Retail Food - Serving Meals

Serving Meals is usually a restaurant, tavern, or bar that serves food that is ready for consumption at the facility, for take-out, or for delivery. The food requires no further preparation once it is served. These types of establishments are a staple of modern life. They are likely more common now than they've ever been, and due to the hectic nature of modern living it's sometimes difficult to find the time to prepare a meal. All Serving Meal establishments have one thing in common, though. Every one- from franchise restaurants that are part of national chains to local establishments with only a few employees including the owners- must apply for and obtain a restaurant license in order to serve food. This requirement even applies to places like school cafeterias. 


  • A retail food-serving meals license is required for any establishment preparing, serving, or selling meals to the public. 
    • Organizations that only prepare food occasionally (no more than 3 days in any given 12-month period) do not need a license; this may include groups such as youth groups or churches.
  • retail food-serving meals license is defined as any building, room or place where meals are prepared, served or sold to transients or the general public, and all places used in connection with the building, room or place.
    • This includes both public and private school lunch rooms where food service is provided by contract. 


Important Prerequisites for Licensing

  • Most establishments must have at least one operator or manager certified in food handling before obtaining a restaurant license. 

    • For establishments with less than 5 food handlers, only a manager holding a license for Food Safety Training for Small Operators is required. 

    • Temporary restaurants are exempt from this requirement. 

    • Simple food establishments that serve only single service, individual, already pre-wrapped foods from a licensed food distributor or serve/sell only non-potentially hazardous foods are also exempt from this requirement. 

    • For a full list of exemption details and requirements for managers certified in food handling as well as a list of certifications accepted by the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection follow this link to the DATCP’s website. 


Obtaining Licenses

Follow these steps to work towards obtaining a food license:

  • Review the Retail Food Licensing Packet links, to the left.
  • Contact the following:
    1. TOWN: Contact the Township, Village, or City for any local requirements regarding conditional use or zoning permits that may be required.
    2. COUNTY ZONING: Contact Rusk County Land Conservation & Development at 715-532-2156 to determine if a land use permit must be submitted.
    3. WELL/WATER TESTING: If a private well is present, the well must be constructed, maintained and operated according to NR812. The water must also be tested annually for coliform and nitrates. (This will be evaluated during your annual health inspection.
  • Complete the License Application-Retail Food Establishment - Serving Meals, which can be found on our Retail Food page.
  • Submit your completed application with the required license fee(s) to our office.
  • Contact our Environmental Health Specialist, at (715) 532-2299 to schedule an onsite inspection based on the scope of rules in DATCP 75. Provide a copy of your water sample results, the completed Retail Food license application and pay the required license fees, if not done previously.


License Duration

  • Licenses are valid from July 1st of one year to June 30th the following year. 
  • Licenses granted on or after April 1st will extend to June 30th of the following year (rather than expiring on June 30th of the year the license was issued). 
  • Licenses expire June 30th of each year. 
  • Renewal fees for existing establishments shall be submitted to Public Health before June 30 each year.
  • Licenses are non-transferrable. If ownership changes, a new license must be attained.


  • There is a copy of the General Food Establishment Plan Review Guidelines listed in the Documents section below to assist establishments in meeting pre-review or inspection requirements and plan approval. You can reference this document while preparing your establishment for the licensing process. 
  • There is also a copy of the Wisconsin Food Processing and Food Sales Requirements, which contains many of the requirements for obtaining a food processing or restaurant/retail license.