They both afford the owner(s) the advantage of limited liability and are both pass through entities for tax purposes (i.e. The entities both declare their profits and losses on the individual owner’s tax returns without the need for the entity to pay a separate tax for such income). Given the strong similarities between the two entities, choosing amongst the two is often a difficult task. As such, as a restaurant and bar attorney in New York, I am repeatedly asked this question by clients.
GENERAL RULE: Choose a Limited Liability Company over the other choice of entities when opening a new restaurant, bar or hotel in New York.
While the two have very strong similarities, they are not without their differences. For example, S-Corporations are subject to stringent corporate formalities such as holding annual corporate meetings, keeping the minutes of the meetings, appointing corporate officers to serve, and issuing corporate stock to owner’s which may often be difficult to sell and/or transfer. In contrast, an LLC does not require annual meetings, appointing officers, the recording of meeting minutes, or the issuance of stock. Moreover, profits and losses distributed by an LLC need not be made in proportion to ownership share. However, in contrast, if an S-Corporation owner owns 50% of the shares, he/she MUST receive 50% of the profits and/or losses.
Additionally, the amount of S-Corporation shareholders cannot exceed 100 and all must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. An LLC does not have these restrictions either.
A downside to forming an LLC is the publication requirement. Within 120 days after the filing of the initial articles of organization, notice must be published once each week for six successive weeks, in two newspapers of the county in which the office of the LLC is located (one newspaper to be printed weekly and one newspaper to be printed daily; both need be designated by the county clerk). If the LLC is located in New York City, this publication will cost about $1,100.00. By contrast, an S-Corporation does not have any publication requirement. This publication cost is the main disincentive to choosing an LLC when doing business in New York, but in the end, if you plan on being in business for the next 10+ years, given the flexibility of the LLC entity, this additional cost is worth it.