Steps for Starting a Farm-­to­-Table Restaurant

Thank you for considering what it takes to open a farm-to-table restaurant in Loudoun County! Farm restaurants provide unique dining opportunities, thanks to talented entrepreneurs like you.

This page is designed to give you an overview of important considerations before establishing a farm restaurant, but your specific situation may have different requirements. The Revised 1993 Loudoun County Zoning Ordinance is the ruling document.

Working with Loudoun County and Virginia Commonwealth staff will help verify that those requirements are met. Our combined goal is to ensure that your operation is safe for customers so that your business can be successful.

Before establishing a farm restaurant, it is important to understand what is permitted with that use. Because farm-to-table restaurants support agricultural operations, you are permitted to provide the following on-site services:

  • Preparation and sale of ready-to-consume food and beverages, produced primarily on-site;
  • Carry-out service to customers, as long as it is not the primary business.

The majority of the food and beverages sold at a farm restaurant must be derived from agricultural products produced on-site.

While this page focuses on farm restaurants, think about what additional uses (if any) you might consider later. Communicating these additional uses to Loudoun County and Virginia Commonwealth staff up front can help avoid surprises later in the process. If you have questions at any point, please contact Loudoun Economic Development at 1-800-LOUDOUN.

Detailed contact information for County and Commonwealth regulatory departments can be found at the bottom of this page.

Considerations Before You Buy:

Before you make any investment in the property, make sure that the parcel is zoned for your intended farm restaurant. Ask yourself these questions:

Is your parcel zoned for a farm restaurant? Contact the Department of Planning and Zoning to verify.

The Zoning Ordinance provides specific development and use requirements, and your business needs a clear determination about what is allowed. Farm restaurants may be on parcels of at least five acres, zoned AR-1 or AR-2, either owned or leased. Restaurants must be directly related to on-site agricultural activity. Planning and Zoning can also tell you if there are development regulations for your business, such as restrictions on structure size and location, signage, road width and access. They can also determine required parking and landscaping. Your parcel must meet the zoning requirements for your zoning district and Section 5-627, which may be modified by Minor Special Exception.

Does the parcel have adequate well and septic to support the use? Contact the Health Department to verify.

Farm restaurants are located on parcels typically serviced by wells and septic systems. The Health Department will make the determination if your parcel’s systems can support a farm restaurant. If the systems are inadequate, they can help get your well and septic paperwork started with the Virginia Department of Health.

Do you plan to serve food on premises? Contact Department of Planning and Zoning and the Health Department with questions.

Whether it’s a snack bar, mobile food truck or commercial kitchen (restaurant), Planning and Zoning can answer any question as to the type of food service allowed and the Health Department can answer any questions on food service regulations or direct you to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for limited food service approval.

Are you in an “environmentally sensitive” area? Contact Department of Building and Development to verify.

Whether you plan to construct buildings, parking, or just move some earth, there may be restrictions in a Floodplain Overlay District (Zoning Ordinance Section 4-1500), Mountainside Overlay District (Section 4-1600), Limestone Overlay District (Section 4-1900), or Steep Slopes (Section 5-1508).

Have you factored in location setbacks? Contact Department of Planning and Zoning to confirm.

A minimum amount of space is needed between your construction site and property boundaries or roads, whether for parking or structures. Setbacks vary, depending on your zoning district, type of business and the type of road that your parcel fronts. See Zoning Ordinance Section 5-600 and 5-900 for definitions.

Do you need to submit site plans? Contact Department of Building and Development to confirm.

Depending on your projects, you might have to submit a site plan or rural economy site plan to the engineering team in Building and Development.

Considerations Before You Break Ground:

Once you have property, a business plan and a blueprint, there are steps to reach construction approval. Ask yourself these questions:

Do you need a grading permit? Contact Department of Building and Development to confirm.

If you’re planning to disturb more than 5,000 square feet of land, which includes applying gravel or other materials, or move dirt in any “environmentally sensitive” area, you will need a grading permit.

Do you need a building permit? Contact Department of Building and Development to confirm.

Whether you’re building new or altering the use of an existing structure, you will need a building permit from Building and Development, unless it is exempt under Virginia law (Click here to apply for exemption). Safety is an important consideration for farm restaurants, so we encourage all rural businesses to utilize minimum fire and life safety standards. Going through the permitting process ensures that details of your plan aren’t overlooked. This reduces surprises later and could help in getting your space insured.

Do you need to modify access to roads? Contact the Virginia Department of Transportation to verify and Department of Planning and Zoning with questions.

If your parcel is accessible by state roads, access points may need to be improved to accommodate customer traffic. If so, you will need permit approval from VDOT. Department of Planning and Zoning can answer any question as to whether on-site driveways may need to be improved.

Do you need a zoning permit? Contact Department of Building and Development to verify.

A zoning permit is required for new construction or the expansion of existing structures, to start a new use or to change use (turning another rural business into a farm restaurant), or expand an approved use.

Considerations Before Opening for Business:

Once you have completed the construction process, there are a few more considerations before opening to the public. Ask yourself these questions:

Do you plan to use exterior signage? Contact Department of Building and Development for information.

Signs are an important factor in marketing your business and attracting customers. Contact Building and Development for the permitted size and type of signs, then apply for a sign permit.

Have you had a fire inspection? Contact the Loudoun Fire Marshal to schedule an appointment.

The Fire Marshal must inspect to determine that your property and structures are safe for the public to use, and accessible for emergency personnel. You may also need an approved fire safety and evacuation plan, as required by the Loudoun County Fire Prevention Code. If necessary, the Fire Marshal issues your assembly permit.

Do you have enough parking? Contact Department of Planning and Zoning to confirm.

Parking is required at a farm restaurant, with a minimum of 15 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor area. Contact Planning and Zoning with questions about parking and consult Zoning Ordinance Section 5-1102 for specific information. For the sake of your customers, consider what will be enough to serve the best interests of your business.

Contact Us

There is a lot to consider as you imagine or expand your rural business. Loudoun County has resources to assist in planning, permitting and growing your rural business.


Department of Economic Development John Magistro 703-737-8820
Department of Planning and Zoning Planning and Zoning703-777-0246
Business Assistance Team Evan Harlow703-777-0395
Health Department - Wells and Septic SystemsJoe Lock703-771-5800
Health Department - Food ServiceVictor Avitto703-771-5806
Department of Building and Development - EngineeringHector Martinez571-252-0857
Department of Building and Development - Environmental Impact Districts (Division C)Bill Cain703-737-8303
Department of Building and Development - Grading Permits Joseph Ohler703-737-8952
Department of Building and Development - Building PermitsChris Thompson703-771-5527
Department of Building and Development - Zoning PermitsTheresa Stein703-777-0648
Department of Building and Development - Sign PermitsLee Ann Baty703- 737-8205
Fire MarshalLinda Hale703-737-8600


Virginia Cooperative ExtensionJim Hilleary703-777-0373
Alcoholic Beverage ControlMarc Halman804-213-4626
Office of Drinking WaterDavid Travers540-829-7340
Agriculture and Consumer ServicesJoseph Buchanan804-786-3520
Department of Soil and WaterChris Van Vlack571-918-4530, ext. 107
Department of TransportationStaff800-367-7623