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The Ultimate Guide to Obtaining Your Restaurant License: Step-by-Step Process Explained

  • Published: 11 June 2024
  • 11 min read
  • Starting a Company
The Ultimate Guide to Obtaining Your Restaurant License: Step-by-Step Process Explained
  • Author Gabi Bellairs-Lombard

    Gabi Bellairs-Lombard

    Business Writer

    Gabi creates content that inspires. She's spent her career writing compelling website copy, and now she specialises in product marketing copy. As the voice of our products and features, Gabi makes complex business finance and accounting topics easy to understand. Her top priority is ensuring that her words impact and inspire her readers.

Navigating the specifics of obtaining a restaurant license in Hong Kong can be daunting. Starting a food business means jumping through legal hoops to ensure your establishment adheres to all necessary regulations. From securing licenses from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) to meeting fire safety standards and registering with the Companies Registry, compliance is crucial. You also won't want to forget to have all the required documents, like the board resolution, in order.

Key Takeaways

  • Obtaining a restaurant license in Hong Kong is essential for legal operation, ensuring compliance with hygiene and safety standards and signifying a commitment to quality.
  • A range of specific licenses may be required alongside the General Restaurant License in Hong Kong, including liquor, bakery, and karaoke licenses, each depending on the restaurant’s offerings and aligned with local regulations.
  • The restaurant licensing process involves careful planning and adherence to health, building, and fire safety standards, requiring a detailed layout plan, required documents, site inspections, and application submission to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), which may also include obtaining a restricted food permit.
  • This guide is meant to demystify the licensing process, detailing the various types needed, application steps, and compliance standards. After reading through it, you’ll be ready to launch your restaurant in Hong Kong, armed with the proper licensing requirements and credentials, ensuring your food business operates legally.

Why Should You Obtain a Restaurant License in Hong Kong?

Imagine your restaurant in Hong Kong bustling with eager diners as they savour the flavours you’ve meticulously crafted. This dream can only materialise if you operate within the legal framework of Hong Kong’s vibrant food scene. A general restaurant license is not just a formality; it’s your assurance of upholding the highest standards of hygiene and safety, a testament to your commitment to excellence.

This application procedure can be complex. The process involves submitting a detailed layout plan of your preparation area, ensuring compliance with the health and safety standards of three departments: the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, the Buildings Department, and the Fire Services Department. An application vetting panel meeting will review your submission, scrutinising every detail to ensure your establishment meets all regulatory requirements. Understanding this procedure is essential for a smooth licensing process, helping you avoid common pitfalls and delays.

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Keep in mind: you can streamline your restaurant’s journey to success with our comprehensive company registration services, ensuring your business is legally compliant from day one and in line with the best-run Hong Kong companies.

Why should you obtain a restaurant license in Hong Kong?

Which Types of Restaurant Licenses Are Required in Hong Kong?

For any restaurant in Hong Kong, a general restaurant license is the keystone that supports your culinary aspirations. However, depending on your restaurant’s unique offerings, you may need to navigate through an array of additional licenses. These may include:

  • A liquor license to toast your guests’ celebrations
  • A bakery license to indulge their sweet tooth
  • A karaoke license for a karaoke facility
  • A license to showcase your bakery prowess
  • A vending machine permit

Understanding these licensing requirements in Hong Kong is imperative for a seamless operation.

We’ll now examine the subtleties of these licenses.

General Restaurant License

At the heart of any restaurant business in Hong Kong lies the General Restaurant License, your primary permit for welcoming diners into your establishment, whether it’s for a cosy indoor setting or an expansive outdoor seating experience. This license, issued by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), signals your adherence to health, building, and fire safety standards. In some cases, a restricted food permit may also be required.

Having established a Hong Kong company with a valid business registration certificate, you’ll be on the path to creating a food sanctuary that meets food safety standards from your kitchen to your vending machine to the plates of your guests.

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Additional licenses

Depending on your restaurant's offerings, you may need to obtain additional licenses to cover various aspects of your food business. For instance, if you plan to serve bakery products or frozen confections, you'll need specific permits from the FEHD. Hong Kong restaurants offering immediate consumption items or those featuring karaoke facilities will require other licenses to ensure compliance with local regulations. Each license addresses a specific aspect of your operation, ensuring you meet all legal and safety standards.

If you are importing ingredients from an exporting country or exporting your own products, you'll need to secure the appropriate licenses. For example, importing frozen meat or poultry requires an import license and compliance with the Centre for Food Safety's regulations. This ensures that all food items for human consumption meet Hong Kong's stringent food safety standards.

Acquiring a composite food shop license can also be essential in broadening your restaurant’s horizons, as it covers various aspects of food handling and sales, including the sale of restricted food items and the ability to pack food for takeaway.

