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Starting a Restaurant in Hong Kong [Guide]

Hong Kong, regarded as Asia’s culinary capital, houses a large variety of restaurants that provide the public and visiting tourists cuisines from all over the world. You’ll find that people living in Hong Kong are more of the type that love to eat out. And this is the main reason why the Hong Kong beverage and food industry is thriving, as the market is substantial enough for those in the restaurant business or those who are about to join the industry soon.

But if you are planning to open a business in Hong Kong, there are a lot of things that have to consider, such as the various licensing obligations that have to be adhered to for anyone establishing a food and beverage related business in Hong Kong.

Furthermore, owning a restaurant in Hong Kong would require you to contact the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) for obtaining the ‘General Restaurant License.’ Other than this, there are many other licenses that you would have to obtain, in case you would also want to sell liquor in the establishment, prepare bakery products, or utilize an open space for alfresco dining, etc.

But do not worry, this step-by-step guide would walk you through all the legal requirements and other information that is needed for opening a restaurant in Hong Kong.

starting restaurant in hong kong

Step 1 – Company Incorporation

As soon as you make your mind to set up a restaurant, you would first need to set up a business in Hong Kong and even apply to get the Certificate of Incorporation from the Companies Registry in Hong Kong. And in this step, you can take the help of companies like Startupr to have the work completed in no time.

Startupr is a professional firm that can assist you in setting up your business in Hong Kong in the easiest way possible. All you need to do is select the name of the restaurant, check if it is available on the Startupr Website, and then choose the service package that you would need before connecting with us. You can customize the package easily by choosing what you want.

The best things about the incorporation process is Startupr’s open price policy, which allows you to pay for exactly the service you order, meaning you can select only what you need. All you would need to provide are the documents that are needed and pay the applicable fee to have your incorporation process completed within 3-5 working days.

Step 2 – Select the Fitting Premises

After you have the Certificate of Incorporation, the next step is to finalize the place for the restaurant. This has to be before the step to apply for the General Restaurant License. Also, you need to understand that not all the areas that you have around you are suitable for restaurants.

Some factors that you would have to keep in your mind while choosing the place for the restaurant are:

  • Location and rent price. Hong Kong is well known for it’s high rent cost, so be careful when weighing the locations vs the rental fee.
  • The visibility of the restaurant. This means that it should be on the main street and not tucked in a place that no one goes too.
  • Another important thing is the parking. People should not find it tough to park near your restaurant, and this means that you need to have enough of space for this.
  • The Space Size also matters a lot. You need to consider how much space you require for your restaurant.
  • You would need to have a Surrounding Businesses and Competitor Analysis done to find out if that place has too many restaurants, giving you a lower chance to succeed or if that place has never had a successful restaurant at all.

Other than the points that have been mentioned above, the premises that you choose would have to adhere to the following:

If you follow all these points and get the best place for your restaurant, your overall process to own a restaurant in Hong Kong would become smoother.

Step 3 – Apply for the General Restaurant License

Many of those who run restaurants in Hong Kong need to get the General Restaurant License before they can begin their business. This license is obtained from the FEHD, which is the Hong Kong Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.

The steps for the application procedure involves:

#1 Submit the documents

You would need to submit the document with the Hong Kong Food and Environmental Hygiene Department as below:

  • A true certified copy of a record of ownership or the stamped tenancy agreement of the office premises;
  • A copy of the Board Resolution that confirms the approval of an entitled person to represent the business during the license application process;
  • A certified true copy of the most recent Annual Return of the company;
  • A genuine accredited copy of Notice of Situation of the Registered Office;
  • Certified true copy of Articles of Association of the company;
  • Certified true copy of Certificate of Incorporation of the company;
  • Certified true copy of the Business Registration Certificate of the company;
  • Three true certified copies of the estimated metric layout plan of the premises. This should display the layout of the stores, toilets, refreshment area, preparation area, kitchen, etc. The layout plan has to adhere to the minimum lawful conditions set out by the FEHD; and
  • A General Restaurant License Application.

As soon as the application reaches the FEHD, they would forward the copy of the documents, the proposed layout plan and the complete application form to the Fire Services Department and the Buildings Department for approval.

#2 FEHD Screens the Layout Plan

A preliminary screening would be conducted by the FEHD of the layout plan to make sure that it adheres to the basic requirements of the FEHD before the process of the application continues. The outcome of this step would be shared with the applicants within 10 working days.

