How to Start a Restaurant 05 : Research the Local Laws and Ordinances

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How to Start a Restaurant 05 : Research the Local Laws and Ordinances

Before we get started on the next lesson on “How to Start a Restaurant lets talk about everything we’ve done so far. There is so much you have done so far you have come and so much still yet to go. Starting your restaurant isn’t going to be easy and we never said it was going to be. Anything worth it in life isn’t going to come easy. We’ve all heard that before right?

You are 4 weeks into “How to Start a Restaurant and you have accomplished a lot. So far we’ve covered (1) Where you Should Open Your Restaurant, (2) finding your Restaurants Unique Selling Point, (3) Choosing a quality food supplier for your restaurant, (4) Testing your product on as many people as possible and getting their honest feed back.

Does it sound like you have done a ton of work already? It’s because you have! If you have made it this far you are serious about starting your restaurant. I am happy to be helping you in your journey to opening your own restaurant. Now in this lesson we are going to turn up the heat even higher. We are going to pack a lot of knowledge into this unit and help you make sure you are starting your restaurant off with a plan that is going to insure greatness. No restaurant should be left behind! That should be our motto because that is honestly how I feel.

The next few months we are going to be concentrating a lot on research and planning. Most restaurants fail because they do not do the research and planning needed to make sure they are going to be successful. I am going to walk you through a system to help you determine if you are headed down the right path to opening your restaurant : (1) Research the Local Laws and ordinances for your restaurant (2) Research the local health codes and building codes for your new restaurant (3) and last but not least start Researching all the Insurances you are going to need for your new restaurant.

Are You READY?

Great lets get started then. This lesson is going to be one of the most important lessons. This lesson you are going to basically determine if opening up your restaurant in the city and location you have chosen is going to work or not from a law stand point.

1. State Laws

Each state is going to have its own laws about what it requires of you when you are opening a restaurant. It is best to contact the state in which you are planning to open your restaurant up in and see what they require. State laws in most cases require you to follow all building codes, fire codes and all food codes.

They will instruct you to contact your local building department and health department.

Contact your state to be sure.

2. Local Ordinances

Your local ordinances are going to govern you more once you get open. They are very important to research. They may not even allow restaurants in the area you are looking to open one. I have heard of this happening before. They may require you to have a certain amount of parking or not allow you to be open after a certain time do to noise or smells from restaurants. You never know really what they are going to say there are some ridiculous ordinances out there. If you run into an ordinances that is going to restrict you from opening your restaurant you may be able to get a variance. Contact your local city office to see what they require.

3. Each City has Different Laws

Each city will have its own ordinances that you will have to follow. I know when I opened up my second restaurant I wished I would of spent a lot more time investigating the local ordinances of a town that was only one town over from the town I started my first restaurant in. If I would have then I would not have ever opened in that town. I would have at least chosen a different location.

First thing to check when you are looking into opening a restaurant is their sign ordinance. I speak from experience. A sign by the road is a great way for you to communicate with your customers as they drive by.

1. Road Signage :

Their rule was you could have a sandwich board sign but it had to be within 10’ from the front door. For downtown businesses this ordinance would be perfect but if you have a large parking lot like I had it would of put it right in the middle of the first parking spot. Don’t just check their sandwich board sign ordinances check all ordinances that have to do with signs by the road. A lot of townships have a set size for a road sign. I sat in on one township meeting where they wouldn’t let there own school rent their land to a billboard company. It was going to give their school district over $80,000 in the next few years. They shot the billboard proposal down. Two years later they are now closing schools in their district.

2. Canopy :

If your are planning on having a canopy on your building check to see if there are certain colors, dimensions, and if it is allowed to be eliminated.

3. Trash receptacle :

A lot of townships are requiring that the trash receptacle be enclosed now. This helps with the appearance of the town. Just because the business that was there before you didn’t need one that doesn’t mean they are not going to require you to have one. So it is good to check.

This is just a few things you need to look for. When you contact your local township office they will have all the information you will need.

What do you Need to Know about Restaurant Laws?

Restaurants have been around for years it is nothing new to your community offices. Laws and ordinances are always changing for instance on my last health inspection they are now requiring as of January 1 2017 Michigan is requiring you to take a class and pass the test on food allergies. They gave us 30 days to get that completed.

