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Philadelphia Business Regulations

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Food Establishments

The Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) processes applications, issues licenses, issues permits, and conducts inspections to insure that regulations are met. Every person who desires to engage in any business in the City of Philadelphia, whether or not that person maintains a place of business in the City, must possess a Commercial Activity License from L&I. This is a one-time license and can be used for all businesses operated within the City.

Some business operators will only need a Commercial Activity License. However, other business operators need a combination of licenses. For example, a street vendor selling fruit and vegetables may need four licenses (Sidewalk Sales; Food Preparing and Serving; Scales; and Commercial Activity). The type of license you need depends on the kind of business activity you will engage in.

You can also call 311 and ask to speak with a License Issuance representative from L&I. When you speak to a service representative, be prepared to provide:

  • The applicant name and address
  • The address of the business
  • A description of the business

The service representative will provide information on:

  • The type of license(s) the venture requires
  • The cost of each license
  • What, if any, other conditions you may have to fulfill to obtain the license(s)
    • (i.e., Zoning approval, Certificate of Occupancy, Health Department approval, etc.)

The Philadelphia Zoning Code governs the City’s orderly development. Zoning regulations dictate land use, the height and bulk of buildings, population density, parking requirements, the placement of signs, character of development on private property, and how property is “used”, inside and out.

Zoning laws tell business operators where you can legally locate a restaurant, pawn shop, or other commercial activity.

Get more information about Location and Zoning.

If you are planning on undertaking construction (either an alteration to an existing structure or a new structure), please contact the Department of Licenses and Inspections to ensure proper compliance with building standards in the City of Philadelphia. You will likely need to apply for a building permit. An L&I representative will be able to advise you on how and when to apply for which permits or certificates. Call 311 and ask to speak to an L&I Building Unit representative.

Additionally, you may need an air permit if you plan to install or modify equipment that causes or controls emissions (boilers, generators, and paint booths are common examples), large parking facilities, or certain asbestos abatement or demolition projects. For permit applications, regulations, or more information, please contact Air Management Services (AMS) at (215) 685-7572 or visit the AMS website.

In the City of Philadelphia there are specific requirements for signs. Visit our Sign information pages:

For billboards and large signs not connected to an individual business, contact the Department of Licenses and Inspections Outdoor Advertising Sign Face License.

All businesses are required to have a Business Income and Receipts Tax Account Number. This can be applied for simultaneously with the Commercial Activity License.

Every individual, partnership, association and corporation engaged in a business, profession or other activity for profit within the City of Philadelphia must file a Business Income and Receipts Tax Return, whether or not they earned a profit during the preceding year. Rental activities are usually considered to be business activities.

If you are setting up a business for the first time please call 311 and ask to speak with a License Issuance representative from L&I. Inform the representative if you are setting up a business for the first time. You will receive a packet of information which will explain what and when you need to file taxes.

Additionally most businesses are also responsible for:

  • City Wage Tax
    • if you have employees you must withhold the City Wage Tax. This is a tax on salaries, wages, commissions and other compensation paid to an employee who is employed by or renders services to an employer.
  • Net Profits Tax
    • The Net Profits Tax is levied on the net profits from the operation of a trade, business, profession, enterprise or other activity conducted by individuals, partnerships, associations or estates and trusts. (The rental of property, in most cases, is considered the operation of a business.)

If you need help in determining how often you must file or pay for any city taxes, visit the Taxpayer Service unit at the Municipal Services Building, Public Concourse Level, 1401 John F. Kennedy Boulevard or call (215) 686-6600.

If you are uncertain of the interpretation of a specific tax rule, or if your tax situation is complex, we strongly recommend that you seek advice from a qualified tax professional or contact the Department of Revenue.

More Information on taxes

The Office of Food Protection conducts reviews of food establishment licensee and operation changes, construction, alteration, renovation, conversion, and food handling processes. Proper design and construction of a food establishment facilitates environmental sanitation and implementation of critical food safety practices. Review of proposed plans prior to work activity being done is to ensure compliance with safe food handling procedures and regulatory requirements, avoid misunderstandings, and prevent costly errors. By listing and locating equipment on floor plans and diagramming specifications for electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems, potential physical facility problems that may impact upon food safety can be spotted while still on paper and modifications made before costly purchases, installation and construction.

In the City of Philadelphia every establishment that engages in the handling, preparation, service or sale of food items must submit plans and additional appropriate information, materials, and fees to the Office of Food Protection at the above address prior to any planned or intended:

  • New construction.
  • Renovation, alterations or modifications to an existing food establishment.
  • Food handling or food process changes.
  • Changes of ownership.

***NOTE: New ownership of an existing ongoing food establishment operation without modification to the food equipment and/or food handling activities requires ONLY a Plan Review Application.

A Guide to Starting Your Food Related Business