Preparing Your Establishment: Site Requirements and Inspections

Getting into the restaurant business demands not just culinary expertise but also confronting site requirements and inspections by the Fire Services Department, the Buildings Department, and the FEHD. From finding suitable premises for your restaurant to the preliminary screening of your restaurant’s layout to the collaborative discussions of the application vetting panel, every detail will be scrutinised. To ensure compliance, it is crucial to conduct separate site inspections for each department involved.

Crafting a compliant layout plan

Your restaurant business's blueprint is another critical document, a scaled metric layout plan that articulates the vision of your space and ensures compliance with Fire Services Department safety regulations. It’s a detailed map, delineating every zone from the bustling kitchen to the serene dining areas, conforming to FEHD’s stringent guidelines.

Common pitfalls like unclear representations or missing metrics can be avoided with the aid of FEHD’s resources, ensuring that your layout plan becomes a testament to your commitment to both aesthetics and regulations.

Meeting health and safety standards

The health and safety of your guests and staff is of paramount importance, and ensuring food safety in particular, is a non-negotiable aspect of the licensing process. Failing to do so could mean stumbling at the first hurdle of the preliminary screening by bodies such as the Buildings Department, but adherence paves the way for a smooth ride toward obtaining your license.

Applying for a Restaurant License: Step-by-Step Guide

With the groundwork laid and the vision for your restaurant crystallising, the next critical step is to navigate the application procedure for your license. This journey from prospective restaurateur to the licensed establishment is a meticulous one, including the following steps:

  1. Submitting the initial application adorned with all the necessary documentation, including the business registration certificate
  2. Undergoing a thorough review and final verification process
  3. Meeting any additional requirements or inspections
  4. Receiving the full license upon successful verification

Let's dissect this process into digestible steps for a hassle-free journey towards opening your restaurant.

How to apply for a restaurant license?
Step 1. Determine the type of license needed

Step 1. Determine the type of license needed

The first stride in this journey is to pinpoint the exact type of license your restaurant requires in Hong Kong. Will your culinary stage include special performances requiring a karaoke establishment permit, or will you be serenading your guests with the clink of glasses under a liquor license?

Deciphering the nuances between a general restaurant license and a light refreshment restaurant license, understanding the provisional licensing system that Hong Kong offers, and navigating the requirements of bodies such as the liquor licensing board will set the foundation for your restaurant’s legal framework.

Step 2. Gather essential documentation

Step 2. Gather essential documentation

The success of your restaurant business will be built on a foundation of meticulous documentation, including registration with the Hong Kong Companies Registry and a lease agreement for your office premises. From the Certificate of Incorporation that heralds the birth of your Hong Kong company to the Business Registration Certificate that allows you to engage in the dance of commerce, each document is a vital piece of the puzzle. The stamped tenancy agreement attests to your restaurant’s physical realm, and the Board of Resolution confirms the authorised individual’s role in this gastronomic symphony.

Step 3. Submit the application to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD)

Step 3. Submit the application to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD)

The curtains rise as you submit your application to the FEHD, a step filled with anticipation and precision. The Declaration on Compliance with Government Lease Conditions, along with certificates of compliance, are your pledges to meet the city’s expectations.

The proposed layout plan, a key part of your submission, is your canvas showcasing the potential of your establishment. With the FEHD’s comprehensive guides and quick reference protocols, you are well-equipped to navigate this process with confidence.

Step 4. Achieve final approval

Step 4. Achieve final approval

The provisional license is a beacon of progress, granting you a six-month tenure to align your operations with the FEHD’s full licensing standards. As you demonstrate compliance with a detailed report, you edge closer to the ultimate validation of your efforts, the final inspection that paves the way for full license approval.

Step 5. Pay fees and obtain a license

Step 5. Pay fees and obtain a license

The crescendo of the licensing process is the final verification, where the FEHD ensures that your establishment is a paragon of compliance. Once approval is granted, you are but a step away from the ultimate goal.

The prescribed license fee is the final seal on your journey, marking the moment when you hold the key to your restaurant’s future in your hands, having fulfilled all licensing requirements.

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Additional Specific Restaurant Licenses

As you tailor your restaurant premises to the tastes and expectations of your clientele, you may find yourself in need of additional specific licenses that cater to the unique aspects of your establishment. From the Food Factory License that endorses your manufacturing prowess to the Liquor License that celebrates your beverage industry finesse to permits for serving non-bottled drinks and an import license, each license is a testament to the diversity and specialisation of your services.

Understanding these additional licenses is vital, whether you’re serving restricted food needing a permit or selling non-bottled drinks, to maintain your restaurant’s adaptability and compliance.

Import license

For those culinary maestros looking to import frozen meat and poultry, an import license is your passport to a world of diverse ingredients. Securing a valid health certificate and registering with the Centre for Food Safety are your assurances of quality and compliance.

