Experiences involving food in the District of Columbia
These information pages can help you get started in learning about some of the laws and registration requirements that may apply to your experiences on Airbnb. These pages include summaries of some of the rules that may apply to different sorts of activities, and contain links to government resources that you may find helpful.
Please understand that these information pages are not comprehensive, and are not legal advice. If you are unsure about how local laws or this information may apply to you or your experience, we encourage you to check with official sources or seek legal advice.
This article discusses the laws and regulations in the District of Columbia only. Applicable laws vary in Maryland and Virginia. If any part of your experience involving food or alcohol will take place in Maryland or Virginia, it is important to confirm compliance with local authorities or to seek legal advice.
Please note that we don’t update this information in real time, so you should confirm that the laws or procedures have not changed recently.*
What are some of the basic principles?
Your guest’s health and safety should always come first. For example, make sure you take your guests to (or otherwise serve them food from) reputable restaurants, food trucks, or professional caterers who keep clean facilities, use fresh ingredients, and have a good food safety track record. If your experience involves you cooking or handling food (including storing or serving food prepared by others), be sure you handle, prepare and serve food safely and with good hygiene. We encourage you to review the USDA’s tips for handling food safely. Also ask your guests in advance about any food allergies they may have, or religious or philosophical codes that may impact what kind of food they eat.
I’m a foodie. What kind of food experiences can I provide in Washington, DC?
The following food experiences are unlikely to trigger any regulatory issues:
- Taking your guests to your favorite local restaurants or food trucks
- Inviting your guests to your home or a picnic where food is provided by a licensed facility (for example, take-out from your favorite local restaurants, food catered by a professional licensed caterer)
If you are thinking of serving home-cooked food, please carefully read our home-cooked food guidance below and check with an attorney to make sure you are following your local laws.
I want to serve home-cooked food to guests. Are there any specific rules I need to follow?
The key question is whether serving home-cooked food in your private home to occasional guests qualifies as a regulated activity under the DC Food Code, which pertains to “food establishments.”
A “food establishment” is, with some exceptions, an operation that stores, prepares, packages, serves, vends, or otherwise provides food for human consumption directly to the consumer, or indirectly through a delivery service, or otherwise provides food for human consumption, regardless of whether there is a charge for the food. Unless an exemption applies, all food establishments must be licensed by the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and the DC Department of Health (DOH). For information on navigating the licensing process, review the DC Restaurant Food Service Permitting & Licensing Guide.
Note that residential kitchens generally cannot be permitted as “food establishments” due to the strict requirements a “food establishment” kitchen (sometimes referred to as a “commercial kitchen”) must meet.
Because this is a tricky area, we encourage you to call the DC Department of Health directly, or speak to a lawyer to describe your experience and make sure you are following all applicable local laws.
I’m a great cook. Can I give cooking lessons for a fee to my guests?
If you want to teach a cooking lesson in a private home, please carefully read the section above on home-cooked foods. Note that if you simply demonstrate cooking without your guests consuming the food, that should be okay to do so without a permit.
From time to time, Airbnb may also partner with select non-profits who may either provide licensed food facilities for hosts or may otherwise sponsor a food-related event. The host still may be required to obtain a license for such events.
* Airbnb is not responsible for the reliability or correctness of the information contained in any links to third party sites (including any links to legislation and regulations).