My wife and I have been running a meal prep delivery business called Magic Meals Home Delivery for the last 15 years. We have experience running our business from both outside of our home and now from inside our home.
You can run a home-based food business from your home in many areas. However, there are local and state restrictions that make it impossible in other areas.
In this article, we’ll walk through the things to consider before you start a home-based prepared meal delivery business.
What Determines If You Can Run A Meal Prep Business From Your Home?
Laws and regulations are all that stand in your way of operating a prepared meal delivery business from your house. To get past this hurdle, you just need some information.
So we have to deep dive into what laws and regulations might be standing in your way.
We’ll start from the top down:
- Federal Laws & Regulations
- State Laws & Regulations
- County Laws & Regulations
- City Laws & Regulations
- Neighborhood Rules
Note: To run a Prepared Meal Delivery Business, you need a fully certified and licensed commercial food kitchen. While at least 49 states have Food Cottage Laws, which allow the production of low-risk foods in your residential kitchen, this will not be enough for this larger business.
We’ll cover Food Cottage Laws in greater detail in a future article.~Stacey
Federal Laws & Regulations
There are no federal laws or regulations that would specifically stop you from running a home-based prepared meal business.
There are, of course, a number of federal rules that will specify how you must register your business and pay taxes on that business, but those are issues for another article.
State Laws & Regulations
Every state has different laws and regulations regarding running a business from your home and regarding running a food-related business. To make it more complex, those rules regularly change so you’ll need to find out what the current rules in your state are.
And to take the issue from complex to mind-boggling, in many states the laws and regulations are vague enough that you need to be able to gain a full understanding of what the current interpretations of those rules are.
To know if you can operate a food prep business from your home in your state will require some research on your part.
We’ll dig into the details about how to do that research in a bit.
County Laws & Regulations
County rules that might affect your ability to run a business from your home are primarily associated with zoning and usage restrictions.
Some counties forbid businesses from being run from a residence, others limit customer visits, and others frown upon signage.
There are countless variations of county rules, so this is one that is definitely going to take more research…that we’ll talk about in a bit.
City Laws & Regulations
To make this whole mess even more convoluted, city and county rules often overlap or are even at odds.
Fortunately, at the local level, interpretation and enforcement are handled from people in your community; people that you may already know or at least by people that you could form a relationship with.
I’ve always said that, “Laws are most effective and efficient when enacted at the most local level possible.” This means that these are rules that we can probably work with.
We’ll dig into how to work with these rules in the next section of this article.
You might have noticed that I titled this section ‘rules’ instead of ‘laws & regulations’. Neighborhood associations don’t really make laws, but they do make rules and the courts have shown a strong propensity to uphold those rules.
Many of us have signed Home Owner Association Covenants without looking at them twice, and you’d be surprised about some of the things in those agreements.
Knowing that, you should no longer be surprised that limits on running a business from your home are not uncommon.
Honestly, these rules can be no big deal because no one really pays attention to them, or they can be a huge problem because one busy-body pays a lot of attention to them and has the means to take you to court over them.
That’s a lot of layers of laws, regulations and rules! Now it’s time to dig into how to deal with all of these potential road-blocks between you and your dreams of a home-based food business.
How To Know If You Can Run A Prepared Meal Business From Your Home.
My advice to you is to Start Local. That means you’ll start at the most local level and work your way up.
The reason for working in this order is two-fold: first, local officials are often more likely to want to work with you, and second, they often have the expertise that will save you time and pain as you work your way through other layers of government.
#1 Check The Neighborhood Rules
First, find out if you have neighborhood rules and if you do, read them.
What you are looking for is a document that you got when you purchased your house that is called something like “Home Owners Association” or “Home Owners Covenant”.
If you don’t have one but are wary that there might be one out there, then I’d suggest you ask one of your older and nosier neighbors. They probably have all the details.
If there are neighborhood rules, read them carefully.
Is there anything in there that would stop you from starting your new business?
If there is, is there anyone in your neighborhood who is already breaking that rule? And if so, how long has it been happening?
This information tells you two things. 1) Is anyone really worried about this rule? 2) Is there precedence to enforcing this rule?
I am not a lawyer and I’m likely not familiar with the laws in your state. If you are in a neighborhood with rules, you should really consult a licensed attorney in your area before proceeding.
However, if you are in the clear of neighborhood rules, then you should get a little less local.
#2 Check Your City Rules
Every city is different, and one of the biggest problems is figuring out what office is in charge of any rules that might stand in the way of you starting a meal prep business in your home.
To find that office, you’re just going to have to do some internet searching.
I’d start by searching for something like “Topeka KS Zoning” except replace Topeka KS with your City and State. That should get you to your zoning office or planning office. That’s where you’ll start.
Email them and ask them who you need to talk to about starting a business in your home. When you get that contact information, contact that person in a respectful and kind manner. This is someone from your community, and you want them to be a new friend that you’ll work with for years.
Be sure to think out your questions beforehand. Here are some ideas for general questions you might want to ask:
- Can I run a business from my home?
- Can I add a building or remodel a garage?
- Any limitations to kinds of business?
- Limitations on signage or public access?
- Limitations on employees?
These ideas are just to get you thinking in the right direction. There are many more questions you should be asking during these early visits.
Not only will you want any information about city rules, but you’ll be seeking advice on who to talk to at the county and state level.
#3 Check the County Level Rules
You’re going to use the same basic tactics that you used at the city level, except hopefully the city person gave you the contact information for the county person.
Take lots of notes, including the dates, times, names, and phone numbers of everyone you’ve talked to. You’ll want this information if you hit a snag, and a little name dropping might help you through any of those snags.
#4 Check the State Level Rules
You’ve probably been told by now who you need to talk to at the state level, or at least what department you need to talk to.
If not, start with your state’s Department of Agriculture. That is the department that usually is in charge of the regulation and inspection of restaurants. If they are not responsible in your specific state, they can certainly send you in the right direction.
As always, be respectful and kind. These people are used to being treated like villains by most restaurateurs. They can be your allies if you treat them well.
For example, when we moved our prepared meal business from a Personal Chef Business to cooking out of a state-licensed kitchen in our home, we worked closely with the county zoning office and the state Department of Agriculture before we even purchased our home in the country where our new business would be located.
A state restaurant inspector even visited the house we were considering buying before we made an offer on the house. They went through our sketches and plans before we spent a dime with anyone. They helped us design our commercial kitchen in the most cost-effective and legal way.
Make them your allies!
It’s going to take you a few days to get through all of these checks, but it’s time well spent.
Please, don’t waste your time planning a business until you know if it’s allowed in your location. Just do the local research now, it won’t cost you anything but a little time and as a bonus, you can practice patience!
If you have specific questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below.
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