Evaluate potential locations

Location can have a big impact on your restaurant's success – including how long it takes to open your doors. Finding the right location requires careful planning and research, but it definitely pays off in the long run.

Know Your Needs Before you Lease

There's a lot you need to know before you lease a space. For example, will the space need an expensive exhaust hood system? Will it require a several-months waiting period for a particular permit? Before signing anything, think about the items on this page.

Land Use and Zoning

Some locations have land use and zoning restrictions that don't allow restaurants. Don't sign a lease before knowing if your preferred location is suitable for your type of operation.

Determine Your Restaurant's Use Classification

Do this before you start searching for your location – some locations have land use and zoning restrictions that don't allow for restaurants or similar establishments.

The City classifies restaurants (and similar establishments) in the Municipal Code under the Retail Sales and Service use category. This includes restaurants, cafes, delicatessens, and tavern/bars. Breweries, distilleries and wineries also fall under this category if the goods are sold primarily on-site and to the general public.

Before you consider purchasing, renting or leasing a site for your business, contact the Development Services Center at 509.625.6300 to confirm how your use will be classified and which zones allow it. Staff may recommend that you attend a Pre-Development Conference (PDF 386 KB) so they can better understand your proposed project.

Get Expert Advice

For questions about property information or submitting an application with the City of Spokane, please call the Development Services Center at 509.625.6300 or visit us on the 3rd Floor City Hall, 808 W Spokane Falls Blvd.

Planning and Development offers an optional free Pre-Development Conference (PDF 386 KB), that allows the applicant to meet with representatives from City departments and other governmental agencies that may be involved in the plan review process.

Research the Location's Zoning and Permitted Use

Now that you know what zoning and use classification you need for your restaurant, you're ready to evaluate potential properties.

When you find a potential location for your business, you'll first want to determine the property's zoning designation. The City provides current zoning maps, but beware that zoning is subject to change.

Next, check the current permitted use on the most recent Certificate of Occupancy for a potential location. If the use classification is different than what is proposed, you may need a Change of Use Permit, which requires extra time and expense.

Compare Your Restaurant's Use Classification with the Location's Zoning and Permitted Use
  • If the permitted use does not fit your need, you may need to apply for a conditional use permit to allow your use.
  • A Change of Use Permit may be required as part of your building permit process. However, sometimes the size or type of the restaurant or the zoning requirements for that location may require a Conditional Use Permit. If that's the case, you must apply for the Conditional Use Permit before your building permit application.
  • The Conditional Use Permit takes 3-6 months and must be approved before building permits. Costs vary from $4,325-$4,590, with additional fees charged if the project is appealed.
New Construction

Land use approvals may add additional time to your project and can cause delays if not properly planned for. Find out what kind of land use permits will be required for your project by talking with a planner in the Development Services Center. Remember: you have to obtain Land Use Permit approvals before you can apply for your building permit.

Maximum Occupancy

Check the location's current Certificate of Occupancy to see how many people are allowed and for what type of business.

Is the occupancy classification appropriate for your restaurant? If not, you may apply for a change in occupancy, though it may require safety and accessibility improvements to the building.

Points to keep in mind:

  • Occupant load of 49 or less may be classified as Group B occupancy and may require only one exit, depending on the circumstance.
  • Occupant load of 100+ is classified as Group A occupancy and requires multiple exits and a fire sprinkler system.

    Occupant load of 300+ is classified as Group A occupancy and requires multiple exits, a fire sprinkler system and fire alarms.

  • Occupant load and group classification is determined by the plans examiners in the Development Services Center and is based on the type of business, the size of the space that the business will use/occupy and how many people can safely be in the space. You'll get a new Certificate of Occupancy after all necessary building, trade and fire permit approvals are complete and documented.

For more information, see the Certificate of Occupancy webpage or contact the Certificate of Occupancy Coordinator in Planning and Development at 509.625.6300.

Fire Safety

Fire Suppression

Verify with the Fire Department whether you'll need to install or upgrade the sprinkler system. Sprinklers are usually required for:

  • Restaurants, bars and banquet halls with fire area occupancy of 100+ or where a tenant space/suite is not separated from adjacent uses by 2-hour fire resistance-rated construction.
  • Restaurants, bars and banquet halls of fire area exceeding 5,000 square feet.
  • Establishment fire area not located on the ground floor.
  • All nightclubs meeting the state definition of a nightclub.
  • Establishments with 350+ square foot areas for concentrated assembly (e.g., dancing or watching performers).
Fire Alarms

Verify whether you'll need to install or upgrade the fire alarm system. A fire alarm is required for:

  • Restaurants, bars and banquet halls with fire area occupancy of 300+
  • Central monitoring of fire sprinklers when there are more than 20 sprinkler heads.

