Locating your restaurant

Location can have a big impact on your restaurant’s success and finding the right location requires careful planning and research. Before your lease space, purchase property or sign anything, review the items listed below.

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.

Helpful Tool → Bring this Location Selection Worksheet when looking at potential locations.

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 as Food and Beverage Service. This includes full-service restaurants, drive-through or drive-in restaurants, espresso establishments, and mobile food vendors, and taverns/nightclubs.

You will also need to know which zoning districts permit your type of restaurant (and similar establishments), you can determine that in Chapter 19.60 Permitted Uses. Before you consider purchasing, renting or leasing a site for your business, contact the Permit Center at (509) 720-5240 to confirm how your use will be classified and which zones allow it.

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. Handling and disposal of demolition debris must be in accordance with Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency (SRCAA) asbestos regulations. Check with SRCCA for more information about safe asbestos removal.

Get Expert Advice → For questions about property information and/or permits, contact the Permit Center.

Do you need a “Land Use” Permit?


Maximum Occupancy

Check the location’s Certificate of Occupancy to see how many people are allowed and for what type of business. Is the occupancy classification appropriate for your restaurant (Group A or B)? 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 less than 49 may be classified as a Group B occupancy.
  • Occupant load of 100+ is classified as a Group A occupancy and requires a fire sprinkler system.
  • Occupant load of 300+ is classified as a Group A occupancy and requires a fire sprinkler system and fire alarms.
  • Occupant load and Group classification is determined by the local agency who issues Building Permits 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 can find these details on the building’s Certificate of Occupancy.

Note: Get a Certificate of Occupancy after all necessary building, trade, and fire permit approvals are complete and documented.  Call the Permit Center at (509) 720-5240 for more information.

Fire Safety

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 occupancy of 100+ or where in a tenant space/suite not separated from adjacent uses by 2-hour fire-resistance rated construction.
  • Restaurants, bars, and banquet halls of 5,000+ square feet.
  • Establishments not located on the ground floor.
  • All nightclubs meeting the state definition of a nightclub.
  • Establishments with 350+ square foot areas for 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 Valley Fire Department when installing or upgrading these systems. 


If you’re opening a restaurant in a former restaurant’s space, you may not have increased parking requirements. However, if you change the use of a location (like from retail to a restaurant) or increase the floor area, you might need more parking. Typically, a restaurant is required to provide one parking stall for every 250 sq. ft. of floor area, with a minimum of two parking stalls.

Consult with staff at the Permit Center at (509) 720-5240 as early as possible to determine the parking requirements for your location.

Serving Alcohol

To sell beer, wine, and/ or spirits at your location, you’ll need a state liquor license. See State Specialty Licenses 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.
  • Before submitting a proposal for major alteration on your building, please contact the Permit Center to determine what requirements will be triggered.

Frontage Improvements

If you are expanding the building footprint, changing the use or improving vacant land, your project may be required to provide dedications and/or border easements for public streets and make improvements. These improvements may include pavement widening, curb, gutter, grassy swale and sidewalk.

Barrier-free Accessibility

Washington State requires that commercial spaces meet accessibility codes – if your building is not up to code, you must make incremental upgrades to bring it into compliance.

  • For smaller projects, generally 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 substantial alteration, you will generally need to meet all barrier-free accessibility requirements.
  • Guidance on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, can be downloaded from www.ada.gov.

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.

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.

  • Deep fat fryers with vegetable oils require a portable Class K extinguisher within 30 feet.
  • Solid-fuel cooking equipment requires a separate exhaust system and a Class K portable fire extinguisher(s).

Washington State Non-Residential Energy Code requirements for HVAC equipment (including make-up air units) may dictate the installation of economizers.  Specific clearances are required between Type I hood components and combustible construction materials such as wood-framed walls.  Please note that drywall/cement board may reduce these clearances only when allowed by the hood equipment manufacturer and approved by the Building Official.

Grease Treatment

Grease Traps or Interceptors are required for most restaurants.

As part of the restaurant plan and plumbing review, Spokane County Utilities 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.

Get Expert Advice → A licensed contractor can help you determine the correct size of grease interceptor, and install and maintain it. Spokane County Utilities (509) 477-3604 provides more information about Fats, Oils, and Grease Disposal for Restaurants and Businesses.

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.

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 the City’s utility providers for guidance.