#3 Site Inspections

The Fire Services Department, the Buildings Department, and the FEHD would conduct inspections of the site separately for checking of the appropriateness of the proposed premises for the restaurant.

#4 The Application Vetting Panel meeting

Within ten days after the site inspections are done, the applicant would meet with the officers of the three departments for an Application Vetting Panel meeting. The applicant’s proposed decoration or construction programs, the remedial works, and the problem areas would be discussed about in the meeting.

#5 Issuance of the Letter of Licensing Requirements

The FEHD would issue a letter of licensing requirements to the applicant depending on the feedback received from the Fire Services Department and the Buildings Department.

#6 Fulfilling the Criteria by FEHD

After the applicant gets the letter of licensing requirements, they have to complete and accomplish all the criteria that were recorded in the letter within six months and report their agreement to the FEHD for the verification process.

#7 Final Verification Process

After the report of the agreement reaches the FEHD from the applicant, the final verification process of the premises would take place within ten days.

#8 Issuance of the General Restaurant License

As soon as the final verification process has been completed, and the FEHD determines that the premises are satisfactory and all requirements are met, the applicant would get the full compliance in writing along with the license. Along with this, the applicant would also get the arrangements of the prescribed fee and the collection of the license.

The applicant can then follow the directions to obtain the General Restaurant License, which is only provided after the payment of the prescribed license fee has been made, and any other obligations have been completed. The complete process takes about seven days, and the payment has to be made within these seven days after the final verification process has been completed and the applicant is notified of the final result.

Overall, the complete process can be tracked easily. There is an Online Licence Application Tracking Facility (ATF) provided by the FEHD that allows the applicants to check the status of the application via the Internet easily. The website for this is http://www.licensing.gov.hk. The related access information of the applicant would be provided by the FEHD after the application has been submitted, making the tracking process easy.

Step 4 – Apply for Additional Licenses, if needed

Other than the General Restaurant License, there are some other additional permits or licenses that you might need. They include:

  • Restricted Food Permit

Some food items in their raw forms, such as the meat, oyster, sushi, sashimi, and fruit are listed as ‘restricted food’ in Hong Kong. So, if you want to sell any of these restricted food items in your restaurant, you would need to get the Restricted Food Permit from the FEHD.

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

Local sale of milk, frozen confections or non-bottled drinks within the restaurant premises can only be done if there is a permit for it. For a matter of fact, the non-bottled drinks are those drinks that are brewed for immediate consumption. And due to this, there is no need for storing them in sealed cans, bottles or any other containers.

The drinks that fall under this category are soya bean juice, fresh fruit juice, diluted drinks brewed from concentrated syrup or fruit juice, etc. Those drinks that are sold from the manual dispensing machine are also under this category. The procedure is simple and just like the one for the General Restaurant License.

  • Karaoke Establishment Permit

For those who want to have a karaoke facility in their restaurant, they would need to get the Karaoke Establishment Permit from the FEHD. This permit is only issued when the restaurant has already obtained or is about to 100% get a Restaurant License.

Moreover, the permit would be valid only if the premises has the restaurant license. Also, the process for the application is the same as the process for applying for the General Restaurant License.

  • Food Factory License

In case the restaurant would indulge in preparing, processing, manufacturing food and packaging them to sell to the public for human consumption that would be off the premises, just like a catering services or takeaway services, the applicant would have to get the Food Factory License from the FEHD before beginning such operations. The procedure for this application is just the same as the one for the General Restaurant License.

  • Bakery License

In case the restaurant would indulge in baking bread or any other bakery products on the premises that would be consumed by buyers in the premises, there isn’t a need for any Bakery License.

But if there is an over-the-counter local sale of bread or any other products that are baked in the licensed restaurant, the applicant would have to get the Bakery License from the FEHD, where the procedure is the same as the General Restaurant License application process.

  • Import License

In case you want to import frozen poultry and meat for your restaurant to operate, you would have to get the Import License from the Import Registration Office of the FEHD. Other than this, you would also need to have your restaurant registered with the Center for Food Safety.

The Import License would be applied to each batch of chilled and frozen poultry and meat. You would have to get the valid health certificate from the acknowledged officials of the exporting country covering the shipment and submit this with an application to the FEHD. As soon as your application gets to the FEHD, you would be issued an acknowledgment receipt that would be needed for which you would be collecting the license.

Usually, it takes just one working day for the license to be ready for the collection, where it would be valid only for that particular shipment it was made for. If the shipping doesn’t come in immediately, the validity would last for a period of 6 weeks from the date of issue for the shipment to come in within this time period.

