According to travelandleisure.com, London ranks as the capital of the food, leisure, travel and hospitality industries, which is why any aspiring food entrepreneur might prefer London as an ideal venue to start a restaurant, pub or food truck business. There’s quite a culinary tradition in London, and the city has “borrowed” cuisine from all its colonies. It’s called gravitas, having seriousness and dignity.
London restaurants have dignity, what with the stiff upper lips, titled nobility and Buckingham Palace guards to emulate. However, many people in London don’t care that much about titles, dignity and social rank. That’s why London invented bar crawls, dart tournaments, brunch all day, celebrity diets and fun and games while you eat.
You can start a food business in London that features any style of cuisine and price range. London has its high-end shops, but even aristocrats have guilty culinary secrets, such as a favourite sausage or kebab shop or a curry-in-a-hurry joint. If you can’t afford to open in a toney location, you can possibly succeed with deliveries or a mobile food truck.
Starting a food business in London does have its typical bureaucratic red tape. As the former capital of the world, London led the British Empire and developed complex bureaucracies to manage their colonies. The colonies got away from British rule, but the red tape remains as a reminder of the Empire. This guide is designed to help you cut the Gordian knot and simplify the process of getting the licences and permits you need to run a restaurant, pub or food truck.
Restaurant Regulations and Resources
The first step - after you’ve found a suitable property for your restaurant or bar - is to register your business 28 days prior to starting sales operations. You can register at cityoflondon.gov.uk. Registration is free, and you can’t legally operate without doing so. The reason for registering 28 days in advance is to give the Port Health and Protection Services enough time to investigate the particulars to make sure you’re in compliance with various laws and regulations that pertain to food. You don’t need to renew your registration - unless you decide to make major alterations to the building or your business model.
Building Use Permit
According to restaurant-proerty.co.uk, the buildings in the UK already hold licenses that determine what kind of business operations can be run. You might hear about a property with an A3 or A4 licence, which means the location is suitable for restaurants or bars respectively. A3 properties authorise business owners to sell hot food on the premises, and A4 licences authorise business owners to sell alcohol in a bar or pub. The licences include:
- A1 This designation covers shops and the sale of cold foods for takeaway.
- A2 These are offices for professional-type services.
- A3 The A3 designation covers restaurants and cafes that serve hot food on the premises.
- A4 The A4 designation covers pubs, bars, nightclubs and drinking establishments.
- A5 The A5 designation covers businesses that serve hot food for takeaway.
There are other designations that needn’t concern a prospective restaurant or bar owner. You must get your licence for the type of property where you plan to operate. For example, an A3 licence is needed for a restaurant, and an A4 licence is needed to open a pub.
Setting Up Your Food Business
According to food.gov.uk, the location you choose from which to operate your restaurant must comply with regulations, such as the following:
- Safe equipment and space to prepare food, including proper ventilation, drainage and lighting
- Protection against food contamination and pests, which means proper storage areas, refrigeration and freezers
- Handwashing facilities and toilets for washing hands, etc.
Registering with HMRC
You must regster your business with the HMRC at gov.uk. You can register online, and there are several options to consider. You can register for a personal tax account if you don’t hire employees, operate PAYE if you employ other people, charge value-added tax, or VAT, if taxable turnover is over £85,000 or set up a limited company or organisation.
Restaurant Insurance Cover
Restaurants and bars in the UK need to get general liability insurance cover to protect owners against accidents and product liability, such as damages caused by food-borne contamination, according to thebalancesmb.com. It’s also important to get insurance for other risks, such as fire, theft and other contingencies.
You can get detailed information about getting an Alcohol On-License at gov.uk. The fees for an Alcohol On-Licence are based on sliding scales of the rateable value of the premises and other factors. You can get information on the current licence fee at assetspublishingservice.gov.uk. Fees range from £100 to £125,000 plus. These are annual fees that must be paid before the deadline each year. There might be additional fees in extraordinary situations - such as high-volume service for 5,000 people or more.
You must complete your application and send it and the fee to the local council office. The process can be completed online if the local council accepts electronic payments and applications. Depending on local regulations, you might need to send a copy of your application to the local police and other responsible public agencies.
