How to Open a Restaurant Business in Hong Kong - 5-Step Guide (2021)

How to Open a Restaurant Business in Hong Kong - 5-Step Guide (2021)

Hong Kong, Asia’s Culinary City

Hong Kong is known as one of Asia’s premiere culinary destinations. Not only does the city boast a huge variety of eateries that span over several cultures and nationalities, but it also has one of the highest density of restaurants per capita in the world. 

Though the F&B industry has certainly been going through a bit of a shake-up with the effects of the Coronavirus affecting business, there have actually been more new restaurant licenses issued in Hong Kong than ever before. 

If you’re thinking of opening up a new restaurant in Hong Kong you will find a market that is highly receptive to a variety of cuisines. However, coming up with a restaurant concept and deciding that you want to open up a restaurant in Hong Kong is only the start of your journey. You’ll need to go through the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) to attain your ‘General Restaurant License’ and likely many more licenses that you’ll likely need to run a successful restaurant in Hong Kong. Remember, Hong Kong loves licenses and your restaurant will need one for just about everything!

Fortunately, this article will compile all the relevant information you need to open up a restaurant in Hong Kong and break it down into 5 easy-to-follow steps. 

5 steps to apply for Hong Kong business license

5 Steps to Opening a Restaurant Business in Hong Kong

1. Get a Certificate of Incorporation

2. Choose a Premises

3. Apply For Your General Restaurant License

4. Apply For Additional Licenses (If Required)

5. Final Preparations

How to apply for certificate of incorporation Hong Kong

Step 1: Get a Certificate of Incorporation

So, you’ve decided you definitely want to set up a restaurant in Hong Kong, but you’re not sure what you need to do next? Your first step is to obtain a certificate of incorporation. To do this, you need to complete the following criteria:

a) Choose a business name

It’s important to make sure the name you pick is available. You can conduct a free search of existing company names through the Companies Registry's Cyber Search Centre or Company Search Mobile Service 

b) prepare the company’s Articles of Association

Samples of company Articles of Association can be found here

c) Open a company bank account

d) Register the company with the Companies Registry by filling out the incorporation form

You can find an example of a filled-in incorporation form here

choose best restaurant location premises

Step 2: Choose a Premises 

Once you have secured your Certificate of Incorporation, you will need to select a suitable location for the premises of your restaurant. This step comes before you can apply for the General Restaurant License.

When looking for a location for your restaurant, there are a few key factors you should definitely consider:

a) Rent
Hong Kong is well-known for being a very expensive market when it comes to rent. Ensure that you manage to find a location that is worth the rent price.

b) Location
Don’t choose a location that is hard for potential customers to find. With lots of restaurants in Hong Kong, customers might get frustrated if they cannot find your restaurant and could end up visiting a competitor instead. 

c) Parking
Making your restaurant as accessible for customers as possible is another way you can help increase the chances for success. Plus, having handy parking will help with Hong Kong’s booming food delivery trend.

d) Size
Ensure you have enough space not only for your front of house, but for equipment, a suitable kitchen, storage areas and more. 

e) Competition 
Hong Kong is densely-packed with lots of businesses competing with one another for customers’ attention. Make sure you pick a location where you can stand out from competitors. 

f) Safety
Make sure the premises you are considering has the following safety regulations adhered to:

The ‘Fire Safety Requirements’ of the Fire Services Department

The ‘Building Safety Requirements’ of the Buildings Department

The ‘Health Requirements’ of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department

How to apply for general restaurant license Hong Kong

Step 3: Apply For Your General Restaurant License

Before getting to open up your restaurant, there is a high likelihood you will need to apply for a General Restaurant License from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD). Follow the 8 steps below to do so.
detailed general restaurant license instructions

1. Submit the Relevant Documents

In order to successfully obtain your General Restaurant License, you must submit the following documentation:

-A filled-in General Restaurant License Application form. You can find the form here

-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

Once the FEHD receives the documentation, they will send copies to the Fire Services Department and the Buildings Department for approval.

