Retail Food Service

Back to Inspections, Permitting, and Licensing

A man slicing meat in a deli

*** Before taking out a business loan, signing a lease, or applying for a business license, ensure that the site where you intend to operate is in an appropriately zoned area and that it complies with the current Chicago Municipal Code.  The Code is frequently updated so a new owner needs to check current zoning and code regulations; do not assume the previous owner's designation applies. ***

A Retail Food Establishment license is required any time perishable food is prepared, served, or sold to the public. A Retail Food Establishment license will only be issued to a commercial location.

The term “Retail Food Establishment” includes, but is not limited to, the following:

Full and Limited Service Restaurants Grocery Stores
Cafés, Coffee Shops, and Delis Automatic food-vending machines
Taverns, Bars, and Nightclubs Convenience Stores
Caterers Retail Bakeries and Bakery Outlets
Ice Cream Shops Meat and Fish/Seafood markets
Grills Fruit and vegetable markets

Additional licenses may be required based on overall business activities, which is discussed in “Step 4: Additional Licenses and Permits” of this guide.


Step 1: Zoning

Before signing a lease for your commercial location, you should ensure that the location you have chosen for your Retail Food Establishment (RFE) is properly zoned. You may find this information by searching a specific address utilizing the interactive zoning map, in text format on the Zoning and Reference Guide, or by asking a Business Affairs and Consumer Protection ("BACP") consultant. Please note that different RFEs may have different zoning requirements (i.e. a tavern has different zoning and additional licensing requirements than a restaurant).


Step 2: Application

The following documentation and information is required when applying for an RFE license from the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP): the name of your business, business address, square footage, lease or proof of ownership of the property, Illinois Business Tax number (IBT), Federal Employers Identification Number (FEIN), Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) Sanitation Certificate and/or receipt of class enrollment, business registration/ownership information, and a photo I.D.  The application can be filed online or in person.  A Retail Food License Readiness Checklist is available for your convenience.


License application fees (per establishment): 0 – 4,500 sq. ft. = $660.00
  4,501 – 10,000 sq. ft. = $880.00
  10,001+ sq. ft = $1,100.00

Fees are based on a 2-year term.


Step 3: Permits and Inspections

The Chicago Department of Buildings (DOB) - DOB is the department which conducts building inspections and processes and issues building permits.

    1. A building permit is required for any structural build-out, including rehab, of an RFE. Structural work includes, but is not limited, to: plumbing, electrical, natural gas line, HVAC, drywall, demolition or construction. A more complete list of structural work requiring a permit is available here. All structural work must be completed before building and health inspections.A building inspection is required after a license application has been submitted to BACP, but prior to obtaining the license. You may only apply for an inspection onlineAn inspection checklist is available here.
    2. If your RFE plans include construction or structural work, you must submit and pass a Food Establishment Plan Review, administered by CDPH in conjunction with the building review outlined in Step 3, #1. The application for the CDPH review is available here.

It is important to note when seeking to open a food establishment at the site of a previous food establishment that the health, building and/or fire code requirements may have changed since that previous food establishment was licensed. As a new licensee, you must meet the new requirements of the health, building and/or fire code in order to pass the initial building inspection.

Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) – CDPH is the department which conducts health inspections.

    1. Prior to receiving a license the premises must pass a public health inspection that focuses on food handling practices, product temperature, personal hygiene, facility maintenance and pest control. A menu of proposed food items must be available at time of onsite inspection for review by the CDPH Sanitarian. Your establishment will be inspected by CDPH shortly after you file and pay for your license application with BACP. Therefore before you file and pay for your RFE license application with BACP, you must ensure your establishment is ready for an inspection by the CDPH Food Protection Program. The Guide to Your Initial Health Inspection is a useful tool for getting ready.

Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) – In addition to issuing business licenses, BACP is the department which handles General Grants of Privilege for the use of the public way. These applications are necessary when a business owner wishes to hang a sign or awning from a building, and the sign or awning hangs over the public way.

  1. Prior to hanging or constructing any sign, canopy, awning and/or light fixture that hangs over the public way, an RFE applicant must file a Grant of Privilege Permit Application with BACP-Public Way Use Unit. This detailed process may include obtaining additional permits from Department of Buildings and approval from the City Council.  
  2. All business identification items such as signs, awnings, canopies and banners are required to have a DOB sign permit.  Only a licensed sign contractor may apply to obtain a sign construction permit, please see the list of approved sign contractors. For temporary use of the public way due to construction, applicants must obtain a Construction Canopy permit from the Chicago Department of Transportation. Information about this permitting process is available here.

Step 4: Additional Licenses, Permits and Other Business Activities

  • Alcohol Sales. RFEs that intend to sell alcohol are required to obtain a liquor license. There are nine major types of liquor licenses.  Liquor licenses require more extensive inspections, such as a Criminal History Review and an inspection from the Local Liquor Control Commission. See Chicago’s Quick Guide to Liquor Licensing for more information.
  • BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) is permitted inside a restaurant; however the City encourages business owners to obtain liability insurance to protect against potential lawsuits.
  • Dog Friendly Dining Areas. RFEs that plan to allow dogs onto their outdoor dining areas that are accessible from the street, such as a sidewalk café or an outdoor patio, must adhere to ordinance provisions.
  • Mobile Food Dispensers. If an applicant plans to sell food items directly from a vehicle, he or she must obtain a Mobile Food Dispenser license or a Mobile Food Preparer license.  Additional information can be found here.
  • Sidewalk Dining. RFEs that utilize a portion of the city sidewalk to allow patrons to dine must obtain a Sidewalk Café Permit. The sidewalk permit season runs from March 1 to December 1, and the permit must be renewed every year.  The application is available here.
  • Wood Burning Ovens and Kitchen Hoods. RFEs that operate one or more wood burning ovens may be required to apply for an Air Pollution Control Permit. While this application may be filed with the DOB in conjunction with a building inspection, certain forms must also be filed with CDPH - Environmental Permits and Regulations see Procedure for Air Pollution Control Permit to determine which forms need to be filed.

The Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection also holds FREE business workshops the first Wednesday of every month.  To download the schedule of dates and additional details please reference this:

Download Inspection Workshop Calendar

Step 5: Chicago Restaurant Tax

Restaurants in the City of Chicago that sell food and beverages will automatically be registered, at the time of application, to file and pay the Chicago Restaurant Tax.  The 0.25% tax should be filed with and paid to the Chicago Department of Revenue.  For more information about Chicago business taxes, click here (

Step 6: State and Federal Compliance

In addition to the City of Chicago regulations outlined above, new RFEs may need to comply with State and Federal regulations related to taxation, employment, and health.

IRS Restaurants Tax Center

Step 7: Recurring Inspections

In addition to initial inspections, RFEs are subject to recurring inspections. RFEs with seating are subject to a scheduled “Restaurant Inspection” from DOB at the time of license renewal. CDPH will also conduct unscheduled routine inspections and respond to complaints regarding the RFE in order to ensure continued compliance. The Restaurant Start-up Program contains additional information on facility inspection and restaurant resources.

You can make an appointment with a business consultant online here or by calling 312.74.GOBIZ (744.6249).

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