
- City entertainment by-laws, specifically hours of operation, alcohol and noise
- Construction permits
- Permission from city to develop a new site
- Licensed construction teams
You may have already signed a lease or even purchased the building. But you likely have to complete renovations to make it functional as a restaurant. At this stage, it's important to look at restaurant laws and city regulations so you know what you have to do. Here are some common requirements:
- The building is zoned for use as a restaurant
- Area allows for an activity that coincides with your business hours
- You can have outdoor seating, alcohol, and entertainment
These should be reviewed as early as possible. You don't want to be open your first week and then discover you are not allowed to serve alcohol on the patio or that patrons have to park three blocks away.
Once you have the space, you have to build it up the way you want to. That means hiring the right designers, engineers and contractors to do the job. Find businesses that are licensed and can keep your project on schedule.
During the construction phase, comply with city inspection requirements. They may obligate you to have approval at several different stages. Indeed, some cities may ask you to submit your development plans for approval before construction even starts.
Administration: Business Licenses, Regular Inspections
Both the city's health department and planning department also want to have a say in your restaurant. When you open your doors, you'll have to continue to keep the area up to code in terms of business and health standards. If you don't pass these inspections, the city may close the restaurant for public health concerns.
You'll likely have to obtain several licenses. These are permissions from the city to carry on the restaurant's activities. Here are some examples of permits or licenses you may need:
- Business operation
- Live entertainment
- Food service
- Building occupancy
- Employer identification number
- Employee health
This is just a sample list to explore; some counties have unique requirements. For example, in some places, you have to have a license to place a pool table in your establishment. It's a lot to think about, in addition to the restaurant startup costs you'll have to cover.
In addition, you will have to renew your licenses on a regular basis. This may be annually, for example, in the case of a business license or permission to serve alcohol. Also, just getting the license doesn't mean you automatically keep it. Typically, these licenses will come with additional requirements. This aspect of restaurant laws and regulations determines a large part of how you run your business. So, carefully review what you have to do to keep your license so you don't risk losing it.
In your rush to keep the authorities happy, don't forget to protect yourself as well. Business insurance can offer coverage in case you experience unexpected mishaps. You can get industry-specific protection with restaurant insurance that's appropriate for your business.
Food Preparation: Health and Safety
The city wants to ensure your restaurant complies with health and safety standards. Those are in place to protect patrons and staff. Among the rules to know and follow are:
- Cleanliness and food safety
- Physical safety of employees and patrons
- Protections against hazardous materials
You have to prepare for a surprise inspection at any time. Because the city is dedicated to the health and safety of patrons, restaurant rules and regulations often permit them to do spontaneous checks of the kitchen and the full establishment.
Things can get busy when you are running your eatery, but have policies and procedures in place that help maintain a high level of cleanliness and superior standards in food handling, storage, and preparation.
Management: Labor Laws
As a restaurant owner, you are also an employer. Restaurant labor laws apply to servers, food preparation staff, and indeed anyone on your payroll. Get to know the rules and follow them. They may include:
- Hours of work, wage laws, required breaks
- Rules around hiring and firing
By following these rules, you won't risk getting fined by the Department of Labor. Since eateries are late-night establishments that serve alcohol, there may be additional government regulations for restaurants you need to know about so you can be a responsible manager.
Indeed, the Department of Labor or another authority wants to make sure your staff are safe. That's why health and safety inspections may occur. As part of your business licensing process, you may be required to learn what you have to do to prevent workplace accidents or to obtain workers compensation insurance.
Having a Successful Restaurant
Once you have all of your Ps and Qs in place, your final job is to keep your customers happy.
Remember, your diners always come first—be sure to offer them exceptional service and high-quality food no matter what. Also, listen to the feedback that you receive in the restaurant. It can help you to improve the dining experience and let diners know you are responsive to their concerns. Plus, make sure to read your online reviews and respond when appropriate. Often a courteous acknowledgment of both positive and negative feedback can help elevate your reputation.
Despite all of the detail involved, running a restaurant can be a fulfilling and lucrative experience. With the right preparation, you can make the dream a reality.