2. Layout Plan Screening

The FEHD conducts a preliminary screening of the layout plan in your application to ensure that it complies with basic FEHD requirements. The result of this process is usually shared within 10 working days.

3. Site Inspection

The Fire Services Department, the Buildings Department and the FEHD will conduct separate site inspections to ensure it is safe and suitable as the premises for a new restaurant.

4. Application Vetting Panel Meeting

Within 10 days of the site inspections, you will meet with members from the Fire Services Department, the Buildings Department and the FEHD. The restaurant’s décor, construction plans, remedial works and noted site issues will all be discussed. 

5. Issuing of Letter of Licensing Requirements

Based on feedback from the Fire Services Department, the Buildings Department, a Letter of Licencing Requirements will be sent out with requirements to meet the standards of all three departments.

6. Complying with Licensing Requirements

The recommendations for improvement in the Letter of Licensing Requirements must be met and completed within 6 months. Progress must be reported to the FEHD for verification.

7. Final Premises Verification

Once the report of agreement reaches the FEHD, they will perform a final inspection within 10 working days. 

8. Issuing of General Restaurant License

Once the final verification process has been completed, the FEHD will notify you of a successful application and send arrangements to pay the prescribed license fee and instructions for where to pick up the license after payment.

While waiting for your application to be confirmed, you will be given tracking details through which you can monitor the status of your application. The Application Tracking Facility (ATF) provides an online portal that will keep you updated about your application. 

Once you receive positive confirmation of your application and payment has been completed, you must follow all directions provided by the FEHD, which may include additional obligations. Please note that payment must be made within 7 days of receiving verification of a successful application result. 

food licenses Hong Kong

Step 4: Apply For Additional Licenses (If Required)

Hong Kong requires that restaurant owners get a license for just about everything. Just some things that require additional licenses include preparing baked goods, selling liquor, outdoor seating, selling food through vending machines and much more. Below, we’ll go through some of the more common additional licenses Hong Kong restaurant owners may wish to obtain.

The application process for most additional licenses use the same 8-step procedure as the general restaurant license.

Restricted Food Permit

Certain foods are classified as restricted foods by the FEHD and require an additional license to sell them. Some such items include raw meats, oysters, sashimi, sushi, fruits, basically most other foods in their ‘raw’ forms. 

You can find the application form for the sale of restricted foods here

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

The sale of frozen confections (like ice cream), non-bottled drinks (like fresh soy milk which don’t need to be bottled), and milk on the premises requires a special permit. 

You can find the application form for the above permits here

Karaoke Establishment Permit

Karaoke is a popular pastime in Hong Kong and might help make your restaurant stand out from the rest. However, before setting up any karaoke facilities, make sure you have obtained the Karaoke Establishment Permit from the FEHD.

You can find the application form for the Karaoke Establishment Permit here

Food Factory License

If your restaurant plans on preparing, processing and/or manufacturing food for consumption on the premises, then you will need to apply for a Food Factory License from the FEHD. Such food items include pickles, soy, tofu, making confections, roasting meat or poultry, making noodles, manufacturing light refreshments etc. 

You can find the application form for the Food Factory License here

Bakery License 

If you have successfully obtained your restaurant license and wish to bake bread to sell within your restaurant, you to not need to obtain a bakery license. However, if you intend to sell bread over the counter in a separate counter/portion of the premises, a separate bakery licence is required. If you have obtained a light refreshment restaurant license without specific permission to bake and sell bread, you will need to obtain a separate bakery license.

You can find the application form for the bakery license here

Import License

Should you wish to import frozen meat or poultry, you will need to apply for an import license from the FEHD. The meat includes beef, mutton, pork, veal or lamb, and the offal of any animal from which such meat is derived. The poultry includes the carcass of a domestic fowl, duck, goose or turkey or any part of such a carcass, and any part of a bird mentioned above which is edible or used in the preparation of food.

