Starting a Restaurant in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is the culinary capital of Asia, housing a wide choice of restaurants that offer cuisines from all over the world. Eating out is the nation’s hobby. As a result, the Hong Kong Food and Beverage industry is robust, with a strong market for the restaurant business.

There are several licensing requirements that must be adhered to in order to setup a restaurant or food and beverage related establishment in Hong Kong. To open a restaurant where food and drinks are sold, you will need to obtain a ‘General Restaurant License’ from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD). Additionally, you may require other licenses if you plan to sell liquor on the premises, use an open area for alfresco dining, or prepare bakery products, etc.

This step-by-step guide provides information on the legal requirements for setting up a restaurant in Hong Kong.

Step 1: Company incorporation

Once you have decided to setup a restaurant in Hong Kong, you must first setup a Hong Kong company and obtain a Certificate of Incorporation from the Hong Kong Companies Registry. For details on how to setup a Hong Kong company, please refer to Hong Kong Company Registration guide.

Step 2: Choose suitable premises

Finalizing the place for restaurant operations should precede the application for the General Restaurant License. Note that not all premises are suitable for licensing as restaurants. The chosen premises must adhere to the:

  • Food and Environmental Hygiene Department’s stringent ‘Health Requirements’
  • Buildings Department’s ‘Building Safety Requirements’
  • Fire Services Department’s ‘Fire Safety Requirements’

For details on the above requirements, please click here.

Step 3: Apply for a General Restaurant License

Most restaurant operators in Hong Kong are required to obtain a General Restaurant License from the Hong Kong Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) before commencing business operations.

The General Restaurant License application procedure involves the following steps:

  • Step 1: Submission of the following documents to the Hong Kong FEHD:
    • A General Restaurant License Application
    • Three certified true copies of the scaled metric layout plan of the premises showing the layout of the kitchen, preparation area, refreshment area, toilets, stores, etc. The plan must adhere to the minimum statutory requirements set out by the FEHD
    • Certified true copies of Business Registration Certificate, Certificate of Incorporation and Articles of Association of the company
    • A certified true copy of Notice of Situation of the Registered Office
    • A certified true copy of the company’s most recent Annual Returns
    • A copy of the Board Resolution confirming the appointment of an authorized person to represent the company in applying for the license
    • A certified true copy of the stamped tenancy agreement or record of ownership of the office premises
  • Upon receipt of the application, the FEHD will dispatch a copy of the completed application form along with the proposed layout plan to the Buildings Department and the Fire Services Department for approval.
  • Step 2: The FEHD will conduct a preliminary screening of the layout plan to ensure that it conforms to the FEHD’s basic requirements before the application is processed further. Applicants will be informed of the outcome within 10 working days.
  • Step 3: The FEHD, Buildings Department and Fire Services Department will conduct separate site inspections to check the suitability of the proposed premises for the restaurant.
  • Step 4: An Application Vetting Panel meeting between the officers of the three departments and the applicant will be held within 10 days after the site inspections. Problem areas, remedial works and the applicant s proposed construction/decoration programs will be discussed at the meeting.
  • Step 5: Based on the feedback received from the Buildings Department and Fire Services Department, the FEHD will then issue a letter of licensing requirements to the applicant.
  • Step 6: Within 6 months of receiving the letter of licensing requirements, the applicant must fulfill all the criteria listed therein and report compliance to the FEHD for verification.
  • Step 7: Within 10 days of receiving the report of compliance from the applicant, the FEHD will conduct a final verification of the premises.
  • Step 8: If the FEHD finds the premises to be satisfactory, it will issue the General Restaurant License on payment of a prescribed license fee by the applicant, within 7 days of final verification.

Step 4: Apply for additional licenses, if required

Apart from the General Restaurant License, you may require the following additional licenses or permits:

Liquor License

  • If you wish to serve liquor in your restaurant, you will require a Liquor License from the Liquor Licensing Board. A Liquor License will only be issued when the premises have also been issued or are likely to be issued a Restaurant License. A Liquor License will only be valid if the premises remain licensed as a restaurant.
  • The license can be obtained by submitting an application along with copies of the following documents: Applicant’s identity document, Business Registration Certificate, Certificate of Incorporation, General Restaurant License and layout of premises to the Liquor Licensing Board. All applications are referred to the Commissioner of Police and the District Officer concerned for comments. Public opinion is also sought by placing an advertisement, at the applicant s expense, in three newspapers.
  • The applicant will have to attend a short interview with the Liquor Licensing Board.
  • Once the Board is satisfied with the application, it will issue the Liquor License to the applicant.Note that if you plan to store liquor not meant for immediate consumption on the premises, you must obtain a License for Storage or Manufacture of Dangerous Goods from the Fire Services Department.