Licenses : In order to serve food no matter if you’re a brick and mortar shop, food truck, or a food cart you are going to need a food license. You will need a license to sell food. This basically is just a piece of paper that indicates you have been inspected and you meet the minimum requirements to sell food to the public. Another license that many of you may not be aware of is your sales tax license if you are in a state that charges sales tax. I go over this in more detail in the Restaurant Starter Checklist.

Permits : You may be required by your local building department to get an occupancy permit or building permit first depending on if this is new construction or not. Your building department is someone you are going to be one of the first departments you will want to contact when you find a building you are thinking of leasing or buying before you sign anything. 

Fire Department : Once you have contacted the building department to see everything you need to get done for them the next place you should contact is the fire department so you can see everything you need to do for the fire marshal. A lot of what you need to do for them will be covered when you contact the building department.

Building Occupancy : Knowing how many people are allowed in your building at one time is something you should also know before signing anything. If you sign anything you need to make sure there is something in there that says it is contingent on that you are able to operate a restaurant at that location.

Zoning : The zoning of the building will be important and will also be a question you can get answered when you talk to the building department. Some areas are not zoned for restaurants. This is something to get cleared up right away.

Where Can you Find the Information

When you contact them they will be able to point you in the correct direction. In addition to everything I have spoken about in this article you will find a lot more information in the recent article 50 Things Restaurant Owners and Managers Wished they would of Known before they Opened! Just like Joseph from England Street Tavern, and Andrew from Mancinos said it is important to know your demographics of your target market and the area in which you are opening in. You can find more on this in the article I did recently on demographic studies. I also just released a podcast on this exact topic where I interviewed someone that specializes on this topic.

Local State and Township Office

The first place you will want to start looking is your local state and township offices. They are going to be your best bet. They will have all the information you need when it comes to what you need to do to get your doors open.

National Restaurant Association

Another great place to start is the national restaurant association. They are a great place to get your questions answered as well. They put on a restaurant show once a year in Chicago. Especially if you have never been to an event like this before it is a good idea to attend. They have a lot of good information at these shows.


Google is a great place to start for anything you are researching. Laws are changing so frequently and change from township to township that you will still want to check with your local government.

A good thing to do is to set up a Google news alert. Set the alert so you know whenever a law is going to be passed in your area that has to do with restaurant laws. You can set it up so that you know when ordinances are being passed as well. The only way you will be notified though is if there is something in the news about it. You can also set an alert so you are notified of local meetings that are going to be coming up in your township as well. This will give you an opportunity to attend and be involved in the community in which you are planning to do business in. is the #1 place to find information about opening a restaurant. We have well over 50 years of combine knowledge. We have seen some restaurants fail and others succeed. We know what works and what doesn’t work we have been around the block a time or two. We don’t have a list of rules and regulations from each state and township yet we are more than willing to help you find the answers if we don’t have them. Use the contact us form to get a hold of us.

It always works out the best when the building you are moving into was previously used as a restaurant. I’ve witnessed a gentleman open a restaurant directly around the corner from me and it cost him $30,000 just in renovations to be able to use it as a restaurant. That doesn’t even include the equipment or anything else. This gentleman was not financially ready to handle such a high initial cost and ended up going out of business in 6 months.

Your First Steps

Just like when you were learning to walk and you started off by taking baby steps this process is going to be no different. It may seem over whelming at first but remember we are here for you. Anything you need to know feel free to connect with us on our Facebook page, Twitter account, or use the Contact Us page. Anyone that has opened a restaurant will tell you don’t rush in to it do your research first and get help with the stuff you don’t fully understand. Don’t be afraid to ask us. If we don’t know the answer we will find someone that does and either get you in contact with them or get the answer for you. Keep pushing on! You can do this!

The best way to do this is to set a schedule. Write everything down that you need to do and a time in which you want them accomplished by. Set aside 45 min to an hour each day to get things done for your restaurant. Soon you will look back and you won’t believe how much you have accomplished. If you are the kind of person that likes to sit for several hours and hammer things out than set aside a day or two a week to get things done. The weekend is a great time to get things done. I know that the weekend is probably taken up with other things but if you’re going to get this accomplished and not just let it sit on the back burner you’re going to need to set time aside. If you find that your schedule isn’t pushing you enough or is pushing you too hard re-adjust it so you don’t get discouraged.  

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