Division of Hotels and Restaurants
Guide to Catering Establishments
The Division of Hotels and Restaurants provides the following information as a general guide for caterer licensing in Florida and does not represent this to be all requirements for maintaining a license. For complete information, we recommend you refer to applicable laws and rules and our licensing website.
This webpage replaces our brochure: DBPR Form HR 5030-037, Guide to Public Food Service Catering Establishments. For more information, see our Frequently Asked Questions.
The Division of Hotels and Restaurants classifies catering as a public food service establishment where food or drink is prepared for service elsewhere (see Section 509.013, Florida Statutes). Catering operations must be licensed by the division.
Catering does not include those establishments licensed by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services or the Department of Health, or which exclusively prepare or serve only traditional bakery goods such as cakes, pastries, bagels or confections.
Personal chefs include individuals contracted to prepare and serve food at a private party or for a single household utilizing privately owned, onsite equipment and who do not prepare food prior to the event. Personal chefs do not fall under the division’s regulation.
Mobile Food Dispensing Vehicles (MFDVs)
MFDVs include vehicle-mounted public food service establishments that are self-propelled or otherwise moveable from place to place. These units must be separately licensed and meet the minimum specifications as required in section 61C-4.0161, Florida Administrative Code. MFDVs can travel from place to place and sell or serve food to anyone, unlike vehicles used only to transport catered food to a contracted service location. For more information, see our Guide to MFDVs and Hot Dog Carts.
Plan review is required if a caterer constructs or uses a space that has never been licensed by the division, has been closed for more than one year, or has been remodeled. See our plan review website for more information.
When a caterer uses a commercial kitchen already licensed by the division, plan review is not required – only a licensing inspection. Plan review is also not required if the division can otherwise determine that the intended remodeling will not have an impact on fire safety or any other sanitation and safety requirements provided in law or rule. Applications for change of ownership do not require plan review when no interruption in operation, construction, remodeling or conversion occurs.
Catering operations must meet all applicable standards of a public food service establishment as provided in rule. Conduct all food storage and food preparation operations in an approved, licensed food service establishment. You may not conduct food operations in a private residence.
Any licensed public food service establishment may also provide catering services without holding a separate catering license from the division to conduct catering operations.
If an independent caterer shares the premises of an establishment licensed by the Division of Hotels and Restaurants, the caterer must obtain a separate license. The caterer is considered an operator of a public food service establishment and is subject to all applicable requirements of law and rule.
If a caterer shares a commercial kitchen permitted by the Department of Health, that department also regulates the caterer.
If a caterer shares a commercial kitchen licensed by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Division of Hotels & Restaurants still licenses and regulates the caterer.
Division personnel inspect as often as necessary for enforcement of the provisions of law and rule, and the protection of the public’s health, safety, and welfare. Catering operators must permit division personnel right of entry at any reasonable time to observe food preparation and service. If necessary, division personnel may examine records of the unit to obtain pertinent information regarding food and supplies purchased, received or used.
The division records readily observable fire safety items during inspections. The division reports any item that may violate fire safety requirements to the State Fire Marshal and local fire safety authorities. Please contact them to ensure your establishment meets fire safety requirements.
Unless the division approves an Alternative Operating Procedure, food employees may not contact ready-to-eat foods with their bare hands. Employees may use suitable utensils such as deli tissue, spatulas, tongs, single-use gloves or dispensing equipment.
Food service workers may transmit most pathogenic bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses to foods. That is why it is so important that employees maintain high standards of personal cleanliness. All personnel must wash hands prior to beginning work, when returning to work after any break in food preparation activities or any time their hands become soiled.
Florida law prohibits smoking in food preparation areas.
Personnel must wear clean outer garments and effective hair restraints.
All personnel must be free of open sores and skin infections, respiratory infections, upset stomach, diarrhea or other communicable diseases.
An operator who has reason to believe that an employee may present a public health risk should immediately notify the proper health authority.