Caterer Starter Kit

The Caterer Starter Kit provides everything you need to help you find a kitchen, obtain a health permit, and open your doors - including a printable version of the Caterer Guide.

What’s inside

Guides (1)

Guide - Caterer Guide

The Caterer Guide is an overview of what it takes to become a caterer 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 (2)

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.

Permits (10)

Business Registration Certificate

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

Caterer Permit

This application packet includes the necessary forms to supply food and beverages and/or related services to any off-premises public or private function.

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.

Manager's Food Handling Certification

At least one employee at each retail food facility must be certified as a food safety person by passing an approved examination. The certified person can be any owner, manager, or employee responsible for safe food handling.

Food Handler's Card

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

Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LP-Gas) Permit, Mobile Caterer, Use

SFFD Permit allowing Mobile Caterers to use Liquefied Petroleum Gas - especially with outdoor heaters. Must visit the Fire Department to learn more.

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.

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.

Caterer Guide

The Caterer Guide is an overview of what it takes to become a caterer 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.

Set Up Your Business

Create a plan

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

Obtain a business address

Obtain a business address. Even though you will be selling out of a truck, you will need a physical address (no PO boxes) in order to register your business.

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 Employer Identification Number (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).

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.

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 Commissary

Find a place to prepare your food.

All Caterers must operate in conjunction with a food facility, also known as a commissary, such as a licensed commercial kitchen. Thus, you will need to rent a commercial space for preparing food, and storing your inventory.

Be sure to obtain or create a floor plan of your commissary indicating all equipment, sinks, and storage spaces. You will need this to obtain a food permit.

Do not serve food prepared or stored at home at a catered function. This is prohibited.

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 prepare food for your catering business.

You must have sufficient equipment to maintain required temperatures (below 41°F or above 135°F) for all perishable food at a catering site. These may include steam tables, chafing dishes, refrigerators, coolers, etc.

Food & Alcohol

Manager’s Food Safety Certification

Obtain a Manager’s Food Safety Certification for yourself and/or a designated employee. This person is responsible for teaching other employees proper food handling.

Food Handler Card

Ensure all employees have a Food Handler Card. SF DPH offers a few options for obtaining this card.

Develop a menu

Create a list of all foods to be served with information on how, when and where each food item is prepared and cooked. You will need this list to obtain a food permit.

Caterer Permit

Apply for your Caterer Permit from the SF Department of Public Health (DPH). You application will include a Commissary Verification, Commissary floor plan, Proof of Worker’s Compensation Insurance, Proof of Food Safety Certification, Written Operational Procedures, Operating Schedule, Business Registration Certificate, and Seller’s Permit.

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.

Serve Your Guests


Keep a calibrated metal stem/probe type thermometer nearby at all times. The thermometer must have a temperature range of 0 - 220 degrees F, accurate to +/-2 degrees F, and be available to monitor temperatures of food prior to transport, upon arrival, and at the time of serving.

Food storage

Store foods, beverages, utensils and related equipment at least 6 inches off of the floor at any event.

Keep your Food Safety Certificate on hand

Bring a copy of the approved prepared Food Safety Certificate to all events. You must be able to provide this when asked.

Recyclable or compostable containers

Use containers that are compostable or recyclable if you serve takeout or allow customers to take food home. The SF Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance prohibits certain food service ware, like Styrofoam containers.

Hand washing

Provide adequate hand washing facilities adjacent to service area.

Available restrooms

Ensure that restrooms with adequate hand washing facilities are available and located within 200 feet of service area.

What If...


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

If you make any changes to your Written Operational Procedures, menu or equipment you will need DPH approval.

Heat and refrigeration

If transport time exceeds one hour, mechanical refrigeration and mechanical hot holding equipment must be provided.

Outdoor heaters

If you would like to temporarily provide outdoor heaters, you must obtain a LP-Gas Storage and Use Permit and a fire watch (overtime), and follow all SF Fire guidelines for use of LP-Gas Mushroom-Type Heaters.

If you plan to use an outdoor heater permanently, you must obtain a building permit from the SF Department of Building Inspection.

Outdoor food events

If you will be serving at an outdoor food or street fair, be sure to follow all of the SF Fire Department safety requirements, including refraining from cooking inside tents, keeping cooking equipment away from exits, and maintaining a visible fire extinguisher in each cooking area.

After Opening

Solicit work

There are a number of ways to seek out work, including using the web, word-of-mouth, advertising, partnerships, etc.

Negotiate compensation

Negotiate compensation & payment plan prior to signing a contract. Consider taking a class or seeking other advice on contracts.

Equipment maintenance and permit renewals

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

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.