Starting a Business: Restaurants

Thank you for choosing to open your restaurant in Fairfax County.  The information on this page is provided to help you through the permitting and licensing process, which can be complex, but necessary to provide safe restaurants for our residents.  It is recommended that before you sign a lease, purchase property, or hire a design professional to open your new restaurant, you should review this page and speak to County staff to confirm:

  1. That your restaurant may open at the location you are considering;
  2. The type of plans you are required to submit; and
  3. Which permits and licenses you must obtain prior to opening. 

If you have questions during the process, please call the listed phone numbers.  Our staff is here to help.

Step One: Locating Your Business

As you search for a location for your new restaurant, or if you have found a location at which you would like to open your restaurant, the first step is to verify that your business is allowed at the location under the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance.  According to the Zoning Ordinance, a restaurant is typically classified as either an eating establishment, a fast food restaurant or a quick service food store.   To determine which type of restaurant your establishment will be, please view the definitions of these uses from the Zoning Ordinance and complete the worksheet.  Next, review the following bullets to determine whether any separate Zoning approvals are required for your restaurant.

  • Find the zoning district of your restaurant location.  To do so, you can use the zoning district analyzer.
  • Is your restaurant use a “Permitted Use” in the Zoning District?  Or is your restaurant use a “Special Exception Use”? 
    • A “Permitted Use” is allowed in the Zoning District without any public hearing approval, provided the use complies with the Use Limitations of the Zoning District. 
    • A “Special Exception Use” requires that you apply for approval of a Special Exception by the Board of Supervisors.  Once an application is filed it is reviewed by staff in the Zoning Evaluation Division (ZED) of the Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ), and public hearings are held by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, prior to taking action to approve the application. 

Please check the Zoning District of your location in the Zoning Ordinance (Articles 4, 5 or 6).  Note: Use Limitations for the Zoning District or Approved Development Conditions governing the property may impact your use.  Please visit the Zoning Permit Review Branch (ZPRB) of the Department of Planning and Zoning to research our records to verify this information. (12055 Government Center Parkway (Herrity Bldg.), Suite 250, Fairfax, Virginia, 22035. Phone: 703-222-1082.)

  • Will you offer entertainment, dancing, billiards, darts, karaoke, hookah or other similar activities in conjunction with your restaurant?  If so, you may need a Use Determination from the Zoning Administrator’s office (Contact the Zoning Resource Planner in the Ordinance Administration Branch of the Department of Planning and Zoning at 703-324-1314).  You may be able to include these activities “by right,” or depending on the Zoning District your restaurant is located in, or the scale and frequency of these activities, your use may be classified as a different type of use (Commercial Recreation, Billiards Hall, Dance Hall, etc.) and may require approval of a Special Permit by the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA).  A Special Permit Use requires an application to be submitted to staff in ZED and approved by the BZA following a public hearing.
  • If you need to obtain approval of either a Special Exception or a Special Permit, these are public hearing processes and you will need to plan for additional time before you may proceed toward construction or opening day. For information about these applications contact the Zoning Evaluation Division (ZED) of the Department of Planning and Zoning at 703-324-1290.
  • Contact the Zoning Permit Review Branch (ZPRB) at 703-222-1082 (TTY 711) to verify your findings, to find out whether your restaurant is a “permitted” use or if it requires approval of a Special Exception by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. 

Site Plan Review & Parking Tabulations 

A. Will you be proposing any exterior improvements or new building construction (i.e., new building, new addition to an existing building, new patio for outdoor dining, or additional parking lot pavement)?

  1. Such improvements will likely require approval of either a site plan or minor site plan by the Site Development and Inspections Division (SDID) of the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES).  Contact the Engineer of the Day at 703-324-1575 to determine whether any type of site plan approval is required.  View the Site Plan Review Process flow chart.
  2. Hire a Licensed Professional Engineer – Feasibility Study and Site Plan: Ideally, prior to purchasing a parcel of land or signing a lease for the intention of building or opening a restaurant, a feasibility study should be performed by a licensed professional engineer to research the site conditions, constraints, and challenges that the proposed site plan will encounter.  A Licensed Professional Engineer should prepare your required Site Plan for submission and approval by the Fairfax County Site Development and Inspection Division (SDID).  A Minor Site Plan, if qualified, may be considered if there are other established uses on the property.

B.  No Exterior improvements proposed? 

If you propose to take over an existing tenant space either “as is” or proposing only interior alterations, you may need to submit a Parking Tabulation Study for approval by SDID, if your new restaurant requires more parking than the number of spaces previously approved for the site or tenant space.  Visit the ZPRB (Herrity Building, 12055 Government Center Parkway,Suite 250, Fairfax, Virginia 22035, 703-222-1082) to speak with a technician to review our records to confirm whether a Parking Tabulation is required.  If a Parking Tabulation is required:

  1. Hire a Licensed Professional Engineer, Surveyor or Architect (Virginia) to prepare a Parking Tabulation for the property to ensure that the parking requirements for the restaurant can be met, including all the other uses that exist on the property. 
  2. Submit the Parking Tabulation form with appropriate plans and fee to the Fairfax County Site and Addressing Center (Herrity Building, 12055 Government Center Parkway, 2nd floor Fairfax, Virginia 22035, 703-222-0801).