Import License

If you intend to import frozen meat and poultry as part of your restaurant business operations, you must obtain an Import License from the FEHD’s Import Registration Office. Additionally, you are required to register your restaurant with the Center for Food Safety. The Import License must be applied for each consignment of the frozen and chilled meat and poultry. You must submit an application together with a valid health certificate issued by the recognized authority of the exporting country covering the consignment, to the FEHD. Upon receipt of the application, the FEHD will issue an acknowledgement receipt which is required for collecting the license. Normally, the license will be ready for collection after one working day. An import license is normally valid for one shipment only and for a period of 6 weeks from the date of issue.
Furthermore, if you wish to import chilled chicken from Mainland China, you are required to obtain prior import permission from the FEHD. You must also ensure that the Mainland processing plants you deal with are approved by the FEHD. You are also required to adhere to any import conditions that are imposed by the FEHD.

If you wish to import frozen confection into Hong Kong, you must ensure that the exporting country’s manufacturing source is approved by the FEHD. When the frozen consignment arrives, the products will be inspected and sampled by the FEHD. If the products are satisfactory, the FEHD will issue a “release letter”.

Bakery License

If a licensed general restaurant bakes bread and other bakery products that will be consumed by customers on the premises, no separate Bakery License is required. However, a Bakery License from the FEHD is required for over-the-counter retail sale of bread and other bakery products in a licensed restaurant. The application procedure is similar to the General Restaurant License application procedure.

Food Factory License

If the restaurant is going to prepare, manufacture, further process or pack food for sale for human consumption off the premises, as in the case of take-away services or catering services, a Food Factory License must be obtained from the FEHD. The application procedure is similar to the General Restaurant License application procedure.

Karaoke Establishment Permit

If you want to operate a karaoke facility at your restaurant, you must obtain a Karaoke Establishment Permit from the FEHD. The permit will only be issued when the premises have also been issued or are likely to be issued a Restaurant License. The permit will only be valid if the premises remain licensed as a restaurant. The application procedure is similar to the General Restaurant License application procedure.

Non-bottled Drinks Permit / Frozen Confections Permit / Milk Permit

Retail sale of non-bottled drinks, frozen confections or milk on restaurant premises can be undertaken only if the requisite permit is obtained. In general, non-bottled drinks are drinks prepared for immediate consumption and do not require storage in sealed bottles, cans or other containers. Examples include fresh fruit juice, diluted drinks prepared from concentrated fruit juice or syrup, soya bean juice etc. Drinks sold from a manual dispensing machine also belong to this category. The application procedure is similar to the General Restaurant License application procedure.

Restricted Food Permit

Certain food items such as cut fruit, sashimi, sushi, oyster and meat in their raw forms are classified as ‘restricted food’ in Hong Kong. Any restaurant that wishes to sell the restricted food items must first obtain a Restricted Food Permit from the FEHD.

Permit to Sell Food by means of Vending Machine

If you install a vending machine that sells food or drinks on your restaurant premises, you must obtain a Permit from the FEHD.

Permission for Outside Seating Accommodatio

Permission from the FEHD is required for using an open area for alfresco dining.

Step 5: Hiring staff

Once you have obtained the necessary licenses and permits, it is time to hire staff to work in your restaurant. There is adequate local talent available to cater to your staffing requirements. However, you are also free to hire foreign workers under the Supplementary Labor Scheme – a work pass scheme for low to mid-skilled foreign workers or under the Employment Visa Scheme – a work pass scheme for highly skilled foreign professionals. For details on staff hiring, please refer to Employee Hiring Guide for Hong Kong Companies.

Setup your restaurant with ease

As outlined above, there are several legal requirements to satisfy if you wish to open a restaurant in Hong Kong. However, you can setup your restaurant with ease and save on time and resources by hiring a professional services firm. Most firms are well versed with Hong Kong’s legal environment and can take care of the paperwork and obtain the necessary licenses on your behalf.

Ready to get a licence?

If you are interested in getting a business licence in Hong Kong, Hawksford can help. Request a quote now to take the next step towards your dream business.

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