If cooking great food comes naturally to you, starting a catering business can be a rewarding way to make a living. In Tennessee, starting a catering business requires obtaining licenses and permits at the city, state and county levels. The Tennessee Division of General Environmental Health regulates license requirements at a state level. You also should contact your local health agency in the city you plan to operate.
Before you apply for food-specific licenses, you will need to obtain the normal general business licenses and permits. Use the state of Tennessee's One Stop Business Resource to get a business name, obtain a state tax ID and an unemployment insurance number (see References). Contact your county clerk's office to obtain an appropriate business license. Inquire with your specific city in Tennessee to see if additional business licenses or permits are necessary.
The Tennessee Division of General Environmental Health is responsible for issuing licenses on a state level. The official set of rules governing catering businesses and other food establishments is available on the department's website (see Resources). There are stringent requirements for how your food preparation facility is constructed and how food is handled. The process for obtaining a license is the same for both home-based catering businesses and commercial facilities. Contact the department to request an inspection report for your catering facility as well as to obtain information regarding its regulations.
You will need to obtain a food preparation license through the county health department in which you are going to operate. The Tennessee Department of Health has a full list of county offices on its website (see Resources). The appropriate office will require you to file a license form with information on your catering business and request an inspection.
An inspector will come to your facility and review such items as food protection, equipment sanitation, plumbing, hand-washing facilities and garbage disposal. Sample Tennessee restaurant health inspection reports from the Knoxville, Tennessee department can be found on its website (see References).
The requirement for a city license for your catering business will depend on which city in which you plan to operate. In Nashville, for example, you will be required to submit to the city's own inspection from The Metro Public Health Department's Food Division. Contact your city's department of health to determine it's exact regulations.