Sprinkler and fire alarm permits are required from the Spokane Fire Department when installing, modifying or upgrading these systems – see Sprinkler and Fire Alarm Permits in the Improve section for more information.

Fire Department Prevention Bureau personnel are available at Fire Station #1, 44 W. Riverside Avenue, Spokane, WA 99201, to assist with plan review and provide technical assistance, or you may contact them at 509.625.7000.


If you're opening a restaurant in a former restaurant space, you may not have additional parking requirements. However, if you change the use of a location (like from retail to a restaurant) or increase the floor area, you might be required to add more parking.

You need a permit to create any parking. Depending on the number of parking spaces added, location of the parking and associated grading or paving, you may need additional permits, including:

  • Parking Lot Permit
  • Grading Permit (can be part of the parking lot permit)
  • Curbcut Permit to create a new driveway to parking
  • State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review to create more than 40 parking spaces

Consult with the Development Services Center as early as possible to determine the parking requirements for your location. Call Planning and Development at 509.625.6300 or visit us on the 3rd Floor City Hall, 808 W Spokane Falls Blvd.

Planning and Development also offers an optional free Pre-Development Conference (PDF 386 KB), that allows the applicant to meet with representatives from City departments and other governmental agencies that may be involved in the plan review process.


If your proposed property is within 200 feet of a shoreline (the edge of the Spokane River or Latah Creek), it may be subject to shoreline development regulations, which can change your permit timeframe.

A Shoreline Substantial Development Permit is required for most new development and most exterior alterations (such as parking expansion or building modifications) within 200 feet of the Ordinary High Water Mark.

You can confirm that a specific proposal is exempt from the requirement for a Shoreline Permit by requesting a Shoreline Exemption. For more information on shoreline permitting, please speak with a planner in the Development Services Center.

Time & Cost

Under basic circumstances, a Shoreline Substantial Development Permit can take 4-5 months and cost between $1,020 to more than $6,750, based on the valuation of the project. For more information on shoreline permitting, please speak with a planner in the Development Services Center.

Historic Locations

First, check to see if your property is listed on the Spokane Register of Historic Places or is located in a historic district. If so, you may need to comply with certain design standards for proposed exterior changes to the building.

  • You must obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness (PDF 560 KB) from the Spokane Historic Landmarks Commission before being issued a building permit that would change the exterior appearance of the building.
  • Talk your proposal over with the Spokane Historic Preservation Office and then schedule a hearing before the Spokane Historic Landmarks Commission, which issues the Certificate of Appropriateness.

The Historic Preservation Office has information about design review, incentives for rehabilitating historic properties, listing your property on the Spokane Register, and more.

Time & Cost

The Spokane Historic Landmarks Commission meets the third Wednesday every month. Applications for Certificates of Appropriateness are due three weeks prior to the next meeting. Some items can be reviewed administratively for a $25 fee, while more extensive project reviews must go before the Landmarks Commission and have a fee of $75.

Outdoor Seating

If you're planning outdoor seating on public property, you'll need a Sidewalk Cafe Permit (PDF 471 KB) from Planning and Development. This permit allows you to offer table service and, with approval from the Liquor and Cannabis Board, alcoholic beverages at your outdoor tables. To qualify for a Sidewalk Café Permit, the outdoor space must meet all setback and clearance requirements.

Time & Cost

The Sidewalk Cafe Permit initial review and permit fee is $300 (non-refundable). It takes a minimum of 3-4 weeks for review and processing. The annual renewal fee for a Sidewalk Café Permit is $250 per year after the first year.

Serving Alcohol

To sell beer, wine, and/or spirits at your location, you'll need a state liquor license. See State Specialty Licenses in the License section for more information.

Alterations and Renovations

Construction and trade permits are required for altering or expanding any location. It's important to understand the requirements for major alterations and barrier-free accessibility for timeline and budget planning.

  • All alterations must meet safety and fire codes, and barrier-free requirements. Some projects may require seismic upgrades to the buildings structure.
  • Renovations of more than 50% of a building's area are deemed Level 3 alterations, and require that the building be brought in conformance with new construction standards.
  • Before submitting a proposal for major alteration on your building, please meet with a plans examiner in the Development Services Center to determine your project's level of alteration and what requirements will be triggered.

Site Improvements

Site improvements are required for all new development. Alterations and additions of more than 40% of the assessed value of a site, or when repairs/replacements are needed to any existing site, may also trigger additional site improvements. These may include landscaping, sidewalk, curb, gutter, curb ramps, driveway/alley approach, or street/alley right-of-way paving.

