Opening your own restaurant is an exciting prospect, but there are a lot of hoops to jump through before you can open the doors and welcome your first customers. As you make your plans, you need to be aware of the various permissions required, how long they take to get and how much they cost. You will also need to maintain certain standards in order to stay in business.
In most cases, the granting and enforcement of licences and permissions is the responsibility of the local authority covering the relevant area. There are 32 boroughs in London plus the City of London. All of them have their own departments for planning, building regulations, environmental health, trading standards etc.
While they all work under the same legislation, how they apply it and what fees they charge may vary. In this guide, we take you through all the legal requirements, explaining the what, why, where and how of getting the permits and licences you will need.
- Planning and Construction
- Planning Permission
- Building Regulations Approval
- Food Business Registration
- Food Hygiene Rating Scheme
- Waste Disposal
- Pest Control Regulations
- Premises Licence
- Music Licence
- Pavement Licence
- Gaming Machines
- Employing Staff
- Health and Safety at Work
- Fire Safety
- Additional resources
1. Planning and Construction
The Town & Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 put all land and buildings into categories called Use Classes. Class A covers retail and hospitality premises and, within Class A, subclass A3 covers most restaurants.
A3 Use Class premises are authorised for “the sale of food and drink for consumption on the premises or of hot food for consumption off the premises”. If you plan to open a restaurant in which selling food is the main part of your turnover, this is what you will need. If alcohol is a larger part of your turnover than food, you will need premises with A4 Use Class authorisation.
If you can find premises which already have A3 authorisation, then all well and good. You will be able to move in and start trading without needing any changes to planning. But, if the property you want to use is not already Class A, you will have to apply for change of use. This means submitting an application for planning permission to the local authority.
Planning applications to any local authority in England are submitted online via the Planning Portal. Planning permission may also be required if you intend to alter or extend the premises significantly. If your premises are part of a listed building or are in a conservation area, things get more complicated, and you will need to discuss your proposals with the local Conservation Officer.
If you are in any doubt or need advice, you should talk to the planning department at your local authority.
Building Regulations Approval
You might be really lucky and find a restaurant that you can move straight into with no alterations required. The chances are, however, that you will want to make some changes. Depending on what you want to do, you may need Building Regulation Approval. This is different from planning permission.
The Building Regulations 2010 cover the construction and extension of buildings. If you are planning an extension or significant alterations, they will apply. Their purpose is to ensure that building design, construction and alterations are carried out to approved standards. These include:
- Health and safety of anyone in or around your premises
- Energy conservation
- Disabled access
- Fire safety
Building Regulations may also apply for smaller alterations, for instance:
- Electrical works
- Installing a bathroom
- Replacing windows and doors
- Installing or altering a heating system
- Installing air-conditioning
- Structural alterations
To apply for Building Regulations Approval, you must use a Building Control Body (BCB). You can use either the local authority BCB or an approved private BCB. There are two main types of application:
- Building Notice
This option is for small projects only. You submit your application to a BCB and can start work two days later. There is no formal approval.
- Full Plans
This is a more thorough application used for larger projects. You will probably have to wait five weeks for consent and will receive a completion certificate within eight weeks of completing the work.
This is a retrospective application for works that were done without consent. For example, you might purchase a building with unauthorised alterations and decide you want to keep them.
Fees for Building Regulations Approval vary depending on the type of work, the size of the project and how often an inspector needs to visit. Most local authorities have details of their fees on their websites. For private BCBs, you will need to inquire and negotiate the fee.
2. Food Business Registration
All restaurants and any other premises used for a food-related business must be registered with their local authority. Registration is free, cannot be refused and must be done at least 28 days before the restaurant opens. It won’t need to be renewed unless there is an important change to the business.
Food Hygiene Rating Scheme
Once your business is registered, a food safety officer from the local authority will carry out regular inspections. These can take place at any time. They help to ensure the food you produce is safe to eat, you are following food hygiene law, and your staff are properly trained. The scheme gives businesses a rating from 5 to 0 which is displayed at their premises and online. Its purpose is to give customers informed choices about where to buy and eat food.
The inspection will focus on three elements:
- How hygienically the food is stored, handled and processed
- Whether the premises are well kept, clean and generally fit for purpose
- What you do to ensure the food you sell is fit to eat including processes, systems and training. The inspector will need to be confident that existing standards will be maintained.
Following the inspection, the food safety officer produces an inspection report and rates your hygiene standards on a scale from 0 to 5. The ratings are posted online.