The import license applies only to each batch of chilled and frozen poultry and meat. You need to obtain a valid health certificate from an official body of the exporting country that covers each shipment of frozen poultry or meat and submit this with application to the FEHD. 

It usually only takes one working day for the license to be ready for collection per shipment. 

When importing chilled chicken from China, you need special permission from the FEHD. You also NEED to make sure that the FEHD has approved the processing plants that you deal with from China.

Frozen confections from other countries also require you to check if the FEHD has approved the manufacturing source of that country. When the items arrive to Hong Kong, the FEHD will conduct an inspection before releasing the frozen confections. 

You can find the application form for the import license here

Liquor License

If you wish to serve alcohol within your restaurant, you must obtain a liquor license. 

The following items must be prepared and submitted to the Liquor Licensing Board for successful application for a liquor license:

-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

-The layout of premises

Each application is assigned to the relevant District Officer and the Commissioner of Police for comments. An advertisement will also be placed in newspapers at the expense of the applicant for public comment. Finally, you will be called in for an interview with the Liquor Licensing Board. When the board is satisfied, you will be able to receive your liquor license. 

If you intend on storing liquor that is not going to be used immediately, you will have to additionally apply for the Manufacture or Storage of Dangerous Goods License from the Fire Services Department. 

Application for a Dangerous Goods licence shall be made in writing to the Dangerous Goods Division of the Fire Services Department. The application should include 2 sets of plans and a statement in writing declaring the nature, chemical name of the Dangerous Goods to be stored and the maximum quantities thereof in respect of which the licence is required. 

You can find the application form for the liquor license here

Outdoor Seating Accommodation License

 If you want to allow customers do dine al fresco, you will need to apply for the Permission for Outdoor Seating Accommodation License. You will also be required to obtain approval from the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene 

After receiving your application, there will be a preliminary premises screening in which multiple relevant departments may be involved. The departments will pass comments and these must be complied with to obtain the license. Once done, the applicant must send notification of compliance. Applicants will receive OSA approval after a final confirmation of compliance. 

You can find the application form for Outside Seating Accommodation here

composite food shop license (Vending Machine)

If you plan on selling food through vending machines within your premises, you will need to apply for a composite food shop license. The process is the same as for other license applications. 

However, A third-party certification system is adopted for the issue of a full Composite Food Shop Licence. The Licensing Authority accepts a Certificate of Compliance (issued by an authorized person or a registered structural engineer1) to confirm the compliance with all health requirements for the issue of a full licence provided that all the licensing requirements imposed by other Government departments have already been complied with beforehand. 

This allows a license to be obtained without a site inspection, however, FEHD staff will still conduct on-site audit check after the issue of the full licence. 

You can find the application form for the composite food license here

hiring staff and technology Hong Kong restaurant

Step 5: Final Preparations

Hiring Staff

When setting up your new restaurant, you will need to consider who to hire for the job. This is where it is very important to take into consideration Hong Kong’s labor laws and employment legislation. While businesses can employ both local and international talent, it is important to follow government protocols with each.

Below is a list of things to consider when hiring 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

-Labor laws that have a restrictive effect on the employers and employees.

Incorporating Tech

Hong Kong is a fast-moving environment where technology is quickly becoming an integral part of the restaurant experience. With this in mind, whether you run a fast food or table service restaurant, you should seriously consider what sort of technology you will implement.

It is generally accepted that using one system across all facets of your restaurant will help simplify management, operations and efficiency. Just some examples of the technology that you can implement include:

Find Out Why 50% of People in 26 Countries think Blockchain Should Play a Bigger Role in F&B
Find Out Why 50% of People in 26 Countries think Blockchain Should Play a Bigger Role in F&B
What is Singapore’s Lean Enterprise Development (LED) Scheme and How Can it Help Your Restaurant With Staff Shortages?
What is Singapore’s Lean Enterprise Development (LED) Scheme and How Can it Help Your Restaurant With Staff Shortages?