Transportation impact fees are based on the number of new p.m. peak-hour trips a project will generate, the type and size of restaurant, and the location of the restaurant. If property is expanded or redeveloped, the fees will be reduced to reflect the number of vehicle trips generated by the previous use of the property.

Barrier-free Accessibility

The state of Washington requires that commercial spaces meet accessibility codes – if your building isn't up to code, you must make incremental upgrades to bring it into compliance.

  • For smaller projects, you must commit 20% of your alteration expenses to improving accessibility. At minimum, an accessible entrance (e.g., with ramps at the main entry), parking area and at least one wheelchair-accessible restroom is required whenever work requiring a permit is being performed to a building/tenant space.
  • If your proposal is considered a Level 3 alteration, you will generally need to meet all barrier-free accessibility requirements.

Providing an accessible route of travel from the accessible parking stall into the building requires paved pathways of 2% slope or less, doorways 32 inches to 48 inches wide, and clear 36 inch-wide pathways inside the building. If customers are to order from a counter, a minimum 36-inch portion of the counter that is no higher than 36 inches is also required. Restrooms also need to be accessible.

Kitchen Exhaust System

Exhaust hoods are complex systems that are expensive to build and install. Ensure your building has (or can accommodate) the exhaust hood(s) you need, particularly if your menu depends on fried, grilled or broiled foods. The Spokane Fire Department will require a permit for the suppression system, and Spokane Regional Health will review the hood and its associated cooking equipment as well as the associated ventilation.

Types of Exhaust Hoods
  • Type II Hoods – Steam, Heat, and Odor: Type II Hoods are used for steam, vapor, heat, or odor removal. Type II hoods may vent through an exterior wall.
  • Type I Hoods – Grease and Smoke: Type I Hoods are used to remove grease and smoke; they must include an approved automatic fire-extinguishing system. Type I hoods must exhaust through the roof of a building – not via an exterior wall.
Tech Specs for Type I Hoods

Type 1 exhaust outlets must extend through the roof of a building, which can be a problem in multi-story buildings. In certain situations, the Building Official can approve a system that terminates at a sidewall, but this comes with many limitations that might affect your menu and facility.

Review the manufacturer's information for each piece of commercial cooking equipment to determine recommended ventilation methods. The Development Services Center can help you determine whether Type I or Type II hood system(s) are necessary.

Grease Treatment

Grease Traps or Interceptors are Required for Most Restaurants

As part of the restaurant plan and plumbing review, the City of Spokane and Spokane Regional Health District will require a grease removal device in all new or remodeled restaurants that require a plumbing permit.

  • When looking at locations, check to see what devices are already in place, and if none, whether installation is feasible.
  • Grease interceptors should be located downstream of sinks and drains in the kitchen (e.g., 3-compartment sink or mop sink). The goal is to catch all plumbing drains (except for sanitary waste, such as from the bathrooms) and prevent fats, oils and grease from clogging the drains.
  • Public Works and Utilities provides more information about Fats, Oils, and Grease (FOG) management for restaurants and businesses.
  • Correct sizing of the grease removal device is the responsibility of the business. Incorrect sizing potentially can lead to maintenance problems and costly sewage backups (possibly including fines).
Get Expert Advice

A licensed contractor can help you determine the correct size of grease interceptor, and install and maintain it.

Backups are Costly for Businesses

Fats, oils, and grease are found in common foods such as meat, fish, dairy, and sauces. Fats, oils, and grease can accumulate in your kitchen drains, privately owned side sewers, and the public sewer – which can result in a sewage backup into your business.

  • Restaurants are required to close voluntarily if a sewer backup occurs. The business owner (that's you!) is responsible for the clean-up costs related to a sewer backup.
  • Keeping fats, oils, and grease out of the sewer in the first place can reduce problems. Use best management practices.


Be sure your proposed renovations will meet Spokane's Noise Ordinance

  • Outdoor seating and mechanical units (such as HVAC and refrigeration) are major noise generators – these projects require mitigation measures to keep things quieter.
  • During your plan or permit review, your project will be screened for potential noise issues, especially if your restaurant is at the border of a commercial zone and a residential zone.

Adequate Utility Services

Are the electric, water, and gas capacities sufficient at your location – especially if you're adding new equipment or sprinklers? Check with these utility providers for guidance:


Does your building have asbestos, lead paint, or other health and safety concerns? Don't forget the additional time and cost these hazards could add to your construction.

  • Asbestos – There are very specific requirements for surveying and removing asbestos during a renovation or demolition project. Check with Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency for more information about safe asbestos removal.

The information in this guide is accurate as of July 2015. Always consult with the appropriate department or agency for current requirements.

Have Questions?

Contact the Development Services Center at 509.625.6300 or visit us on the 3rd Floor City Hall, 808 W Spokane Falls Blvd.