5 – hygiene standards are very good
4 – hygiene standards are good
3 – hygiene standards are generally satisfactory
2 – some improvement is necessary
1 – major improvement is necessary
0 – urgent improvement is required
If you don’t get a top rating, the food safety officer will explain what you need to do to achieve it. You can display your rating in your restaurant if you choose. A high rating can be a good advertisement for your business.
3. Waste Disposal
All restaurants produce waste, a large amount of which is food waste. Any food waste of animal origin must be disposed of safely so as not to pose a threat to human health. Most restaurants use a registered private waste disposal contractor to remove their waste. You can be prosecuted if you give your waste to someone who is not licenced.
You will need a waste transfer note for each load of waste that leaves your premises. Both you and the carrier have sections to complete and sign. You must keep a copy for two years and show it to an inspector if requested.
The waste transfer note shows:
- The type of waste
- Where your waste was taken for disposal
- How much it weighed
- The date it was tipped
If you decide to dispose of your own waste, you must register as a waste carrier yourself. That can be done online at the GOV.UK website.
4. Pest Control Regulations
There is no actual permit or licence related to pest control, but you are legally required to have adequate procedures in place. Failure to do so can lead to prosecution. Most restaurant owners employ a specialist company to carry out regular checks and provide whatever control is required.
5. Premises Licence
If you plan to offer more than just food in your restaurant you may require a premises licence. You will need one if you want to sell alcohol or for any of a number of ‘licensable activities’ including:
- Live music performances
- Indoor sports events
- Film or theatre performances
- Selling hot food or drink between 11 pm and 5 am
These come under the Licensing Act 2003 which promotes four objectives:
- Prevention of crime and disorder
- Public safety
- Prevention of public nuisance
- Protection of children from harm
A licence must be applied for by a Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS). This can be you or someone appointed by you. To sell alcohol, the DPS must have a ‘Personal Licence to Sell Alcohol’. It doesn’t have to be you that has one; it could be one of your staff. But, if they leave, you will have to find someone else with one or get one yourself. To be able to hold a licence, you need to be at least 18 years old and have a licensing qualification. The Award for Personal Licence Holders (APLH) Level 2 is acceptable.
Licences are issued by local authorities. When you apply, you will need to provide the following:
- Your own details
- Details of the DPS
- A detailed plan of the premises
- An operating schedule
You have to display your application notice at your premises for 28 days from the day after it was submitted. Application fees are based on the rateable value of your property. Currently, they range nationally between £100 and £1905. Due to the high value of property in London, particularly central London, fees are likely to be towards the upper end of the scale.
The licensing authority can take action to promote the four stated objectives including:
- Modifying the conditions of the licence
- Excluding activities from the scope of the licence
- Remove the DPS
- Suspending the licence for up to 3 months
- Revoking the licence
Licences usually are of unlimited duration but require an annual fee to maintain. You must display the licence summary at your premises. If you fail to produce your licence on request, you can be fined up to £1000. Carrying out licensable activities without a licence can lead to a fine and/or a 6-month prison sentence.
6. Music Licensing
Many restaurateurs play background music as it helps to create an ambience that contributes to the character of the restaurant. If the music you play is recorded, even if it’s on the radio, you will require a music licence. That applies even if you only play it in the kitchen for the benefit of your staff. The licence gives you legal permission from the copyright owners to play their music.
The two bodies involved in issuing licences are PPL, representing performers and record companies, and PRS for Music, representing songwriters, composers and music publishers. Licensing ensures that all of these people are fairly rewarded for their work. Permission from both of these organisations is covered by TheMusicLicence. The cost varies and will depend on the specific characteristics of your restaurant.
7. Pavement Licence
If you think your customers would enjoy some al-fresco dining, you might want to put some tables and chairs on the pavement outside your premises. To do this, you will have to apply for a licence from your local council. Your application will have to include a site plan and public liability insurance certificate.
There will almost certainly be restrictions on what you can do. These may include:
- Time restrictions for the use of pavement tables
- Leaving space for pedestrians to pass by
- Size and position of furniture
8. Gaming Machines
If you want to have gaming machines on your premises, you will have to register for Machine Games Duty (MGD) with HM Revenue and Customs. This must be done at least 14 days before the machines become available to play.
After registration, you will have to keep accurate records to back up the figures you show on your returns and keep them for four years.
Running a restaurant is a high-risk business for all sorts of reasons. There are a variety of insurance options to cover the different aspects of owning and running a restaurant, but there are some that you cannot do without.
