This page will help you understand the steps to opening a bar in San Francisco. It is a resource from the Office of Small Business, San Francisco's central point of information for small businesses.
Choose a location
Choose a location
- Find a location zoned for your business. Every location is zone differently - some could require a "Change of Use" or "Conditional Use" application, which can include a public hearing and neighborhood notification.
- Contact the SF Planning Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Permit Center at 49 South Van Ness Ave to understand zoning requirements for your proposed location. For more information, visit: https://sf.gov/information/zoning-businesses
- Taking over a space that already was a bar saves times and construction costs, as long as the restaurant recently passed inspections and was in compliance with current requirements.
- If you plan to serve liquor or beer and wine, check if your potential location allows alcohol. Be sure to start your liquor license application early.
- Determine if you need to make changes to your space. Before signing a lease, you can consult with the SF Department of Public Health (DPH) and SF Fire Department (SFFD) to understand whether your space needs sprinkler systems, kitchen hoods, fire exits, capacity requirements, and more.
- Review DPH's checklist for a list of construction plan components typically required for plan review: https://www.sfdph.org/dph/files/EHSdocs/ehsFood/permitsdocs/PlanCheck_C…
- You can request a pre-application meeting from SFFD to discuss issues and questions regarding Fire Code and/or Building Code requirements: https://sf-fire.org/files/2021-05/SFFD%20Pre-Application%20Meeting%20Fo…
- Review Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines to make sure your business is accessible. Learn more by visiting: https://sf.gov/information/ada-compliance-business
- Sign your lease. Leases can be tricky, so review the lease carefully before signing. We strongly recommend verifying the zoning of the property with the Planning Department before you sign a lease and to review the contract with a lawyer. If you need legal assistance, contact:
- Bar Association of San Francisco's Lawyer Referral and Information Service at 415-989-1616 or visit: https://www.sfbar.org/lris/ or
- Legal Services for Entrepreneurs at 415-543-9444 x217 or visit: https://lccrsf.org/get-assistance/legal-services-for-entrepreneurs/
- Note: Your landlord is required to provide information about the accessibility of the building, in case it needs renovations
Set up your business
Set up your business
- Create a plan for the type of bar you will open.
- Choose a business structure. LLCs, Corporations and Limited Partnerships must register their structure with the CA Secretary of State before registering locally.
- Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as a Federal Tax ID Number from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This is used to identify your business and allows you to hire employees. If you are a sole proprietor without employees, you may choose to use your Social Security Number instead.
- Register your business with the City and County of San Francisco through the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector.
- Resource: https://sftreasurer.org/business/register-business
- Note: If you register your business before choosing a final location, you will have to update your registration with the new address. This can cost money and time.
- Choose and file a business name. File a Fictitious Business Name (FBN) Statement at the SF Office of the County Clerk if you will be using a name other than your given name, the names of your partners, or the officially registered name of your LLC or corporation. Research the name's availability in the county before filing.
- Apply for a Seller's Permit from the CA Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA). Every location must have this permit to sell taxable goods.
- Obtain workers' compensation insurance if you will have employees. You will need these in order to obtain the DPH permit to operate.
Prepare your space
Prepare your space
- For new construction: Submit plans and documents to the SF Department of Building Inspection (DBI). Be prepared to work with an architect or designer to create your building project plans.
- View DBI plan specifications at: https://sf.gov/information/create-your-building-project-plans
- Visit DBI's Technical Services Counter at 49 South Van Ness (Permit Center) or email TechQ@sfgov.org for questions about building codes
- Water and wastewater capacity charge: If your business will use more water than the previous business or resident, you may have to pay a capacity charge to the SF Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC).
- Resource: https://sfpuc.org/accounts-services/service-installations/capacity-char…
- Tip: Get an estimate of the water capacity charge from the SFPUC before you sign a lease. This fee can be high, especially if your location was not previously a restaurant.
- Fats, oils and grease: Install approved grease-capture equipment (i.e. traps or interceptors) in your kitchen to prevent clogged pipes and sewer backups.
