CIFS Guide to

Opening a Food Business in Ontario

Each municipality in Ontario has specific requirements for opening a food business. Learn more about what's required.
Opening a Food Business in Ontario

Each municipality in Ontario has specific requirements for opening a food business. To confirm the requirements in your area, we highly recommend that you contact your local municipality.

The restaurant and hospitality industry is dynamic, fast-paced and requires careful planning. Not only does this demonstrate to potential investors that you understand every aspect of your business and its ability to generate profit, it’s also just common sense. 

Leaping into this highly competitive industry without knowing your business objectives and strategies, financial forecasts and target market can be a costly mistake. So, before you do anything else, make sure that you:

  • create a business plan 
  • choose a business structure 
  • look into what permits and licences you may need

In This Resource


Introduction

Each municipality in Ontario has specific requirements for opening a food business. To confirm the requirements in your area, we highly recommend that you contact your local municipality.

The restaurant and hospitality industry is dynamic, fast-paced and requires careful planning. Not only does this demonstrate to potential investors that you understand every aspect of your business and its ability to generate profit, it’s also just common sense. 

Leaping into this highly competitive industry without knowing your business objectives and strategies, financial forecasts and target market can be a costly mistake. So, before you do anything else, make sure that you:

  • create a business plan 
  • choose a business structure 
  • look into what permits and licences you may need

BUSINESS PLAN 

Preparing your business plan will help you to focus on how to operate your new business and give it the best chance for success. It will help you set realistic and timely goals, secure external funding, measure your success, specify operational requirements and establish reasonable financial forecasts. 

Find out more about business plans and why you need one

Download an example business plan and free business plan template.

CHOOSE A BUSINESS STRUCTURE 

The three common types of business structure are:

  • sole proprietorship
  • partnership
  • incorporation

Each structure has different legal and financial implications. The majority of small businesses in Ontario are sole proprietorships or partnerships. 

Find out which business structure is right for you.

PERMITS AND LICENCES 

At this stage, you’re probably not ready to actually apply for certain permits or licences, but you should be doing some research about which ones you’ll need based on where you live and what you want to do with your business.

You can use BizPaL to generate a list of the permits and licences you may need to start your restaurant based on your location, or you can contact your local municipality.


Location and Zoning

Now that you’ve got your business plan, structure and know what permits and licences you’re going to need, you need a location. Your ideal location will depend on zoning restrictions, your target market, competitors in the area and your specific business needs.

Before you buy or lease a space to operate your restaurant, or buy or lease an operating restaurant, you’ll want to consider: 

  • municipal zoning restrictions
  • renovations you may be required to make
  • reviewing your lease with a lawyer 

MUNICIPAL ZONING RESTRICTIONS 

Different zoning requirements may exist for different types of food businesses. Take the time to confirm zoning for any location you’re considering, even if the space was a restaurant previously. Never expect zoning to be changed to accommodate your business. 

Factors to consider when reviewing the zoning of a potential location include:

  • permitted uses
  • hours of operation
  • hours for serving alcohol
  • permitted outdoor serving areas
  • washroom facilities 
  • parking

Each municipality will have different zoning for different areas; contact your municipality for any questions you have about zoning. You can find your municipal website here

Note: a turnkey restaurant — which is one that is already in operation or was operating recently — is usually in compliance with zoning bylaws and building code regulations; however, you should always check with your municipal City Hall to confirm that the space is zoned for the type of business you want to operate.

RENOVATIONS 

It’s important to consider any necessary construction before you purchase or sign a lease. Even if you’re just leasing the space, you may be required to pay for renovations, which can be expensive and can cause costly delays. 

Getting a bargain on a lease or property is great, but building permits and construction costs can quickly add up. You may find that you can purchase or lease a space for cheaper than it costs to bring another location up to code. 

REVIEWING YOUR LEASE 

Before you sign the lease, it’s a good idea to have a lawyer, notary, chartered accountant or other legal representative review your lease for any unusual requirements or clauses.


Register Your Business

Now that you have your location, it’s time to register your business. Before registering your new business name, you’ll want to review existing trademark and intellectual property records to ensure that you won’t be infringing on the intellectual property of another business. 

For a fee, you can search ServiceOntario’s records of existing registrations to see if the name of your business is already being used by another business and where that business is located. 

REGISTER WITH THE PROVINCE 

Visit ServiceOntario to register your business name for a sole proprietorship or partnership, or to start or change a corporation. 

When you register a business name with the province of Ontario, you will be issued a Master Business Licence (MBL), which shows the registration and expiry dates as well as your Business Identification Number (BIN). 

REGISTER WITH THE CRA 

Businesses with $30,000 a year or more in gross revenue may be required to collect HST. To register an HST account, call the Canada Revenue Agency at 1-800-959-5525 or visit http://businessregistration.gc.ca

Click here for the Government of Canada’s Taxation Guide; get information about which business expenses can be deducted on your tax return.

