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If you’re thinking about opening a restaurant, start here for a checklist of items to consider and permits that you may need to obtain to get your business off the ground. Please note that this guide does not substitute for legal or professional advice, and additional permits may be required depending on the circumstances of your business.
The Restaurant Checklist covers key items that you may consider when starting your business. Getting a restaurant off the ground can be complex and there are numerous government agencies that you may need to interact with to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of yourself, your team, and your customers. Get a head start on the planning process by knowing upfront what to expect so you don't run into surprises that may delay your grand opening.
The first step in starting a business is writing a well-considered, comprehensive business plan. There are resources to provide technical assistance to entrepreneurs to guide them in the writing process. The New Jersey Small Business Development Centers have regional offices that cover every county in New Jersey and provide free, taxpayer-supported assistance to entrepreneurs.
Other organizations that provide technical assistance include:
Kitchen: A Catering business must use a "commercial kitchen," or a kitchen that has been approved and inspected by the Department of health for all food preparation. A Caterer may not use a residential kitchen for any food preparation.
Zoning Requirements: Every municipality (City, Township, Borough, etc.) has a Land Use/Zoning Ordinance which regulates the kinds of business activities that are permitted within a designated zone and places restrictions on building on land parcels including building setbacks, building heights, signage, and various other aspects of the land usage. When evaluating a location for your business you should consult with the Zoning Officer to determine the suitability of the site for your purposes and what obligations you will have, including possible Planning/Zoning board approvals. Check with your local or municipal government office to find the relevant contact information.
Building Permits: Construction covered under the New Jersey Uniform Construction Code will require a Construction Permit and inspections to ensure that all construction conforms to the relevant construction codes. In many cases architectural plans prepared by a licensed Architect may be required when making an application for a Construction Permit. Business owners should be diligent in preparing a budget for construction costs that includes the necessary professional costs and permit fees.
Copies of permit application forms can be found here.
Prior Approvals: It is vital that due diligence is performed in evaluating any location for a business. Some locations may require additional “prior approvals” before permits or zoning approvals can be obtained due to environmental or other land use concerns. You may require professional assistance in evaluating a site.
Community Involvement: Being a member of your community is good for a restaurant or catering business. Supporting community programs, local athletic programs, or joining chambers of commerce, are excellent networking opportunities and demonstrate a business owner's commitment to the neighborhood. Customers are more likely to frequent stores that demonstrate they care about being a part of the community.
Contact your municipality for information on local regulations. General steps required include:
New Jersey Division of Revenue & Enterprise Services (DORES): If you choose to form a limited liability company (LLC) a corporation (Inc.), a Professional Corporation (PC), you must record that new entity with DORES. This is not required for Sole Proprietorships or General Partnerships.
Tax Registration: all businesses (including proprietorships and partnerships) must register for Tax purposes with DORES. Every business that has employees, more than a single owner, or is organized as a corporation must obtain a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN), commonly referred to as a Federal Tax ID #, from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Trade Names, Alternate (Fictitious) Business Names, Doing Business As (DBA): businesses may operate using a name other than their legal name, if that name has been properly registered. Sole Proprietorships and General Partnerships must register a “Tradename” in each of the County Clerk’s Offices in the Counties where they wish to conduct business. LLCs, Corporations, and other legal entities may register an Alternate Name with DORES. Fictitious names for foreign entities (companies formed outside of New Jersey) are sometimes referred to as a DBA.
Mercantile Licenses: Many towns require certain businesses to obtain Mercantile or other local business licenses. Check with the Municipal Clerk’s Office to determine your obligation under the Municipal Ordinances. Your Municipal Clerk can be found by contacting your Municipal Government offices.
Taxpayer Workshops: The Treasury Department’s “Taxation University” offers a workshop series to assist small businesses learn more about their state tax obligations.
Business with employees have certain obligations. Be aware of the following before you hire anyone else to work with you:
Wage and Hour Compliance: The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s office of Wage and Hour Compliance has requirements for wages, working hours, earned sick leave and other regulations that employers must follow. For more information, visit the Department of Labor and Workforce Development website.
Workers’ Compensation: All employees must be covered by Workers’ Compensation. In addition, any stockholder (owner) of a corporation that works in the business, even if compensation is deferred, must also be covered by Worker’s Comp. This does not apply to the members (owners) of LLCs. See your business insurance agent for information on state-approved workers compensation policies.
If you prefer a personal touch to getting your business of the ground, check out the Resources tab to find organizations that might be helpful to you along the way. Or, call the Business Action Center for dedicated, free technical assistance.