Personal Alcohol Licence
There must always be a designated supervisor on duty who holds a personal licence, but each employee who serves alcohol doesn’t need one. Personal licences authorise a company agent to sell alcohol on behalf of the organisation, such as a bar, restaurant or members’ club. Other employees can sell alcohol under supervision, just like driving licences.
The cost of a personal licence includes the cost of taking and passing the Level 2 APLH course, which is a one-day course. You also need to submit a recent Disclosure and Barring Service check, for which there is a £25 fee. The completed application requires two countersigned photos, disclosure of convictions, the DBS check and a $37 licence fee.
If you’re building a new facility or making major changes, you will need a building permit. Your local council handles building permits and grants planning permission for alterations and changes in building classifications.
If you plan any major construction to the building where you operate your pub or restaurant, you will need to get permission for the proposed alterations. You will also need permission if you want to change the buildings classification, such as A1, A2, A3, A4 and A5, to another designation.
Health and Safety
Health and safety in London are supervised by the Food Standards Agency. If you employ five or more employees, you must create a written health policy that describes your food safety process and summarises your arrangements in place, according to gov.uk.
The FSA Safer Food, Better Business guide can provide further information about food safety and FSA regulations.
Food Hygiene Certificate
You can get training for managers and staff in levels 1, 2 and 3 for restaurant work, bar food service, catering and food manufacturing. Some of the centres that have the courses on offer in London include:
- Food Hygiene Courses in London, 43 Earlsferry Way. London
- Hamlets Training Centre at the Montefiore Centre
- Square Training, first floor
- Pathways Training and Consultancy Lt. at Arundel House
- London Training Centre, unit 7
- Off To Work Training Academy at Kings House
Cutting the Gordian KnotAlthough dramatic strides have been made to simplify the red tape of opening any business in the UK, the truth is that the simplified version of licences covered in this article won’t be the end of it. Other activities that involve bars and restaurants also require licences, but you can add these gradually as needed so that you don’t get overwhelmed on startup. Licences are required for the following activities:
- Playing music in a restaurant or bar
- Placing tables outdoors for al fresco dining
- Street advertising with sandwich boards
- Hosting live music
- Distributing leaflets or copies of your menu
- Setting up a CCTV system
Starting a Food Truck in London
Street food - including food trucks, carts and pop-up restaurants - has become a huge foodie trend in recent years, and London is a great location to operate. According to highspeedtraining.co.uk, London is a perfect venue for gourmet food trucks, favourite English comfort foods, creative gastronomy and simple, affordable meals in council neighbourhoods, high-end high streets and urban gathering places can succeed very well, and the cost of starting a food truck is more affordable than starting a restaurant in a specific location.
Necessary Licenses for London Food Trucks
You must register with your local authority 28 days prior to taking your food truck on the road. Registering your business is free. You also have to be accredited by passing a Level 2 or Level 3 Food Safety & Hygiene course. Level 2 authorises you to prepare and cook food in a mobile food truck; Level 3 authorises you to supervise a team of employees.
You will need liability insurance to cover accidental poisonings or bad driving that injures your customers. I’m just having you on, but there are real liability risks in any food service. You might have to consult a specialty company because not every insurer will cover mobile caterers. Usually, you need a minimum of £5 million cover, but some councils might require £10 million.
You must also create a hazard analysis and critical point control plan, also known as an HACCP plan. This plan shows how you plan to keep your food safe from chemical, biological and physical contamination. You can download templates for creating your plan at the Food Standards Agency at myhaccp.food.gov.uk.
You must also register at HMRC, as outlined previously, for a tax account. It's Important to research which streets are prohibited to food truck operations, and you must obtain LPG gas and PAT testing certificates.
London Has the Greatest Restaurants in the World - Including Yours
London has some of the best restaurants in the world, and the city is perfect for startups, experimental cuisine, video restaurants and restaurants that cater to the customer experience. London has more than 39,383 food service establishments, but you can make your mark and rise above your competitors with a good plan, great food, a strong niche and excellent service.
This article wasn’t any longer - or more complex - than my articles on starting a restaurant in San Diego, Los Angeles or Houston, so the red tape isn’t as bad as some aspiring entrepreneurs think. Plan your licence strategy, stay organised and approach the problem step-by-step. You’ll get your restaurant opened with a lot fewer headaches, and you can begin pursuing those tasks you actually enjoy - such as entertaining people and serving great food and drink.