The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does not offer a specific license for commercial caterers. Any business operating within the state needs to obtain state and local business licenses. In addition, as a caterer you will need to license your production facility as a retail food establishment. You will be required to hold any other licenses pertinent to your daily operations, such as liquor licenses, and you must register with the state and federal government if you plan to have employees.
Contact the state business licensing division and ask for the relevant paperwork to register your business name and obtain a business license. You will also need to complete paperwork and pay fees to obtain a license specific to your city or county.
If you plan to hire employees, contact the federal government and request an employer identification number. Once this number is registered, you will receive quarterly and annual employment tax forms. Deduct payroll taxes from your employees' paychecks, keep an accurate account of their withholdings, and send in your forms and payments on time.
Contact your city or county health department and tell them you will be operating as a caterer. If you will be building your own facility, request information about codes and approved equipment. Refer to these guidelines when you plan and construct your kitchen. When your facility is ready, fill out the food processor's license application, and pay the designated fee.
To maintain your commercial kitchen certification, follow health department regulations conscientiously. A health inspector will visit your facility periodically to verify that your procedures comply with the department's guidelines. Correct any critical violations immediately, and correct non-critical violations before the inspector's next visit.
If your catering operation will be serving alcohol, you will need to purchase an off-premises liquor license. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board maintains a predetermined quota of liquor licenses and will not allow more than one license for every 3,000 residents in a community. If you have difficulty obtaining a license, you are still allowed to serve alcohol that has been purchased by your clients as part of your catering services.
Devra Gartenstein founded her first food business in 1987. In 2013 she transformed her most recent venture, a farmers market concession and catering company, into a worker-owned cooperative. She does one-on-one mentoring and consulting focused on entrepreneurship and practical business skills.