Lisa Atkinson contributed to this column; part two of a two-part series:
Once you submit your plans for your restaurant, they will likely need to be approved by multiple departments within the local authority. First of all, zoning will check that the building is zoned for commercial restaurant use. Next, the plumbing and electrical departments will look closely at the plans to ensure the proposed revisions or construction meet local regulations (often termed “up to code”). When the health department looks at the plans, they are ensuring that the facility will be safe and sanitary. The health department will only approve plans that show resistance to pest infestation, correct plumbing facilities (with either sanitizing dishwashing equipment or a three compartment sink), and proper hand-washing facilities.
Hand-washing stations must be conveniently located so it is easy for employees to wash their hands often, and are required in food-prep areas, service areas, dishwashing areas and restrooms. There must be a potable (drinkable) water supply, and plumbing must be installed so that there is no possibility of backflow due to cross connections. A cross connection is a physical link between safe water and dirty water which can come from drains, sewers or other wastewater sources such as mop buckets. Cross connections can cause backflow, which is the unwanted reverse flow of contaminants into a potable water supply. Backflow can happen when the pressure in a potable water supply drops below the pressure of dirty water. The different pressure can pull the dirty water into the safe water supply. Backflow can be prevented with backflow prevention devices such as a vacuum breaker or via an air gap, which is the only method that is 100 percent effective. Grease traps are often installed below the dishwashing sink to prevent grease buildup from blocking the drain.
Eventually, your plans will be approved, you will get a building permit and you can start construction! Ensure you have received tax and employer ID numbers and secured insurance. Check which licenses you will need. Usually, in addition to the occupancy and food permits which are received at final inspection, you will require a sales and use tax license, a traders license, and possibly an alcohol permit or a char-broiler permit. Now is the time to hire food and supply vendors, secure a pest control operator, start marketing, and hire and train your staff. Check with the local health department to determine the staff training requirements, and even if all staff do not need a food safety certificate, I recommend that at least one person in the establishment is Food Service Manager trained so that all food is being served in a safe and sanitary manner.
During construction the building inspector and fire marshal may visit and you should ensure your building permit is displayed and you are following the submitted plans. Any changes made to the plans during construction will need to be reported to the local authority. Once construction is complete and all equipment is installed, you can arrange for inspections. Before opening, the building inspector, the fire marshal and the health department will all complete final inspections. You will receive operating licenses which you may need to post publicly. Once you have your food permit, you can start cooking, and get ready for opening night. That is when the real work – and fun – begins.