Moreover, to import chilled chicken from China, you would need to get permission for it from the FEHD. You would also have to make sure that the FEHD has also approved the processing plants that you deal with from China. Further, you also need to comply with the import obligations that have been applied by the FEHD.

Also, in case you want to import the frozen confection from another country, you would need to make sure that the FEHD has approved the manufacturing source of the exporting country. When these products get to Hong Kong, they would be sampled and inspected by the FEHD. And if the items are satisfactory, you would be issued a release letter by the FEHD.

  • Liquor License

In case you want to serve alcohol inside your restaurant, you would need to apply to the Liquor Licensing Board for a Liquor License. This license would only be issued if the premises has or is about to get a Restaurant License. And as long as the premises remains licensed, the Liquor License would be valid for the restaurant.

To get the license, the applicant would have to submit the following to the Liquor Licensing Board:

  • The Liquor License Application;
  • A credited and genuine copy of applicant’s identity;
  • A credited and legit copy of Business Registration Certificate;
  • A credited and genuine copy of Certificate of Incorporation;
  • A credited and genuine copy of General Restaurant License; and
  • The layout of premises.

Furthermore, every application is assigned to the District Officer concerned and the Commissioner of Police for comments. The opinion of the public is also asked by putting an advertisement in the newspapers, at the applicant’s expense. After all this has been done, the applicant would need to have a short interview with the Liquor Licensing Board.

As soon as the board claim that they are satisfied with the application, the Liquor License would be issued to the applicant. However, in case you want to store liquor that is not going to be used immediately, you would also need to get the License for Manufacture or Storage of Dangerous Goods from the Fire Services Department.

Other than these, there are two more:

  • Permission for Outside Seating Accommodation

The Outside Seating Accommodation that is also known as OSA means an open area that is utilized for the alfresco dining business. This is regardless of its location being on private property, or even if it is situated on Government land. When a restaurant licensee or a person applying for the Restaurant license wants to utilize an open area for the alfresco dining outside the restaurant, this person would need the permission of the Director of FEHD before commencement.

For more details on the procedures and the licensing criteria, conditions, and requirements, visit http://www.fehd.gov.hk/english/licensing/guide.html which is “A Guide to Application for Outside Seating Accommodation,” by the FEHD.

  • Permit to Sell Food using a Vending Machine

In case you add a vending machine in your restaurant that would sell drinks and food, you would need to get a permit for that as well from the FEHD. To get the permission of the vending machine, you would need to apply for the composite food shop license. The form FEHB 244 is used for this, and after it has been filled, it has to be submitted to the FEHD.

To get more details, visit http://www.fehd.gov.hk/english/licensing/guide.html where you can get all the information related to the “Application for Food Licence” and “How to Apply for a Composite Food Shop Licence.”

Step 5 – Hiring Staff

As soon as you have got the required permits and licenses, you would need to hire the staff for your restaurant to get it moving. There’s plenty of local talent in the city to cater to your requirements for staffing.
Moreover, you can also hire foreign workers with the work pass scheme – Supplementary Labor Scheme, or under the Employment Visa Scheme for mid-skilled or professional workers respectively.

But there are many critical legal formalities that you need to be aware of involved in the process of hiring. Along with this, you also need to have a prominent understanding regarding the employment legislation in Hong Kong. You would have to consider the following main things while you hire an employee in Hong Kong:

  • Hong Kong specific recruitment guidelines;
  • Standard practices and expectations in the hiring process;
  • Legal guidelines and restrictions for hiring foreign and local employees in Hong Kong; and
  • The labor laws of Hong Kong that have a restrictive effect on the employers and employees.

To know more about the hiring legal formalities in Hong Kong, learn more about it in the next guide for Hong Kong!

Set Up Your Restaurant With Ease

As mentioned above, there are many legal requirements if you want to own a restaurant, but the benefits that come with it are worth it. As Hong Kong is highly regarded as a place for food from around world, there’s no wonder why many business owners decide to open up shop in this busy city.

Make a plan to set up your restaurant easily without wasting time and resources. Our guide is an excellent start for helping you open up a restaurant. Be sure to do some further research from the government websites on what to do at every step.

With the proper knowledge regarding the legal environment in Hong Kong, Startupr can take care of all the initial incorporation paperwork your behalf. This is before you move ahead to get the license for your restaurant and then hire the team to begin work. So, if you want to begin the work for your restaurant now, contact Startupr today to register your business today!