If you plan on hiring employees, you will also need to set up a Payroll Account Number with the Canada Revenue Agency. Call the CRA at 1-800-959-5525, press the star (*) button to speak to an agent or click here to register online

When you register for a CRA program account, you will be assigned a federal Business Number (BN) if you don’t already have one. The federal BN is different from the provincial BIN and is required if you incorporate or need a CRA program account (e.g. GST/HST account, payroll deductions, etc.).

If you already have a BN, any CRA program accounts you sign up for will be added to your BN, so your business will only ever have one business number. 

In summary, you will need (or will be assigned) a BN if you intend to do any of the following:

  • collect GST/HST
  • pay employees
  • incorporate 
  • import or sell goods or services abroad
  • make $30,000 or more per year

(So there’s a good chance your business is going to need one.)

REGISTER WITH THE WSIB 

Within 10 days of hiring your first full- or part-time worker, which includes family members and sub-contractors, you are required by law to register with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). 

Registering with the WSIB provides workplace insurance coverage for your employees and protects you from lawsuits as a result of workplace injuries. Click here to register with the WSIB online. 


Permits and Licences

A number of permits and licences are required to open and operate a restaurant in Ontario. It really depends on your municipality, the space you’ve chosen and what you’re planning to do with it. 

BUSINESS LICENCE 

Most municipalities require a Business Licence to operate a food business. You’ll want to submit your Business Licence application as early as you can, as there are many steps to starting a business in Ontario and the process of acquiring different licences and permits can be slow. 

When you apply for your Business Licence, you may be required to provide:

  • zoning approval
  • criminal reference check
  • safety approval from your local fire department
  • an inspection letter issued by your local health authority 

In some municipalities, you’ll be required to complete a zoning review application before you can apply for your Business Licence. Along with your zoning review application, you may be required to provide supporting documentation, such as a survey, site plan or floor plans. Check with your municipality to check if this is a requirement in the city you want to operate in. 

If your municipality requires you to have had an inspection prior to submitting your Business Licence application, you will want to contact your local health authority to arrange for an inspection. 

Even if you do not do any construction or changes to your building’s layout, you must arrange for a final inspection so that a Health Inspector can confirm that the building and your kitchen complies with Ontario Food Premises Regulations

It is recommended that you contact your local health authority early in the process; in many municipalities, you can simply email a copy of your plan to your local health authority and an Inspector will get in touch with you to arrange for an inspection. 

BUILDING PERMITS 

If you’re planning to make any structural changes to the building, you’ll need to obtain one or more building permits before starting construction of any kind

Making changes after you’ve already started construction can be extremely costly; some business owners have started investing in a new build or renovation only to find they can’t open due to zoning problems or other legal restrictions. 

Types of building permits may include:

  • building (for structural changes to the premises, such as additions, altering the structure’s interior, demolitions)
  • electrical (for installation of new wiring or circuitry, installation of electrical equipment, lights)
  • plumbing (for installation, additions or alterations to plumbing, water connections, or sewage systems)
  • gas (for installation or alteration of gas appliances)

As part of the application process for your building permit(s), you (or the qualified tradesperson who represents you) will need to submit detailed plans of what you plan to do and the materials you’re going to use. 

You must also submit a copy of your building plans to your local health authority. Your local health authority will review your plan to ensure that it is in compliance with Ontario Food Premises Regulations. Be sure to include the layout and provision of all equipment and plumbing fixtures in your plan. 

If you’re unsure about whether or not the work you want to do requires a permit, check with your municipal City Hall. Never start construction before you get the required permits and remember that any construction work must be done to the exact specifications of your approved plans (with the approved materials).

OTHER PERMITS AND LICENCES 

Depending on your region and the type of business you wish to operate, you may be required to obtain other licences and permits, such as:

For more information about permits and licences, contact your municipality.


Employees

In Ontario, the Employment Standards Act sets out the minimum standards that apply in most workplaces. 

The Act provides guidelines for:

  • minimum wage
  • paydays and payroll records
  • overtime
  • vacation time
  • leave entitlement
  • notice or payment for termination

Depending on the type of restaurant you have, your employees may also be required to have the following certifications:

At least one Certified Food Handler must be present during all hours of operation in every municipality in Ontario. Smart Serve is now required by anyone who serves or handles alcohol, as well as managers and security staff in Ontario. Find out more about Smart Serve.


About the Canadian Institute of Food Safety

At the Canadian Institute of Food Safety (CIFS), our mission is to reduce food-borne illness in Canada through education, promotion and advocacy for better food safety. 

To improve food safety in Canada, we want to make it as easy as possible for businesses to do the right thing. We strive to protect both business owners and consumers from the consequences of food-borne illness.

We work with the public, as well as small, medium and enterprise food businesses in every industry that is regulated by the Canadian government.

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