Bar Starter Kit

The Bar Starter Kit provides everything you need to help you choose a location, obtain a liquor license and health permit, and open your doors - including a printable version of the Bar Guide.

What’s inside

Guides (1)

Guide - Bar Guide

The Bar Guide is an overview of what it takes to open a bar in San Francisco. Every business is different, but we provide the basic steps – along with tips, tricks and common mistakes to avoid. Explore below or download the Guide for quick reference.

Related Documents (4)

Business Plan Template – US Small Business Administration (SBA)

The US Small Business Administration (SBA) created this Business Plan Template to help you research and write your business plan.

Business Entity Comparison Table – SF Office of Small Business

This table provides an at-a-glance reference to how the most common business entity types — sole proprietorship, general partnership, C corporation, S corporation, and LLC — compare in a number of key characteristics.

Alcoholic Beverage License Application Process – CA Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control

How to obtain a liquor or beer & wine license.

A Guide to Disabled Accessibility Compliance (English) – SF Office of Small Business

The Guide to Accessibility Compliance brochure explains disabled access laws in detail and offers advice on how to protect your business from potential lawsuits. Since every business must comply with the Americans with Disability Act, this guide helps small businesses understand and meet those requirements. This brochure also serves as the Access Information Notice required by Administrative Code Chapter 38, where landlords must provide this information to tenants at the time of lease execution or amendment for spaces 7,500 sq. ft. or less.

Permits (20)

Business Registration Certificate

The basic city business registration required for all businesses who wish to operate in San Francisco.

Sign Permit

Required for most business signs. Includes fabricated and hanging signs, as well as signs that have been painted directly on a building.

Building Permit

Permit required for any additions, alterations, or repairs to a building, and electrical wiring and plumbing installations.

Weighing & Measuring Device Permit

The Weights and Measures program registers weighing or measuring devices to ensure consumer protection and rights. Applies to any business that will be using regulated weighing and measuring devices, including Point of Sale & Taxi Meters.

Weights & Measures Automated Point of Sale Registration

Registration required for businesses that have at least one Point of Sale (POS) station.

Health Permit to Operate - Restaurants, Bars, and Retail Food Markets

All restaurants, bars, and retail food markets must obtain a permit to operate from the Department of Public Health. This application packet includes the required forms and procedures to apply online.

Food Handler's Card

All individuals involved in preparation, storage, or service of food must obtain a "Food Handler Card".

Cafe Tables & Chairs

Allows you to place tables and chairs on the sidewalk in front of your business during business hours.

Extended Hours Premises Permit

Permit typically for establishments that will be open to the public after 2:00 AM.

Place of Entertainment Permit

You will need a Place of Entertainment Permit if you hire a disc jockey (DJ), and/or have live entertainment of any kind for your fixed place venue.

Limited Live Performance

Allows you to host entertainment performances in establishments whose primary use is not entertainment (eg. A restaurant with a piano player, or a café that hosts live poetry or music).

Billiard & Pool Tables Permit

Allows you to provide billiard/pool tables for use by the public.

Open Flame, Candle, Assembly, Use

SFFD Permit to have lit candles in businesses that accommodate over 49 people - includes tea lights and other decorative uses. Must visit the Fire Department to learn more.

Place of Assembly Permit, Operation

Approved A-2 event spaces (intended for food and/or drink consumption) or A-3 event spaces (intended for worship, recreation, amusement, or other assembly), authorized to have more than 49 occupants, require a San Francisco Fire Department Operational Permit.

Fictitious Business Name

Allows you to use a business name other than your given name, the names of your partners, or the officially registered name of your LLC or corporation.

SFPUC Water and Wastewater Capacity Charge

Fee for increasing the amount of water being provided to or used by your business location. Levied when you request a new connection to the water distribution system, or require additional capacity as a result of any addition, improvement, modification or change in use of an existing connection.

Employer Identification Number (EIN)

An EIN is also known as a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) or Federal Tax Identification Number. It is issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). A business needs an EIN to pay employees and to file business tax returns. An EIN does not expire and is unique to your business – once an EIN has been given to an entity, it will never be issued again.

Seller’s Permit

Permit required in order to sell or lease tangible personal property in the State of California.

Alcohol License - Beer & Wine Only

Allows an establishment to sell beer and wine. Does not include hard liquor.

Alcohol License - Full Bar

Allows an establishment to sell most kinds of spirits and alcoholic beverages. Includes beer, wine, and hard liquor.

Bar Guide

The Bar Guide is an overview of what it takes to open a bar in San Francisco. Every business is different, but we provide the basic steps – along with tips, tricks and common mistakes to avoid. Explore below or download the Guide for quick reference.

Choose a Location

Find a location

Find a location zoned for your business. Every location is zoned differently - some could require a “Change of Use” or “Conditional Use” application, which can include a public hearing and neighborhood notification.

Visit the Planning Information Center

Visit the SF Planning Department's Planning Information Counter at 1660 Mission St. to understand zoning and building codes. These requirements will determine where you open your bar.