For unique cases like importing chilled chicken from Mainland China, adherence to specific conditions and regulations is paramount.

Liquor License

The allure of fine spirits and the clink of glasses require the sanctity of a Liquor License issued by the liquor licensing board. Securing this license is a rite of passage for any establishment planning to serve liquor and non-bottled drinks, an essential aspect of many dining experiences.

The online platform provided by the liquor licensing board offers a streamlined application process and the ability to monitor the status, ensuring transparency and ease as you add this facet to your restaurant.

Bakery license

If your dream is to fill the air with the aroma of freshly baked bread and other bakery products, a bakery license is your key to realising this vision. Before the ovens are fired up and the dough is kneaded, this license must be securely in place. With a detailed guide available and specific application forms to be filled, you are well on your way to becoming a staple in Hong Kong’s bakery scene.

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Food factory license

Some may venture beyond the restaurant walls into the realm of catering services or food manufacturing. In the latter case, a food factory license is indispensable. This license encompasses a range of activities, from canning to catering, and is a testament to your commitment to providing quality food items to a wider audience.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) provides the necessary forms and guidance to ensure that your food factory stands on solid, compliant ground.

Staffing Your Restaurant: Staff Hiring and Compliance

Staffing Your Restaurant: Hiring and Compliance

Your restaurant’s soul lies in its team—the passionate individuals who bring your culinary vision to life. Hiring the right staff is about finding those who share your ethos and can deliver impeccable service. In Hong Kong, the Employment Visa Scheme ensures that you can attract mid-skilled foreign workers from across the globe, provided they meet the qualifications and fill roles that local talent cannot.

The charm of al fresco dining can significantly enhance your restaurant’s appeal. Obtaining an Outside Seating Accommodation (OSA) permit is a foray into this delightful dining experience. Adhering to the FEHD’s guidelines and the Lands Department’s land use rights and fees ensures that your outdoor seating area is as legitimate as it is inviting.

Final Considerations for Launching Your Restaurant

As you prepare to launch your restaurant in Hong Kong, it’s essential to review the fundamental elements of your business plan. Here are some key steps to consider:

  1. Secure investment
  2. Choose a suitable location
  3. Solidify your concept to resonate with your target audience
  4. Plan a grand opening
  5. Develop a robust marketing strategy to herald your arrival on Hong Kong’s culinary scene.

Conducting market research will fine-tune your approach, and technology solutions will streamline operations. Remember, the tools and equipment you select are the instruments that will help you perform the gastronomic symphony you’ve envisioned.

Summary

Opening a restaurant in Hong Kong will demand passion, precision, and adherence to a plethora of regulations. From obtaining foundational restaurant licenses to exploring additional permits for specific services, ensuring compliance with health and safety standards, and assembling a stellar team, every step is pivotal to your success. Armed with the knowledge of licensing intricacies and the final considerations for launching your restaurant, you are now poised to carve out your own niche in the Hong Kong restaurant business.

Author Gabi Bellairs-Lombard
Gabi Bellairs-LombardBusiness Writer

Gabi creates content that inspires. She's spent her career writing compelling website copy, and now she specialises in product marketing copy. As the voice of our products and features, Gabi makes complex business finance and accounting topics easy to understand. Her top priority is ensuring that her words impact and inspire her readers.

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FAQ

  • What is the difference between a General Restaurant License and a Light Refreshment Restaurant License in Hong Kong?

    The key difference between a General Restaurant License and a Light Refreshment Restaurant License in Hong Kong is the range of cooking methods allowed. A General Restaurant License permits any cooking methods for immediate consumption, while a Light Refreshment Restaurant License is more restricted, catering to establishments offering lighter fare.

  • Can I start operating my restaurant once I receive a provisional license?

    Yes, you can start operating your restaurant once you receive a provisional license, which is valid for six months and allows you to begin operations while you work towards meeting the remaining requirements for a full license. However, compliance with essential health, building, and fire safety standards is necessary to obtain this provisional license.

  • What specific additional licenses might I need for my restaurant?

    You might need a Liquor License, Karaoke Establishment Permit, Bakery License, or Food Factory License. The specific additional license you will need will depend on the services your restaurant offers. Each of these licenses would cover a specific aspect of your business operations.

  • How can I hire foreign staff for my restaurant in Hong Kong?

    You can hire foreign staff for your restaurant in Hong Kong through the Employment Visa Scheme, which requires applicants to have a degree or professional skills and experience suitable for the job, or consider the Supplementary Labour Scheme for mid-skilled workers.

  • Are there any specific regulations for outdoor dining areas in Hong Kong?

    To offer outdoor dining in Hong Kong, you need to apply for an Outside Seating Accommodation (OSA) permit and adhere to regulations set by the FEHD and Lands Department, including land use rights and fees.

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