How to Open Up a Restaurant in Washington and What Do I Need For It?

How to Open Up a Restaurant in Washington

Are you planning to open a restaurant in Washington? To help you get started with your venture, we have put together all the comprehensive details on how to open a restaurant in Washington State.

One of the most critical parts of opening a restaurant is being compliant with all the local laws. So when you are starting your venture of opening a restaurant, café, or any other food business, you must have permits and a license in order.

A food facility health permit, liquor license, certificate of occupancy- all these documentations have requirements, so it is important to know exactly what you need to legally open a restaurant in Washington DC.

Like all other states, Washington has set criteria and needs around the permits and licenses for opening a restaurant. The state administers some licenses, while some are done on a local level.

Things You Need to Open a Restaurant in Washington

The licenses you need to open a restaurant in Washington DC comprise of:

  • Business license
  • Food service license
  • Certificate of occupancy
  • Seller’s permit
  • Liquor license
  • Food facility health permit
  • Building health permit

Business License in Washington: What is it and why do you need it?

A business license is one of the prime licenses you need as you plan to lay out the groundwork of your business. This is also known as a business tax certificate, as it helps you to stay acquiescent during tax season.

How to get a business license in Washington?

In Washington, a business license is controlled by the county or city you reside in. If you operate a restaurant that has multiple locations, it is important to get a business license for each business in a different authority.  To get a business license in Washington, you need an:

  • EIN
  • Sole proprietorship or partnership
  • Business name
  • Address proof and contact number
  • A methodical business plan
  • A COI for your insurance policy

What is the cost of a business license in Washington?

Washington Business license cost depends on county, type of business, and scope of business. Business licenses in Washington need to be paid and renewed regularly, so always check the jurisdiction about how often your license needs to be renewed

License Name: Business license

Cost: 100$

Link: Washington State Department of Licensing

  • Certificate of Occupancy: what is it and why do you need it?

A certificate of occupancy is a document that indicates your space is zoned for your business type, as well as up to code, up to date, safe to use, and also checks and inspections. It is not required in every county, and only certain situations require them, like when you are doing major work or converting the use of space from residential to business.

It is always beneficial to get in touch with your local jurisdiction to determine if your project warrants a Certificate of Occupancy.

How to get a Certificate of Occupancy license?

You can get the forms online, but to get the certificate, your business location must go through plumbing inspections, fire inspections, building inspections, and electrical inspections. Always check your local county’s building or local city and safety department.

What is the cost of a Certificate of Occupancy?

Different counties will charge different amounts, and it will vary by the type of business. The fee will also vary depending on the county.

License Name: Certificate of Occupancy

Cost:  Fee varies depending on the county

Link: Always check your county’s small business department or local city

  • Food handler’s license in Washington: what is it and why do you need it?

A food service license generally known as an employee health permit, allows vendors, restaurants, or any other type of business to sell and serve food on-site safely. These licenses ensure that every employee knows how to carry out their work in compliance with health standards, keeping diners safe from any food disease or illness. It is usually known as ServSafe, named after the company administering most food handler’s tests, or just as Washington Food Handler Card.

Getting a Food Handler’s License

Every employee who handles food in Washington must get their Food Handler’s license within 30 days of employment- cooks, chefs, baristas, servers, and bartenders, to name a few. General Managers and buzzers may not be required.

For managers with Food Protection Manager Certification, they do not need to get a Washington Food Handler Card. Some jurisdictions have their food security training standards and programs, so they let off from requiring employees to get a Washington Food Handler card.

To get the Food Handler’s card, employees need to pass a test about the preparation and food safety with a grade of approximately 70% (it can be higher as well in some jurisdictions)

What is the cost of a Food Service License in Washington?

Washington state law requires that the license and test should not cost more than $17, to make sure that anyone working in a restaurant can afford to get certified.

License Name: Food handler’s license

Cost: up to $17 per employee

Link: Washington Food Handler Training

  • Food seller permit in Washington: why do you need it and what is it?

Any business that plans to sell substantial goods that are subject to sales tax needs a seller’s permit. This consent allows them to charge the sales tax.

How to get a seller’s permit?

You can register online permits through the permits portal and SBA License.

What is the cost of Food Service license?

