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How to Open a Restaurant in Florida

Dahlia snaiderman

Dahlia SnaidermanAuthor

It’s time-consuming, confusing, and incredibly rewarding to open a restaurant in Florida — are you up to the challenge? There’s dozens of tasks, near-infinite paperwork, and a whole lot of people management involved before you even open your doors. 

We put together this guide to help would-be Florida restaurateurs stay on top of all the moving pieces and make it to opening day.

Whether you’re opening a cocktail bar with seafood-focused small plates in Miami Beach, a family-friendly Mexican restaurant in Tampa, or a Vietnamese banh mi food truck in Fort Lauderdale, here’s what restaurant owners need to know when opening in the state of Florida.

Opening a Restaurant Checklist

So many things go into opening a restaurant. Use this free PDF checklist to set your new restaurant up for success.


How to start a restaurant in Florida

1. Decide on a restaurant concept

Before you start writing a business plan, you’ll need to make some major decisions about your concept, your business name, and your brand.

Answer the following questions to start narrowing down your ideas into a viable business concept.

  • What kind of food do you want to serve? What cuisine will you specialize in? Where will you source your ingredients?

  • What other restaurants are nearby? How will your business differentiate itself from the competition?

  • Will go full-service and offer lots of seating or operate as a takeout counter with a few small tables?

  • What demographics do you want to appeal to? Who’s your target market? Where can you open to appeal to them?

  • Will you be opening a small business, or are you dreaming big and aiming to start a chain?

  • How many staff members will you need to hire for your new business? What style of service will they offer — warm and friendly, or elegant and aloof?

  • What will the physical business look like, from wall color to fixtures to outdoor signage?

  • What will your business name be?

Outline your mission and values — and how they’ll impact your brand

Writing out a restaurant mission and your restaurant business values can help you further dig into how you plan to present your business to your community — including potential employees and would-be customers. Why should an employee choose to work at your business? Why, beyond the food and service, should a customer choose your restaurant over a competitor?

Your mission and values will be built into your restaurant brand, so it’s important to nail down what you want it to convey from the very beginning.

2. Create a restaurant business plan

Your business plan will help you get restaurant funding and walk you through the steps needed to open your specific restaurant — so it’s a vital piece of the restaurant planning puzzle.

First, pick your preferred business entity. Choose from one of five business structures common in the US: LLC (limited liability company), sole proprietorship, partnership, S corporation, or C corporation. You can learn about the benefits and drawbacks of each in our guide on restaurant business entities.

Then, pick a profit structure. How will you allocate profit to investors? Will you profit-share with employees? Work with a lawyer and accountant to draw up all the necessary paperwork and contracts.

Now you’re ready to create your Florida restaurant business plan. Include the following sections:

  • Executive summary, including your restaurant name

  • Company overview, including your business model

  • Industry analysis (target market, location analysis, competitive analysis)

  • Marketing plan

  • Business model and service model (Quick service restaurant? Food truck? Fine dining? Fast food? A sit-down dining room?)

  • Operations plan (staffing needs, customer service policies and procedures, payroll plan, which restaurant POS you’ll get, which vendors and providers you’ll use for produce and laundry and more, which types of business insurance you’ll get)

  • Financial analysis (investment plan, financial projections like break-even point, expected cash flow, expected costs)


Restaurant Business Plan Template

No matter where you’re at in your restaurant ownership journey, a business plan will be your north star. Organize your vision and ensure that nothing is overlooked with this free template.


3. Secure Restaurant Financing

Opening a restaurant in the US can cost anywhere from $95,000 to $2 million — and in expensive (but lucrative) cities like Miami, your startup capital needs can be even higher. Unless you’ve been saving for this restaurant all your life, and even if you have, you’ll likely need to pursue some external funding options, like SBA (Small Business Administration) loans, lines of credit, crowdfunding, personal loans, brick-and-mortar bank business loans, or alternative loans.

Learn more about each of these options, including application info and time to access cash, in our guide to restaurant financing and loans.  


Restaurant Opening Calculator

This calculator lays out some of the fundamental financial costs of opening a restaurant, so you can start planning and bring your dream restaurant to life.


4. Choose a Florida Restaurant Location (and Start on Renovations and Decor)

A restaurant’s success often hinges on its location. You can have amazing food and warm service, but if you’re not easy to find or access, it’ll be tough to draw crowds.

Do some market research about the areas you’re considering for your restaurant. Scope out the competition, find out the demographics of the area, and consider how you’ll appeal to the residents — and draw people to visit from across town.

Here’s a few factors Florida businesses should focus on when evaluating a restaurant location to decide if it's the right one:

  • What’s your target market and ideal customer profile?

  • Will you buy, rent, or build a space?

  • How are the real estate market conditions in the area?

  • How large is the site? What was it used for in the past?

  • What are the zoning laws applicable to the space?

  • How much foot traffic or car traffic does the area get?