Note
Taking over a space that already was a bar saves time and construction costs, as long as the bar had recently passed inspections and was in compliance with current requirements.

Note
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.

Review SF DPH Construction Guidelines and visit the SF Fire Department

Review the DPH Construction Guidelines and visit the SF Fire Department to determine if you need to make changes to your space. You must consider sprinkler systems, kitchen hoods, fire exits, capacity requirements, etc.

Review ADA guidelines

Review Americans with Disability Act (ADA) guidelines to make sure your business is accessible.

Sign your lease.

Sign your lease. Leases can be tricky, so review the lease carefully with a lawyer before signing.

Note
Your landlord is required to provide information about the accessibility of the building, in case it needs renovations.

Set Up Your Business

Create a plan

Create a plan for the type of bar you will open.

Choose a business structure

Choose a business structure. LLCs, Corporations, and Limited Partnerships must register their structure with CA Secretary of State before registering locally.

Apply for an EIN

Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as a Federal Tax ID Number from the 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

Register your business with the City through the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector (TTX).

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

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.

Apply for a Seller’s Permit

Apply for a Seller’s Permit from the CA State Board of Equalization. Every location must have this permit to sell taxable goods.

Obtain workers’ compensation insurance.

Obtain workers' compensation insurance. You will need this in order to obtain the Department of Public Health (DPH) Permit to Operate.

Prepare Your Space

New construction

Submit plans and documents to the SF Department of Building Inspection. Change and resubmit plans as needed.

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 (PUC).

Note
Get an estimate of the water capacity charge from the PUC before you sign a lease. This fee can be high, especially if your location was not a bar before.

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.

Transit Impact Development Fee

If your business will increase the number of people coming to your area, you may have to pay a Transit Impact Development Fee to the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA).

Note
Small businesses may be eligible for Transit Impact Development Fee waivers or reductions.

Signs

If you want to install or change a canopy or sign on the outside of the building, ensure you comply with the SF Planning Department sign guidelines.

Food & Alcohol

Light Snacks

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 Full Restaurant.

Liquor License

Obtain a Liquor License from the CA Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC).

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. New type 47 licenses - which allow for the sale of beer, wine and spirits in a venue that also serves food - are rarely issued for San Franciso, so purchasing an existing one can be a good option.

No trans fats

Don’t serve any foods containing trans fats, per California State law. SFDPH 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.

What If...

Cash register

If you will have a Point of Sale (POS) station (aka cash register), you must register it with the SF Department of Public Health (DPH) Weights and Measures Program.

Employees

If you plan to hire employees, be sure to follow all wage and employment guidelines.

Place of Assembly Permit

If 50 people or more will gather in your bar at any time, you will need a Place of Assembly Permit from the SF Fire Department.

Outside tables and chairs

If you wish to have outdoor tables and chairs, you must be able to provide 6 ft. of sidewalk clearance and obtain a permit from the Department of Public Works.

Note
If you plan to offer outdoor seating, be sure your alcohol license covers serving outdoors.

Live music, pool, and entertainment

If you will offer entertainment activities like live music or billiards (pool), you should start applications with the SF Entertainment Commission early and in sequence so you can open on schedule.

Recorded music

If you plan on playing music over speakers, you must obtain a music license from at least one of the major music companies, like Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) or the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). Establishments under 3,750 SQ FT that only play radio or television broadcasts are exempt.

Place of Assembly Permit

If 50 people or more will gather in your bar at any time, you will need a Place of Assembly Permit from the SF Fire Department.

Outside tables and chairs

If you wish to have outdoor tables and chairs, you must be able to provide 6 ft. of sidewalk clearance and obtain a permit from the Department of Public Works.

Note
If you plan to offer outdoor seating, be sure your alcohol license covers serving outdoors.

Candles

Planning on having candles in your bar? You’ll need an Open Flame Permit from the SF Fire Department.

Bike racks

If you wish to have bike racks in front of your bar, you must follow the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) bicycle parking guidelines. The MTA installs racks for short-term bike parking (under two hours) in the public right-of-way (on the sidewalk or in the parking lane) by request, at no charge.

After Opening

Post required posters and permits

Post all required posters and permits including minimum wage information, health inspection results, etc.

Equipment maintenance and permit renewals

Mark your calendar. Schedule equipment maintenance and set reminders to renew your permits and licenses as needed.

Avoid noise complaints

Limit the noise from your establishment. Noise complaints from neighbors can negatively affect your business.

Commercial liability insurance

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.

Health inspections

Be prepared for SFDPH Health Inspections by checking walls, floors, and ceilings for damage; following best practices for food storage; collecting garbage; and ensuring workers have good hygiene.

Pay your taxes.

Prepare and pay your local, state, and federal taxes. Learn more from the SF Treasurer, SF Assessor, CA Franchise Tax Board, and the IRS.

Serve responsibly and good luck!