Events & Outdoor Food Service

Who Needs a License

Anyone who is preparing or serving foods and/or beverages to the public needs a license, whether or not they are charging a fee. Examples of foods requiring a license include serving pizza, hot dogs, tacos, or fresh squeezed lemonade at an event. 

If you operate a licensed restaurant but are assembling or preparing foods outside or away from your licensed restaurant (cooking, chopping, mixing, etc.), you will need a license. 

Who Does Not Need a License

If your menu is limited to prepackaged, shelf-stable foods such as bagged potato chips, wrapped candy bars, or bottled soda, you do not need a license. 

If you are serving shelf-stable baked goods made at home and sold or given directly to customers, you will not need a license if you follow the rules of the Cottage Food Law.

Other Requirements

Other agencies such as Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), Michigan Liquor Control Commission, or local municipalities may also require you to submit plans and obtain operating licenses and permits. What you will need depends on your operation. It is your responsibility to check with these agencies for specific requirements.

Types of licenses for events and/or outdoor food service

Catering License

Are you planning on catering food for events? 
You may need a Catering License. Caterers may only operate out of licensed food service establishments. Foods may not be prepared at home or in other unlicensed locations. 

Mobile Food Cart License ("Hot Dog Cart" License)

Are you planning to sell hot dogs or similar foods seasonally or throughout the year in Washtenaw County? 
A Mobile Food Cart License is probably right for you. A mobile food unit is an open air cart that has a very limited menu, limited facilities, and must work with a licensed commissary (such as a licensed restaurant). The mobile cart must return to their commissary at least once every 24 hours it is in operation. 

Specialized Transitory Food Unit (STFU) License ("Food Truck" License)

Are you planning to sell a variety of foods throughout Washtenaw County and the state of Michigan?  
A Specialized Transitory Food Unit (STFU) license is probably right for you. An STFU is typically an enclosed trailer with its own water supply and wastewater holding tanks, commonly referred to as a food truck. An STFU may have a more diverse menu than a mobile food cart, and it does not need to have a commissary. 

Temporary Food Service License

Are you planning on a one-time event or operating at only a few events during the year?  
A Temporary Food Establishment License is probably the best license for you. A temporary food establishment operates at a fixed location for a temporary period not to exceed 14 consecutive days. Examples include a food booth at a fair/football game, a restaurant preparing food offsite, and a private organization serving food to the public.  

Cottage Food Law

Are you planning to sell shelf-stable baked goods that were prepared in your home, and that you will be selling directly to customers at farmers' markets or other locations?
The Cottage Food Law will likely apply to your operation. You likely will not need a license to serve baked goods, as long as they are shelf-stable and labeled properly.