- Gas and electric services: If your business needs new or additional gas or electric services, contact PG&E Building and Renovation Services to start the application process.
- Signs: If you want to install or change a canopy or sign on the outside of the building, ensure you comply with Planning Department and DBI sign guidelines.
- Planning Department: https://sfplanning.org/resource/signs
- DBI: https://sf.gov/step-by-step/get-permit-build-sign
- Note: Awning permit fees are waived each year during the month of May. You can qualify if you submit your permit application during the month of May. Ask for the permit fee waiver from Planning Department and DBI.
Food and alcohol
Food and alcohol
- Apply for a Permit to Operate from the Department of Public Health
Obtain a Liquor License from the CA Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC).
- Resource: www.abc.ca.gov/licensing/apply-for-a-new-license/
- Note: Be prepared to wait 3-6 months for your liquor license to be issued. After applying, a notice will be posted at your location to alert the general public that you plan on serving alcohol. If there are no objections, the department will conduct a background investigation and, if cleared, issue the permit.
- Note: Liquor licenses can be transferred or purchased from an old owner of a bar though you will often pay a premium. Transfers typically take 75 days.
- If you want to sell spirits along with beer and wine, your bar will need a Type 48 license. The only way to acquire a Type 48 license in San Francisco is to purchase an existing one. If you only want to sell beer and wine, you can apply directly to ABC for a Type 42 license.
- Depending on your proposed location, you may need to receive a “public convenience or necessity” determination from the Board of Supervisors. As you apply, ask ABC staff if this process will be required for your application.
- Board of Supervisors resource on the “public convenience or necessity” process: https://sfbos.org/sites/default/files/PC_or_N_Request_Fact_Sheet.pdf
- You may serve light snacks such as pretzels and peanuts without a full kitchen. If you wish to serve heavier fare, you must follow the food and kitchen requirements of a Restaurant.
- Planning Department definition of "Restaurant": https://codelibrary.amlegal.com/codes/san_francisco/latest/sf_planning/…
- SF DPH: https://www.sfdph.org/dph/eh/food/
Don’t serve any foods containing trans fats, per California State law. SF DPH enforces the trans fat compliance program to ensure that no food containing artificial trans fat is stored, distributed, served, or used in the preparation of any food.
- Post all required posters and permits including, but not limited to, No Smoking signs, minimum wage information, and health inspection results
- Mark your calendar. Schedule equipment maintenance and set reminders to renew your permits and licenses as needed.
- Be prepared for SF DPH Health Inspections by checking walls, floors, and ceilings for damage; following best practices for food storage; collecting garbage; and ensuring workers have good hygiene.
- Resource: sfdph.org
Limit the noise from your establishment. Noise complaints from neighbors can negatively affect your business.
Consider purchasing commercial liability insurance for your bar. This will protect your business from financial loss stemming from lawsuits filed by employees or others. This insurance is not mandatory in California.
Prepare and pay your local, state, and federal taxes. Learn more from these departments:
If 50 people or more will gather in your business at any time, you will need this permit.
Hiring your first employee is a big step and has new complexities. Learn about labor law and payroll taxes at the local, state, and federal levels.
You must register it with the SF Department of Public Health Weights and Measures Program.
Learn about the options and responsibilities of Shared Spaces permits.
Have lit candles in businesses that accommodate over 49 people - this includes tea lights.
A Billiard Parlor (BP) permit lets you charge customers to use 1 or more pool tables.
An Extended Hours Premises (EHP) permit lets you host entertainment and/or serve food and non-alcoholic drinks between 2 am and 6 am.
You need a Place of Entertainment (POE) permit if you want to host entertainment on a regular basis, like at a venue, concert hall or nightclub.
You need a Limited Live Performance permit if you want to host entertainment on a regular basis as a secondary activity, like a restaurant with live music.
A Mechanical Amusement Device (MAD) permit lets you charge customers to use mechanical or arcade games.