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Created by our partners at Toast

No matter where you’re opening a restaurant, cafe, bar, or any other food business, you’re going to need to get your licenses and permits in order.

A liquor license, a food facility health permit, a certificate of occupancy — they all have varying (and sometimes overlapping) requirements, so it’s important to know exactly what you need to get to legally open a restaurant in your particular city or county in Colorado.

As soon as you’ve secured funding with your thorough restaurant business plan, one of the next steps to get going on is your licenses and permits. Many of them can take weeks, if not months (or even longer), so getting started as early as possible can help prevent bumps in the road to opening your doors.

In Colorado, the first step of opening a restaurant is registering your business with the secretary of state. Then, businesses must figure out which licenses and permits they’ll need to obtain.

We’ll get into some of the most common licenses and permits needed in Colorado, what they are and why you need them, how to get them, and how much they cost.

Licenses and Permits Required to Open a Restaurant in Colorado

  1. Business License
  2. Certificate of Occupancy
  3. Food Handler’s License, also known as Food Service License
  4. Seller’s Permit
  5. Liquor License Permit
  6. Catering Business License
  7. Food Facility Health Permit
  8. Employee Health Permit

1. Business License in Colorado

What is it and why do you need it?

A business license is one of the first licenses you’ll need as you start laying the groundwork of your business. Also known as a business tax certificate, it helps your business stay compliant at tax season.

How to get a business license in Colorado

In Colorado, business licenses are controlled by the city or county you live in. If you operate a restaurant with multiple locations across cities and counties, it’s important to get a business license for each business in different jurisdictions. To get a business license in Colorado, you’ll need:

  1. An EIN (employer identification number)
  2. To choose what classification of business you’ll be (LLC? Sole proprietorship? Partnership?)
  3. A business name
  4. An address and phone number
  5. A thorough restaurant business plan
  6. A COI (certificate of insurance) for your business insurance policy

How much does a business license cost in Colorado?

Colorado business license costs vary depending the county, type and scope of the business. Business licenses in Colorado need to be renewed and paid for regularly, so check with your jurisdiction about how often yours will need to be renewed.

License Name

Cost

Link

Business License

Varies depending on county

Colorado SBDC

2. Certificate of Occupancy in Colorado

What is it and why do you need it?

A certificate of occupancy (COO) is a document that shows your space is zoned for your type of business and up to code, safe to use, and up to date on its checks and inspections. Not every county will require a COO for new businesses, and even then, only certain situations require one, including if you’re doing major building work or changing the use of a space from residential to business.

Always get in touch with your local jurisdiction to determine if your project warrants a COO.

How to get a certificate of occupancy license?

The forms are online, but in order to get the certificate, your business location will need to go through fire inspections, plumbing inspections, electrical inspections, and building inspections. Check your local city or county’s building and safety department.

How much does a certificate of occupancy cost?

Different counties will charge different amounts, and they will also vary by type of business. Fee will vary depending on county.

License Name

Cost

Link

Certificate of Occupancy

Fees will vary depending on county

Check your local city or county’s small business department

3. Food Handler License in Colorado

What is it and why do you need it?

An employee health permit allows  restaurants, vendors, or any other type of food business to safely sell and serve food onsite. These licenses ensure that every employee knows how to do their part to keep your diners safe from foodborne illness. They’re often referred to as ServSafe, after the company that administers many food handler tests, or as a Colorado food handler license or card.

How to get a food handler license in Colorado

Every employee who prepares or serves food in Colorado must get their food handler license within 30 days of being hired — chefs, cooks, servers, baristas, and bartenders, to name a few. Bussers and general managers may not be required to do so.

If managers have already gotten their Food Protection Manager Certification, they’re exempt from getting a Colorado food handler card. Some jurisdictions have their own food safety training programs and standards, so they’re exempt from requiring employees to get a Colorado food handler card.

