*** 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.
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.
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.
Step 4: Additional Licenses, Permits and Other Business Activities
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:
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 (www.cityofchicago.org/finance)
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.
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).