Step 3: Building Plans, Permits and Reviews 

Building Plan review submission can occur concurrently with Site Plan review or Parking Tabulation review for the site. NOTE – If no Building Permits or Parking Tabulation are required for your restaurant, you may proceed to Step IV.

  • If locating in an existing tenant space, building permits are required when you add, demolish or alter walls, doors, windows, ceilings, or electrical/mechanical/plumbing/fire systems.  Building permits are also required when the way that you intend to use a space is different than its previously approved use.  More specific information on the permit and plan review process for alterations to existing spaces can be found in our Tenant Layouts publication.
  • There are many variations in the applicable code requirements depending on the use of the space and the specific parameters of the building that the space is located in.  The plan review process can take several months to complete.  For general information on the building permit, plan review and inspection process, visit Building Permits
  • General building permit information.
  • More specific building permit and plan review information can be found in our New Commercial Buildings publication.
  • Information on the overall development process for new buildings and additions.
  • Building Permits – If any building permits are required, obtain approval prior to beginning construction.
  • Inspections – Once construction is completed on the building and any exterior site improvements shown on any approved site plan are completed, call for your Site and Building final inspections.
  • Dance Permit – If you are proposing to have a dance floor in your restaurant, you must also apply for a Dance Permit from the Zoning Inspections Branch of the Department of Planning and Zoning (Herrity Building, 12055 Government Center Parkway, Suite 829, Fairfax, Virginia 22035, 703-324-4300 TTY 711).  

Food Services Permit:

Any establishment that stores, prepares, serves, or otherwise provides food for human consumption, and provides such food directly to a member of the public for consumption, is considered to be a “food establishment” and requires a Permit to Operate a Food Service Establishment from the Health Department. Visit the Health Department’s website for more information and to apply for a permit.

Step Four: Before You Open 

Before you can open your restaurant for business, there are a few more steps you must take:

  1. Contact the Health Department at 703-246-2444 to schedule a pre-opening inspection.  Upon completing a successful pre-opening inspection, the Health Department will issue a permit to operate. 
  2. Fire Marshal Pre-Occupancy Inspection – If your Building Permit reflects that under the Building Code, your use is classified as an “A” Use Group (for Assembly), you must schedule and obtain an approved Fire Marshal Pre-Occupancy Inspection.
  3. Site Inspection – if you were required to get approval of a Site Plan or Minor Site Plan, you must obtain approval of a Site Inspection before requesting issuance of a Non-Residential Use Permit (Non-RUP).
  4. The last step before you can open your restaurant is to obtain your Non-RUP.  Come to the Zoning Permit Review Branch (Herrity Building, Suite 250, 12055 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, Virginia 22035, 703-222-1082) to speak with a technician.  Please bring with you copies of the Health Department permit and the Fire Marshal Pre-Occupancy inspection report, and the $70 fee to obtain the Non-RUP.  If all inspections are in order, the Non-RUP can be issued while you wait.

Step Five: Once You Open 

A.    Fire Marshal Final Post Occupancy Inspection – Occupancy approval is subject to final inspection by the Fairfax County Fire Marshal’s Office.  Once your restaurant is occupied, please call 703-246-4849 for information and to schedule a final occupancy inspection.  

B.     Maintain Fire Protection Systems and Operating Permits – The Fire Marshal’s Office classifies restaurants into two use groups: A or B.  Consult your Non-Residential Use Permit (Non-RUP) to determine your restaurant’s Use Group. 

C.    Business License

  • A BPOL tax is assessed annually on all person, firms, corporations, individuals, partnerships, etc. with situs (location) in Fairfax County.
  • New businesses must apply within 75 days of starting a business in Fairfax County and renewal applications must be filed and paid yearly by March 1.
  • For additional information, contact the Department of Tax Administration at 703-222-8234
  1. Mixed Beverage License: Other Than BPOL License: If your establishment will be serving mixed beverages, you will need to apply for an Other Than BPOL license for Mixed Beverage in addition to your BPOL.  This license is issued annually.
  2. Dance Hall License:  Other Than BPOL License: If your establishment permits dancing to the general public you will need to apply for a Other Than BPOL license for Dance Hall in addition to your BPOL.  This license is issued annually. 

Reminder – It is highly recommended that prior to signing a lease or purchasing property for your restaurant, that you consult County staff to verify that your restaurant is located in the proper Zoning District and what types of approvals, plans, permits and licenses will be necessary to open your business. 


Contacts for County Agencies:

Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ):

  • Zoning Permit Review Branch (703-222-1082)
  • Zoning Administration Division/Ordinance Administration Branch (703-324-1314)
  • Zoning Inspections Branch (703-324-4300)
  • Zoning Evaluation Division (703-324-1290)

Land Development Services (LDS):

  • Site Development and Inspection Division (703-324-1720)
  • Customer Technical Support Center: Site Application Center and Permit Application Center (703-222-0801)

Department of Tax Administration (703-222-8234)

Health Department (703-246-2201)

Fire Marshal Office (703-246-4849)

Contact Fairfax County: Phone, Email or Twitter | Main Address: 12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA 22035
Technical Questions: Web Administrator

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