This resource is an expert from our Complete Guide to Los Angeles Restaurant Permits. Visit this page for everything you need to know about getting permits reviewed and approved quickly.
Have you had your sights set on opening a restaurant in Los Angeles? After much dreaming, planning, and late nights, it’s time. You’re ready to get started. Congratulations!
An unavoidable part of the next several months of your journey will be attaining the proper permits to build and operate your restaurant. Having a clear understanding of who you’ll need to work with and their role can help smooth out the process and potentially avoid delays.
Primary LA Permitting Departments
In an ideal society, you’d have one point of contact for your new restaurant or cafe — one permitting department to do things like:
- Get your building plans reviewed.
- Get all permits approved.
- Get all inspections passed.
Unfortunately, LA isn’t quite there yet. Instead, there are two primary departments you’ll be working with:
- The Los Angeles Department of Building & Safety (LADBS)
- The County of Los Angeles Public Health
1. Los Angeles Department of Building & Safety (LADBS)
The Los Angeles Department of Building & Safety, or LADBS, will be the primary agency with which you — and your contractors — will work. It’s where you’ll get your building permits and occupancy certificate. They will conduct a plan check, issue building permits, and then perform inspections throughout the process.
Specifically, LADBS reviews your construction documents for handicap accessibility to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They will also inspect all proposed mechanical, electrical, and plumbing improvements to ensure they meet current building codes, and they will assess whether your project meets the new “green code” (eco-friendly building standards). This is referred to as CALGreen Compliance — the first mandatory green building standards code in the nation.
CALGreen Compliance states that if your project includes more than $200,000 in new construction, you must comply with CALGreen. Its purpose is to promote building and design concepts that reduce negative environmental impacts and encourage sustainable construction projects. They look at the materials used, environmental systems, air quality controls, drainage systems, and more.
- Website: LADBS.org
- Phone: 311 (within the City of Los Angeles). 213-473-3231 (outside of LA).
2. County of Los Angeles Public Health (Health Department)
The County of Los Angeles Public Health Department makes sure your restaurant complies with state and local health codes and standards.
Like the LADBS, they’ll also perform a site plan check before construction, reviewing your plans for things like:
- Building materials
- Surface materials like sinks and countertops
- Equipment installation
- Ventilation systems
In the City of Los Angeles, you will not get your building permit approvals until attaining health approval from the health department. To make this happen, you will need to work with both agencies simultaneously throughout your construction project.
Other Government Agencies You May Work With
Depending on what you have planned for your restaurant, there are several other departments with which to familiarize yourself.
- Los Angeles Fire Department: The fire department will review access points into the site and ensure safe escape paths are available in case of a fire or earthquake. The department is also responsible for approving all fire sprinkler and alarm system installations or improvements. They will also inspect your restaurant or cafe for emergency exits, hydrant placement, and avoidable hazards.
- Bureau of Sanitation Services: They will review your sewer access and make sure you have grease traps or grease interceptors in place if you’re cooking with fats, oils, and greases. In Los Angeles, if you use any oil or grease in your restaurant, then you will be required to submit plans to the Industrial Waste Division of Public Works.
- Los Angeles Department of City Planning: This department will be involved if you’re installing a drive-through or changing the building exterior’s aesthetics. The Department of City Planning will also check your location’s current zoning restrictions to confirm all of your site’s allowed uses. They will review the exterior design plans for your restaurant, including awnings and proposed signage. They will also identify the number of parking spaces required and any conditional use permits required.
- California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC): The State is only involved if you plan on serving and/or selling any alcoholic beverage. While liquor licenses are part of the entitlement process, this state-level organization will review things like:
- Your proposed hours of operation.
- The local crime rate.
- The concentration of already issued alcohol permits in the neighborhood.
They also perform background checks on all principals and will review business financials. You will need to have the proper zoning and conditional use permits to attain a liquor license. Administrative approvals may also be required on the City or County level.
Working with Departments
The inescapable truth about restaurant building permit approvals is they take time. When permitting stalls, you may think the reason is that the building codes are getting too stringent or because of government workers?
In our experience, this is rarely the case.
Longer wait times when processing building permit applications are usually the result of issues with development engineering, utilities, planning and land use. These are commonly out of most people’s control.
That said, when delays happen (and they will), they can jeopardize your budget and schedule.
For this reason, your project must not be just another stack of papers sitting on someone’s desk. Avoid this by utilizing your communication skills and personality to shine through the permitting process. In other words, use the three Ps:
Do your research before bombarding the reviewer with a laundry list of questions. Find out what’s available online to answer the simple questions, and then consolidate important queries for the reviewer.
By doing this, you’ll demonstrate that you appreciate their time, and a familiarity with the topic can help establish a more of an easy-going (and dare I say fun) conversation.
First impressions are lasting impressions. Be confident in the subject. Be friendly. Be appreciative. And where appropriate, be funny. You catch more flies with honey.
Be respectfully persistent and follow-up to avoid getting pushed down the priority list. Don’t smother the reviewer, but always make yourself available to answer any questions or provide additional information. This can help streamline the review and give your project a name and a face, or at minimum, a voice.
Want to Learn More About Restaurant Permitting in LA?
Visit our Complete Guide to Los Angeles Restaurant Building Permits for everything you need to know to get your restaurant reviewed and approved quickly.