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Guide to Food Service and Catering License in California

Updated on June 24, 2014
Image by John Vachon, through a public domain license.
Image by John Vachon, through a public domain license.

Cafes, Restaurants, Caterers and Personal Chefs

In California, every aspect of serving food to the public is regulated in some fashion or requires a license of some kind. The above photo was taken in 1943 by John Vachon, and shows a waitress in a diner with customers. In modern day food service, health codes help with safety and protects both the customer and the worker who serves the food in form of food safety, sanitation and workplace safety. If you are looking to start a food-based service business in California, here are some things to look for, and places to begin the business license search.

Opening a Restaurant, Cafe or Other Food Service Establishment

If you are going to serve any kind of alcohol, you need to get a liquor license (to serve alcoholic beverages). Fees will vary from county to county, and the time for approval may be awhile (they are not issued immediately after filling out the forms). A full liquor license will enable the restaurant to serve both wine and beer, but also full bar items like mixed drinks and hard liquor. A beer and wine license allows just that - sale of beer and wine.

A tax ID number (EIN) will need to be filed, and that is received from the IRS. Additionally, all employees must be of legal status. The State Board of Equalization issues the seller's permit, or the Sales and Use Permit, to collect taxes from the customers. Other licenses may be required by the state, so be sure to contact state tax authorities to get all the other forms as needed. The Secretary of State has the Department of Corporations, and if a corporation will be used for the business structure than filing and approval of the corporation must be filed as well. OSHA - Occupational Occupational Safety and Health Information - ensures that employees work in a safe environment.

For the county and city level, licenses and permits include any applicable health permits and business licenses for the establishment and business. Inspections from the fire department or other departments to ensure the safety of the workers in their place of work. DBA ('doing business as') or the Ficticious Name Statement allows the business to be named and is filed with the county. For businesses doing business in the owners' name ('Jones Cafe') may not be required, but should be checked out to be sure.

Caterer's and Personal Chefs

Caterer's and personal chefs may sound similar (preparing food for others) but they are very different as far as business structure and how they are looked at from the governmental bodies. A caterer prepares food at one place and transfers/serves/assembles the food on location for the client, and licensing will require a liquor or alcoholic beverage license, and a permit for each event, in addition to much of the same licensing and inspections for the kitchen as a restaurant. Since a personal chef is someone who prepares food at the client's house, the personal chef isn't governed the same as a caterer is.


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