Get started

This page will help you understand the steps to opening a bar in San Francisco. It is a resource from the Office of Small Business, San Francisco's central point of information for small businesses.

Choose a location

Choose a location
  • Find a location zoned for your business. Every location is zone differently - some could require a "Change of Use" or "Conditional Use" application, which can include a public hearing and neighborhood notification. 
  • Contact the SF Planning Department at or visit the Office of Small Business at the Permit Center at 49 South Van Ness Ave to understand zoning requirements for your proposed location. For more information, visit:
    • Notes:
      • Taking over a space that already was a bar may save time and construction costs.
      • If you plan to serve liquor or beer and wine, check if your potential location allows alcohol. Be sure to start your liquor license application early.
  • Determine if you need to make changes to your space.  Before signing a lease, you can consult with the SF Department of Public Health (DPH) and SF Fire Department (SFFD) to understand whether your space needs sprinkler systems, kitchen hoods, fire exits, capacity requirements, and more.
  • Review Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines to make sure your business is accessible. Learn more by visiting:
  • Review and sign your lease. Review the lease carefully before signing. Contact the Office of Small Business if you want help. If you need legal assistance, contact:

Set up your business

Set up your business
  • Create a business plan for the type of bar you will open.
  • Choose a business structure.  LLCs, Corporations and Limited Partnerships must register their structure with the CA Secretary of State before registering locally. 
  • Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as a Federal Tax ID Number from the Internal Revenue Service (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 with the City and County of San Francisco through the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector.
  • 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. Research the name's availability before filing.
  • Apply for a Seller's Permit from the CA Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA). 
  • Obtain workers' compensation insurance if you will have employees. You will need these in order to obtain the DPH permit to operate.

Prepare your space

Prepare your space

Food and alcohol

Food and alcohol
  • Apply for a Permit to Operate from the Department of Public Health
  • Obtain a Liquor License from the CA Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). 

    • Resource:
    • Note: Be prepared to wait 3-6 months for your liquor license to be issued. After applying, a notice will be posted at your location to alert the general public that you plan on serving alcohol. If there are no objections, the department will conduct a background investigation and, if cleared, issue the permit.
    • Note: Liquor licenses can be transferred or purchased from an old owner of a bar though you will often pay a premium. Transfers typically take 75 days.
    • If you want to sell spirits along with beer and wine, your bar will need a Type 48 license. The only way to acquire a Type 48 license in San Francisco is to purchase an existing one. If you only want to sell beer and wine, you can apply directly to ABC for a Type 42 license.
    • Depending on your proposed location, you may need to receive a “public convenience or necessity” determination from the Board of Supervisors. As you apply, ask ABC staff if this process will be required for your application.
    • Board of Supervisors resource on the “public convenience or necessity” process:
  • You may serve light snacks such as pretzels and peanuts without a full kitchen. If you wish to serve heavier fare, you must follow the food and kitchen requirements of a Restaurant. 
  • Don’t serve any foods containing trans fats, per California State law. SF DPH 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.

After opening

After opening
  • Post all required posters and permits including, but not limited to, No Smoking signs, minimum wage information, and health inspection results
  • Mark your calendar. Schedule equipment maintenance and set reminders to renew your permits and licenses as needed.  
  • Be prepared for SF DPH Health Inspections by checking walls, floors, and ceilings for damage; following best practices for food storage; collecting garbage; and ensuring workers have good hygiene.
  • Limit the noise from your establishment. Noise complaints from neighbors can negatively affect your business. 

  • Consider purchasing commercial liability insurance for your bar. This will protect your business from financial loss stemming from lawsuits filed by employees or others. This insurance is not mandatory in California. 

  • Prepare and pay your local, state, and federal taxes. Learn more from these departments:

More considerations