There is no fee to apply for a seller’s permit, but you may need to ask to pay a security deposit to cover the unpaid taxes if the business eventually closes.

License Name: Seller’s permit

Cost: $0, maybe just a security deposit

Link: SBA permits and license

  • Liquor License:why do you need it and what is it?

This license is a must for any type of restaurant who are selling or serving alcohol to its client. Since alcohol has an extremely high score for long shelf life, it is often favorable from a profit standpoint to sell alcohol.

How to get a Liquor license?

In Washington, liquor licenses are issued by the state. You must have a seller’s permit already to be able to apply for a liquor license. After you have applied for the license, you must post it on a public notice of application on your business premises for at least 30 days. Some cases require an applicant to post a notice in the newspaper or notify their neighbors. They will also need to show that the business is zoned properly for alcohol-selling business.

The department also does an investigation into the future business and the applicant to see if he/she is qualified. It takes between 40- 90 days to process the application for a liquor license, depending on what kind of application it is. So always be sure that the build time frame is in your countdown to the opening. Licenses can be renewed on a yearly basis, so pay the renewal fee on time or your license will expire.

What is the cost of Liquor license in Washington?

A liquor license in Washington can cost up to $450 – $1200. See the full fee associated with various types of liquor licenses in Washington.

License Name: Liquor License

Cost: $450 – $1200

Link: Washington state liquor and cannabis board

  • Catering business license in Washington 

There is no specific catering license in Washington, but caterers must obtain a liquor license if they wish to serve alcohol, as well as get food safety certification as they handle food.

  • Food facility health permit in Washington:why do you need it and what is it?

All restaurants must have a health permit in order before opening. They must stick to safe food handling, preparation practices, and storage throughout the operation. It helps prevent food diseases and illness in clients and ensures safe working for all.

How to get a Food Facility license?

If you wish to open a restaurant in Washington DChealth permits are under the control of county and city jurisdiction. So check with your local health department to find out how to apply for one for your restaurant business.

Unlike liquor licenses, health permits are non-transferable. When you are opening a new restaurant, even if it is in the space of a previous restaurant, you need to get a new health permit.

Applying for the health permit can be done online depending on the city. You will need to first get a site inspection to ensure that your space and practices comply with the protocol of the Washington health and safety code and all the applicable ordinances.

If your business is determined to operate safely, you will receive your health permit.

What is the cost of a Food Facility health permit?

It varies from county to county

License Name: Food Facility and health permit

Cost: it is variable, usually $1100 +

Link: check local authority for online application

  • Employee health permit in Washington

In Washington, an employee health permit is the same as a food handler’s license

Apart from all the licenses, what do I need to open a restaurant in Washington DC? Well, many important points need to be considered before opening a restaurant in Washington. The most important is:


Below are a few types of Insurance for Washington restaurant owners to consider:

  • Worker’s compensation insurance: This is mandatory in Washington. It helps all the employees who fall sick or injured during the job to cover the healthcare expenses and lost wages.
  • General Liability Insurance: It helps cover you in case you get fired or sued from the job because of a customer injury or property damage, among many other types of lawsuits.
  • Commercial property insurance: This helps you with repairs of your physical location and also the equipment in it if they get damaged.
  • Business income insurance: It can help you in recovering the lost income due to theft, fires, and wind disasters.

Some other legal requirements for opening a restaurant in Washington are:


To get all the permits and licenses mentioned above, and to be able to hire your employees, every business needs an Employer Identification Number also known as EIN. Applying for an EIN is easy, and it can be done online, via mail, or fax.

Most applicants will likely opt for the online EIN application option as it is much quicker and easier to do than print and fax or mail an application. But it should be done in one concurrent session, so make sure that you have all your paperwork and information in hand. The application can be found on the IRS website which comprises all the restrictions and instructions.

What is the cost to open a restaurant in Washington DC?

Let us look at some financial considerations for new restaurants in Washington:

When you are planning to open a restaurant in Washington, you will need to choose the right type of business unit and possession structure. Then you will need to secure the funding for your business.

Business entity:

When starting a restaurant, you need to select what kind of business entity you will be planning to build. Choose between the LLC, partnership, sole proprietorship, C Corporation, or S Corporation.