These are the must have:
- Public Liability
This protects you against claims from members of the public for personal injury or damage to property caused by your business. It applies not just to customers but any non-employee who suffers loss or injury, either on your premises or nearby. You will be covered against claims for compensation and your own legal fees.
- Employers Liability
If you employ one or more people, it is a legal requirement to have employers’ liability insurance. This applies whether they are full-time employees, temporary staff, agency workers or contractors. It covers you if one of your employees becomes ill or gets injured at work and claims against you.
- Building and Contents
If you own your premises, you will be responsible for insuring it. If not, you need to check that your landlord has the proper insurance in place and precisely what it covers in relation to your business.
If you own or use a vehicle as part of your business activities, then you need to ensure that it is properly insured. This might be a delivery van, a snack wagon or your company car. Whatever it is, if you don’t have the right insurance, you may not be covered.
Many insurance brokers provide packages covering all of the insurances needed for opening a restaurant.
10. Employing Staff
Health and Safety at Work
As a business owner and employer, you have legal duties relating to the health, safety and welfare of your staff, customers and anyone else who might be affected by your activities. You must:
- Have a written policy for managing health and safety.
- Appoint a competent person to manage health and safety for your business. This could be you, an employee or a consultant.
- Assess and control all risks in the workplace. If you have 5 or more employees, this must be written down. It must be regularly reviewed and updated.
- Consult your employees on issues regarding health and safety.
- Assess the training needs of your staff and provide as necessary.
- Provide suitable welfare facilities for your staff including:
- Hand basins, soap and towels or hand driers
- Drinking water
- A place to change and store clothing
- A place to rest and eat meals
- Good ventilation and a suitable working temperature
- Task appropriate lighting
- Space to work safely
- Appropriate waste containers
- Keep your workplace safe by:
- Proper maintenance of premises and equipment
- Keep floors and traffic routes free from obstruction
- Ensure that gas appliances are maintained in a safe condition
- Provide adequate and appropriate first aid arrangements including:
- Assess your first aid needs
- Appoint someone to take charge of arrangements
- Provide an appropriately stocked first aid kit and ensure it is maintained
- Display the health and safety law poster where your staff can see it
- Ensure that all accidents, illnesses and near misses are reported as required under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR). If you have more than ten employees, you must keep an accident book.
If you’re an owner, landlord, occupier or in any other way in control of a building, you are responsible for fire safety. If you share premises, you must coordinate your fire safety plans with the other occupiers. As the ‘Responsible Person’ you have responsibilities that you must ensure are carried out. These are:
- Carry out fire risk assessments and review them regularly. The assessment should include:
- Identifying hazards
- Identifying who is at risk
- Evaluating risks and how to remove or reduce them
- Recording findings, preparing an emergency plan and providing training
- Regular review and updates
Things you will need to consider when carrying out assessments are:
- Emergency routes and exits
- Fire detection and warning systems
- Fire fighting equipment
- Siting and storage of dangerous substances
- Emergency evacuation plan
- Needs of vulnerable people
- Providing information to employees, customers and visitors
- Staff training
- Inform staff about identified risks
- Implement and maintain appropriate fire safety measures
- Prepare plans for dealing with emergencies
- Provide fire safety training to your staff
The above is basic guidance on workplace health and safety. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides detailed information on their website.
11. And now that you are done – The Conclusion
There’s a lot to consider in opening a restaurant, and it’s easy to get carried away with the exciting aspects and forget the boring bits. Unfortunately, these things will come back to bite you if you don’t make sure you’ve got them covered. They should be part of your programme and budget right from the beginning.
Satisfying the relevant legislation and getting the required permissions takes time and costs money but forgetting them will delay your opening and increase your costs even more.
- The Town & Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987
- The Building Act 1984
- The Food Safety Act 1990
- The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013
- Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
- Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992
- Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
- The Licensing Act 2003
- The Environmental Protection Act 1990
At the time of writing, the following European Union food hygiene regulations apply to the UK. This may or may not change when/if the UK leaves the EU:
- The General Food Law Regulation (EC) No 178/2002
- Regulation (EC) No 852/2004
- Regulation (EC) No 853/2004
- Regulation (EC) No 854/2004
- Food Hygiene: A Guide for Businesses – available on the FSA website
- Safer Food, Better Business – an FSA guide to help ensure you comply with the law
- Food and Feed Law Code of Practice – sets out how local authorities should apply the law and work with businesses
- Getting Help with Health and Safety – HSE website