Opening a Restaurant in Rhode Island FAQs

A lot goes in to opening a restaurant. Here are some frequently asked questions about the process. 

Start Up

How long will it take me to open my restaurant? Opening a restaurant can take anywhere from less than a month to more than a year. Obviously, if you are buying an existing restaurant and make minimal changes, you could be open in less time than taking on major renovations or new construction. Securing financing, selecting and securing a location and renovating the space all have the potential to be lengthy processes. They often take longer than anticipated. Licensing and permitting takes time as does buying insurance and hiring staff. Be patient. It’s better to do it right than rush to open.

How much does it cost to start a restaurant?
This will depend greatly on your restaurant concept. A coffee shop will be much less expensive to open than a sit-down restaurant. Location will dictate the cost to buy or lease a property which can vary significantly. Your business plan should outline your startup costs, expenses and revenues. You need to go through this exercise to get a real understanding of what it will cost to make your restaurant a reality.

I just took over the business that has a permit. What do I need to do?
If you are the new owner of an existing business, you will need to contact both municipal and state agencies to apply for new permits/licenses. Although licenses may be transferable, some licenses/permits may not be transferable at the sale of the business. Existing permits issued to the previous owner must be cancelled and new permits need to be issued to the new owner.

How do I find more information about the different cities and towns in Rhode Island?

This link will give you information on all the cities and towns in Rhode Island. You’ll be able to link to municipal websites that provide information on zoning, permits and licenses. If you already know what town you’d like to locate, a visit to town hall could be helpful.

Local neighborhood organizations, the Chambers of Commerce and business associations can also provide insight into the local market.

Permits and Licenses

What permits, and licenses do I need to open a restaurant?
This will depend upon your restaurant concept and your location.

Here is a list of the main permits & licenses:

  • State business registration of the business (from RI Department of State, SOS)
  • City/Town business license
  • State specialty licenses (liquor, lottery, cigarette/tobacco, gambling)
  • State Department of Health license for a food business establishment
  • Use permits for zoning (conditional use, change of established use)
  • Building permits (minor interior alterations, small projects, remodels, new construction)
  • Trade permits (electrical, mechanical, refrigeration, plumbing, gas, and backflow)
  • Sprinklers and fire alarms
  • Sign and awning permit (installing or altering a permanent sign)
  • Right-of-way permits (outdoor seating, street use permits, temporary right-of-way permits)

Please refer to our List of Licenses and Permits pages for details about each of these permits and remember to get your final inspections and approvals before you open your doors.

If I don’t know my menu yet, can I get a health license?
No. The menu is a critical piece of getting a health license. It’s also important to have a well-developed plan for how you will prepare the food. This will impact the training and equipment you will need in your kitchen.

Contact the RI DOH for guidance if necessary.

Do I need a permit for my business sign?
In most cases yes. Signage is regulated by the local municipality so check with local authorities. There may be restrictions on the size of the sign, location and lighting. You may also need a permit to alter or repair an existing sign. Electrical signs may also need a special permit as will signs on landmark buildings or in historic neighborhoods. You will need a Physical Alteration Permit from RI Department of Transportation (DOT) if your sign extends over or is on state property. 

For a Construction application, how long does it take to get approval from RIDOH to begin construction? 

Typically, it takes about three (3) weeks from the time you officially submit your complete application package (RIDOH application form, construction application, 3 sets of plans, and menu).

How long does it take to get a health license to open?
Once you have received clearance to build and have completed construction of your establishment, you should contact RIDOH to schedule a pre-operational opening inspection. The requested time period to schedule the pre-operational opening inspection is 2 weeks. Upon successful completion of the inspection, your license will typically be issued within a day.

Please refer to the RIDOH License section for restaurants ( for more information about RI Department of Health License Guidelines.

How long does it take to get a building permit?
Building permits are issued by the city or town your building is located so the amount of time to get one can vary. Local authorities can give you an idea of how long it will take to get a permit based on the size and complexity of your project. Here is a link to the State of Rhode Island E-Permitting Portal if you need to get fire safety inspections, fire and building plan reviews, or a variety of permits including building, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing.

Dissolve/Close a Business

What do I need to do if I have to close or sell my business?

You should create a thorough plan to transfer ownership, sell, or close your business. Get qualified advice and know what to do to tie up loose ends.

Closing your business can be a difficult choice to make. The Small Business Administration’s counseling tool can connect you with local guidance in planning your exit strategy. It’s also helpful to seek advice from your lawyer and a business evaluation expert, along with other business professionals including accountants, bankers, and the IRS.

Follow these steps to closing your business.

  1. Decide to close. Sole proprietors can decide on their own, but any type of partnership requires the co-owners to agree. Follow your articles of organization and document with a written agreement.
  2. File dissolution documents. Failure to legally dissolve an LLC or corporation with any state you’re registered in will expose you to continued taxes and filing requirements. Click here to visit the RI Department of State, Secretary Of State’s website to dissolve your business.
  3. Cancel registrations, permits, licenses, and business names. Protect your finances and reputation by canceling any of these that you no longer need, including your trade name.
  4. Comply with employment and labor laws. Reference the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) for employee payment after closing, along with other federal and state laws.
  5. Resolve financial obligations. Handle final returns for income tax and sales tax. Cancel your Employer Identification Number, notify federal and state tax agencies, and follow this IRS checklist.

Maintain records. You may be legally required to maintain tax and employment records, among other files. Common guidelines advise keeping records for anywhere from three to seven years.

Resources to help you close a business:

IRS Closing a Business Checklist: