Catering Businesses

Catering is an excellent gateway into the food service industry without the heavy investment like a restaurant or mobile food vending operation. If you own a restaurant or mobile food establishment, catering also serves as a great way to expand business operations and create another revenue stream.

The guide below will help you navigate the through the different steps as you start or grow your catering business. Our FAQ Page may also help answer some of your questions as you navigate through the different steps.

What is a Catering Business?

  • A food business that provides food service at events or facilities either public or private with a prior order or agreement with a customer for a set amount of food or for food for a set number of people.
  • Food must be pre-ordered or agreed upon prior to the event and cannot be purchased separately at the time of the event. 

Steps for Opening or Expanding a Catering Business

  • Start by developing a business plan - visit our Business Planning page for helpful resources.
  • Be sure to check out the FREE tools and assistance at Seattle Public Utilities Green Business Program to help businesses conserve resources and prevent pollution while also reducing costs. Taking advantage of these resources can help you beome eligible for recognition and give your business added marketing through Washington's statewide program, EnviroStars

State of Washington Business License

City of Seattle Business License

  • If operating in Seattle, every business in Seattle is required to have a City of Seattle business license. Apply online, in person or by mail.
  • If operating outside of the City of Seattle, other City specific business license may be required. Check with each City individually for this requirement. 

PHSKC Catering Permit

  • Visit King County's Catering Permit page to learn more about the application and inspection process and costs for catering business permits in King County.
  • A Field Plan Review is required to ensure that your processes and equipment needs are compatiable with the kitchen. The inspector will ask what types of foods will be prepared, how they will be made and the equipment that will be used.
  • All orders must be pre-sold or have a pre-arranged agreement prior to the event or service. Food may not be sold on-site separately.
  • All catering businesses are required to operate out of an approved commissary kitchen within King County. Please note that commissary kitchens can include but are not limited to: churches, restaurants,  and community centers. The kitchen must have the required equipment to support your operation.
  • All food preparation must take place prior to the event.
  • King County health permits are not transferrable. The new owner must apply for a new health permit with a change of ownership application.
  • A catering business cannot operate from a home kitchen unless there are two separate kitchen and the separate kitchen meets all of the requirements for any commercial food service.
  • A catering permit is NOT required if catering is being done by a licensed food service establishment, such as a restaurant that already has their health permit. In this case, the catering menu must not exceed the capacity of the establishment and the menu cannot be more extensive than allowed under the approved permit. For example, an espresso cart with a Risk 1 Health Permit, may cater espresso, but cannot provide full service meals under this permit.
  • If operating outside of King County, health permit(s) from each county may be required.
  • If operating outside of King County for a specific event, a temporary event health permit from that county may be required. 

WSLCB Liquor Caterer License

  • Visit the WSLCB's Liquor License page to learn more about the different types and costs of retail liquor licenses and the application process.
  • To sell liquor by the individual serving for on-premises consumption at a catered event location, the location must be owned, leased or operated by the caterer, or the sponsor of the event for which liquor catering services are being provide.
  • If the catered event is open to the public, the event must be sponsored by a society or organization as defined in RCW 66.24.375.
  • The licensee is prohibited from catering events at liquor-licensed premises.
  • The licensee is required to obtain a commissary kitchen license, a food service business permit or equivalent permit/license issued by the county or city health department.
  • The licensee is required to send a list of scheduled liquor-catered events to their regional enforcement office on the first of each month.
  • All employees that sell or serve alcohol must hold MAST permits.
  • The Beer/Wine Caterer Licensee
    • Must have the ability to provide and prepare minimum food services (sandwiches, salad, soup, hamburgers, pizza and fry orders) at the licensed kitchen premises.
    • Must have the necessary kitchen equipment to prepare the minimum food service.
  • The Spirits/Beer/Wine Caterer Licensee
    • Must have the ability to prepare and serve at least eight complete meals at the licensed kitchen premises.
    • Must have kitchen capacity and necessary equipment to prepare and cook complete meals.

Public Health - Seattle & King County

Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board

  • There are no final inspections done for retail liquor licenses which include Liquor Catering licenses. Your license will be issued per the documents and materials you are required to submit for your application. You will have a technical visit from an investigator some time after your license has been issued to make sure all required signage is up and everything has been done per the plans. 

If you plan on hiring employees, learn more about how you need to register, train and keep your employees safe by visiting our Final Prep page.

Congratulations! You're ready to open! Visit our You're in Business page to keep up to date with your ongoing business obligations.

Economic Development

Markham McIntyre, Director
Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 5752, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 94708, Seattle, WA, 98124-4708
Phone: (206) 684-8090
Phone Alt: (206) 684-0379
Fax: (206) 684-0379

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The mission of the Office of Economic Development (OED) is to help create healthy businesses, thriving neighborhoods, and community organizations to contribute to a robust economy that will benefit all Seattle residents and future generations.