Ownership structure:

Different restaurants approach profit and ownership very differently. Some simply have many employees and some have one owner. Some also give investors a stake in the business. Others operate as a co-op whereby all employees have a stake in the business and many businesses operate somewhere along the line whereby the owners and partners owning the business but all the employees get a little bit of income share when the business surpasses a prearranged profit threshold.

Figure out which type of profit sharing and ownership structure makes sense for your business, and work with the accountant and lawyer to draw up all the necessary contracts and paperwork.


It costs anywhere between $97,000 and 3 million to start a restaurant and very few people have that kind of money lying around.

Some other options available to restaurant owners looking to go into the business in Washington comprise of brick-and-mortar bank loans, SBA loans, alternative loans, lines of credit, merchant cash advances, crowdfunding, and turning to family and friends for financial support.

They differ widely in application requirements, what kind of collateral you need, how much you can take out, the type of overpayment and repayment schedule, and how easily and quickly you can receive your funding.

The Basics to Open a Restaurant in Washington DC

Choosing the correct location for your restaurant is very critical. You need to do a lot of research on the demographics, competition, and market in your location, as well as on the actual restaurant size, space, history, and visibility. You can also opt to have the cloud kitchen and save on the expenses.

If you opt to have a physical location for your restaurant, you can either lease a restaurant space or buy it or build your restaurant from the ground level. Below are some additional criteria to focus on when looking for a restaurant location to decide if it is right for you or not:

  • Community
  • Real estate market conditions
  • Ideal customer profile and target market
  • Previous tenants
  • Size of the site

Naturally, the location of the restaurant and layout of the space should bring your restaurant idea to life. If you are thinking of opening a steakhouse, having your own building becomes a necessity. However, serving tacos or sandwiches to beachgoers could do with perhaps a food truck.

It is very vital to keep in mind that your location and available square footage will also play a major role in your kitchen design and floor plan of your restaurant.

If your envision is creating a high-volume casual Italian concept with an exposed kitchen, you need a larger footprint and also the ability to know down the walls and install the proper ventilation. Some landlords are not very lenient to let you do all this.

Operations to consider for opening a restaurant in Washington DC

Training, retaining staff, and hiring

When hiring employees for your restaurant, make sure that you are complying with local country and city guidelines for state labor laws. The employees that you hire are true extensions of your restaurant and its brand, making them one of the most vital aspects of your restaurant’s success. From front-house servers to chefs, there are many restaurant positions you can hire for.

Technology and equipment

Majority of restaurant guests expect technology to be incorporated into their dining experience and 97% of restaurant owners agree that technology helps in improving business efficiency. After the pandemic, restaurant guests don’t always prefer to visit your restaurant. That is why you need to invest in technology and equipment that supports an off-premise dining experience that is equally enjoyable as your in-house dining experience. New restaurants should consider investing in the following:

Restaurant technology will power your business, and your ability to grow and establish the revenue yourself as a successful restaurant brand will be much easier.

Host a soft or grand opening:

Once your space, and menu are ready and you are all set to unveil them to the public, you can plan a soft launch or grand launch of your restaurant to the world.

A soft opening is a casual night for the new restaurant where friends and family of the business, staff, neighbors, representatives, distributors, and vendors are invited in for your unofficial first shift. It is like a soft opening where new restaurants go through meal service live for the very first time. You do not mark the soft launch to the public; it is just for the closed ones.

A grand opening marks an official launch to the public- either breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Members can drop in for a drink or a bite. People can try out your special dishes and can post them on social media platforms for more popularity.

Opening a Restaurant in Washington

Opening a restaurant is a huge undertaking with so many steps, mountains of paperwork, and overlapping requirements. Writing up a solid restaurant plan and also securing funding for your restaurant are some of the first things you need to do so that you can also afford all the building blocks of your business, including permits and licenses.

As you are approaching your opening day, you can also start to pursue your restaurant technology options and find the combination of systems and products to make sense to help you set the operation up for success from day one.

The details mentioned above will help you in launching your restaurant business with a bang. And expand it with proper documentation and legalities. So, follow all the protocols and turn your dream into a reality of opening a restaurant in Washington DC.