Once you’ve chosen a space, make it your own. For example, Savage Labs in Miami worked hard to create a cozy, extremely inviting space for their bar. “It’s a place where you can go with your friends and feel like you’re at home. We made the vibe very ‘living room’ for that reason, so everybody can feel comfortable and at home,” shared co-founder Nancy Sayegh.

5. Apply for Florida Restaurant Licenses and Permits

There are many licenses and permits that Florida restaurants will need to have before opening. They often have overlapping requirements and can take a long time to process, so start the permitting process as early as possible.

Disclaimer: the list below is not exhaustive — check with your local restaurant association and your local government to find out all the licenses and permits your business needs in your county or city. You can find great information in the State of Florida’s guide for starting a business, and their guide to licenses and permits.

Some of the licenses and permits you’ll need to open a food business in Florida include:

  1. Get an Employer Identification Number (EIN), to connect your business to the IRS (Internal Revenue Service)

  2. Get a Certificate of Status, issued by the Florida Department of State. This license shows your business is active and has paid the correct fees to operate.

  3. Register your business with your county to get your business license, which in Florida is in the form of a yearly business tax receipt.

  4. Register your business with the Florida Department of Revenue to be able to get your sales tax license, collect sales tax, and get a state Tax ID number. According to the Florida DOR, “If your business will sell taxable goods or services, you must register as a sales and use tax dealer to collect, report, and remit sales and use tax before you begin conducting business in Florida.”

  5. Get a certificate of occupancy may be required in your county, for new businesses, new builds, and renovated spaces. These permits typically show that your space meets the health and safety standards of your jurisdiction and often require inspections.

  6. Get a liquor license permit (also known as an Alcoholic Beverage License), which you can apply for online through the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.

  7. Florida doesn’t have a state-wide requirement for all employees at every food service establishment to have a food safety certification, but the Florida Department of Health does require food managers to be trained in foodborne illness prevention.

  8. Get a permanent food service establishment license (also known as food service license) from the DBPR — get either a seating license or non-seating license depending on the type of business. Some establishments will also need to apply for a plan review.

6. Develop your Menu and Beverage Program

After all that paperwork, it’s time for a truly enjoyable task: planning your menu and drinks.

Business owners can either work on this independently, or involve a chef or bar manager, if they’ve been hired already. If not, be prepared to run your menu drafts by them and get their input.

Make sure your menu is unique, full of food and drinks that make your business stand out from the competition — especially those with a similar concept as you. Also make sure your menu is priced correctly to account for rising inventory costs and to help you bring in profit.

Learn more about menu design and menu engineering to make the most of your menu.


Menu Engineering Course

Take this course to make the most of your menu. Learn about menu psychology and design, managing your menu online, and adapting your menu to increase sales.


7. Hire and Train Restaurant Staff

From stellar servers with charm to spare, to dedicated cooks with a knack for seasoning and precision, to hardworking dishwashers that keep the entire restaurant running, your staff are the most important element of your new restaurant. There are dozens of restaurant positions you can hire for — and there’s a few options for how to find them.

  • Asking around your network

  • Using social media like Instagram and Facebook groups

  • Seeking out new grads from culinary schools in your area

  • Posting on industry job boards

In order to attract and retain the very best staff in your city, your restaurant needs to be a great place to work. Providing good compensation and meaningful restaurant employee benefits, including health insurance, will help you stand apart from the pack.

Here are some resources from Toast to help you attract, hire, and retain restaurant employees:

To learn even more, go through our video course on hiring and retaining restaurant employees.

8. Invest in Equipment and Restaurant Technology

You’re getting close to opening day, so check out the various available 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.

New restaurants should strongly consider investing in the following:


Restaurant POS Comparison Tool

A free, customizable Restaurant POS Comparison Tool to research and compare point of sale systems in one Excel spreadsheet or editable PDF.


9. Create a Restaurant Marketing Plan

Social media, and other marketing channels like email marketing, are not longer just nice-to-have: with so much competition, a strong marketing plan is vital to opening and running a new restaurant.

Learn more about building a restaurant marketing plan with our marketing plan template, our social media guide for restaurants, and our guide to restaurant email marketing.


Restaurant Marketing Plan

Create a marketing plan that'll drive repeat business with this customizable marketing playbook template and interactive calendar.


10. Host a Soft Opening and Grand Opening

Once you’ve got all the moving pieces in place, test it all out with a soft opening. Invite your family and friends, and encourage your staff to do the same. All your guests will experience the first-ever service run-through of your restaurant. They’ll provide gentle but necessary feedback, and you’ll be able to fix any problems you encounter during service. Then, you’ll be ready to plan and advertise your grand opening. Create social media posts documenting the process of building and opening your restaurant, show off your food, share about your beautiful restaurant space, and get butts in seats for your first official shift.

You’re ready!

To keep track of everything you need to do within a year of opening, check out our time-bound restaurant opening checklist below.


Opening a Restaurant Checklist

So many things go into opening a restaurant. Use this free PDF checklist to set your new restaurant up for success.


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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.