Licenses Needed to Start a Catering Business

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Food service businesses must comply with many state and county regulations.
Food service businesses must comply with many state and county regulations. (Image: party food image by Bartlomiej Nowak from Fotolia.com)

Caterers can work independently for events, parties, meetings and weddings, or the caterer can contract through event facilities.Starting a catering business requires a broad range of skills. You will need to understand business operations such as licensing, regulations, equipment, supplies, health issues, menu planning, payroll and marketing. This is aside from your skills as a cook. As with any new venture, you must come up with a business plan. Once that is complete, you need to begin the licensing process as several licenses and permits are required before opening for business.

Food Establishment License

To operate any type of food establishment such as a restaurant, taco stand or a catering business, you will need a Food Establishment License. In most states the Department of Health provides these licenses. Bakeries are sometimes an exception. In Minnesota, for example, bakeries are regulated by the Department of Agriculture. General requirements vary but always include inspecting the facility for state compliance. Ensuring staff have the proper training for Food Certification is often mandatory as well.

Alcohol License

If you will be serving alcohol at catering events you will need a liquor license. Typically, this can take some time to obtain, so you should start the process early. Contact your local Alcohol and Beverage Commission for specific requirements for your state. General guidelines to qualify for a license may include a background check and proof of zoning restrictions. States often require training for management or staff who handle alcohol. Training typically covers issues such as requiring proper identification to serve alcohol and understanding how alcohol consumption impacts the drinker. Make sure you understand the requirements and that you and any staff take the necessary training.

Other Licenses or Permits

Other permits and licenses may be required by local jurisdictions or state agencies. Talk with your county's business planner to ensure you aren't missing an important license or permit. For example, your cooking facility will likely need a grease trap permit. If you place a billboard for marketing purposes, you must meet county and state laws for signage and a license may be required. The location of your business may need a zoning license or permit, and you may need a building permit if you are remodeling.

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