To get a food handler card, employees must pass a test about food safety and preparation with a grade of at least 70% (or higher in some jurisdictions).

How much does a food handler license cost in Colorado?

Colorado state law requires that the test and license not cost more than $15, in order to make sure anyone working in a restaurant can afford to get certified.

License Name

Cost

Link

Food Handler License

Up to $15 per employee

Colorado Food Handler Training

4. Food Seller’s Permit in Colorado

What is it and why do you need it?

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

How to get a seller’s permit?

You can register for a permit online through the SBA License and Permits portal.

How much does a food seller’s license cost?

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

License Name

Cost

Link

Seller’s Permit

$0 (but a security deposit may be requested

SBA Licenses and Permits

5. Liquor License in Colorado

What is it and why do you need it?

This license is required for any type of business to sell and serve alcohol to its patrons. Since alcohol has an incredibly high markup and a long shelf life, it’s often beneficial from a profit standpoint to sell alcohol.

How to get a liquor license in Colorado

In Colorado, 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’ve applied for a liquor license, you must post a public notice of application on your business’s premises for 30 days. Some cases require the applicant to notify their neighbors or post a notice in the newspaper. They will also need to show that their business is correctly zoned for an alcohol-selling business.

The department does an investigation into the future business and the applicant to see if they qualify. It takes between 30 and 90 days to process a liquor license application, depending on what kind of application it is, so be sure to build this time frame into your countdown to opening. Licenses are renewed on a yearly basis, so you must pay the renewal fee on time or your license will expire until the fee is paid.

How much does a liquor license cost in Colorado?

A liquor license in Colorado can cost from $1550 – $5000. See the full fees associated with different types of liquor licenses in Colorado here.

License Name

Cost

Link

Liquor License

$1550 – $5000

Colorado Liquor Enforcement Division

6. Catering Business License in Colorado

In Colorado, there’s no specific catering license, but caterers need to obtain a liquor license if they’ll be serving alcohol, and food safety certifications like other businesses that handle food.

7. Food Facility Health Permit in Colorado

What is it and why do you need it?

All restaurants need to have their health permits in order before opening, and they must stick to safe food handling, storage, and preparation practices all throughout their operations. They help prevent foodborne illness in patrons, and ensure worker safety as well.

How to get a food facility health permit?

In Colorado, health permits are under city and county jurisdiction, so check with your local health department to find out how to apply.

Unlike some liquor licenses, health permits are not transferable. When you start a new restaurant, even if it’s in the space of an existing restaurant, you’ll need to get a new health permit.

When you apply for a health permit, which can often be done online depending on the city, you’ll then need to get an inspection to ensure your space and practices will fit with the Colorado Health and Safety Code and all applicable ordinances. If your business is determined to be safe to operate, you will receive your health permit.

How much does a food facility health permit cost?

As usual with city and county-based permits, the costs vary.

License Name

Cost

Link

Food Facility Health Permit

Variable, but typically hundreds of dollars or $1000+

Check your local health authority for on online application

8. Employee Health Permit in Colorado

In Colorado, an employee health permit is the same as a food handler license.

Timeline for Opening a Restaurant: Next Steps

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

Getting your licenses and permits in order as early as possible — at least three months before you plan to open, ideally starting the process six months before you open, can help you avoid any bumps in the road.

While you’re waiting on licenses and permits to come through, you can continue going through the process of setting up your restaurant for success. Plan your staffing needs and, near the end of your permitting process, start reaching out to your community and interviewing candidates.

Work on your renovations (once your certificate of occupancy has come through), and bring your interior design and decor dreams to life. Test your menu over and over again until it’s perfect, and work on your inventory and pricing strategies.

As you approach opening day, you can also start to peruse your restaurant technology options and find what combination of products and systems make sense to help you set your operation up for success from day one. A modern point of sale platform with online ordering, team management, and inventory capabilities can help save you time and money as you grow your business.

Find the original article from Toast, along with additional resources, here.

DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.