10 Permits and Licences Needed To Open A Bar

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Katherine BoyarskyAuthor

You’ve chosen your bar name, developed your unique branding, and found your dream location. Before you can celebrate your grand opening, there are still a few technicalities to work out.

Prior to legally serving your customers, you need to obtain a number of bar permits and licences. Without these, your business faces the risk of fines or even closure. 

Although regulations vary from state to state, the general overview of the restaurant permits and licences necessary to open your bar remains the same. 

What Do You Need to Open a Bar?

Here's a quick rundown on steps to take to open a bar. You can also review our restaurant business plan for more information.

1. Pub Licence

To open a bar and be able to to legally sell alcohol, you'll need to obtain a Pub Licence, sometimes also referred to as a Liquor Licence. There are different types of licences available in Ireland, including on-licence, off-licence, and special licences for specific events. The on-licence is what you would need for operating a bar.

How to Get a Pub Licence

You'll firstly need to obtain planning permission from your local planning authority 

Contact your local licensing authority or council to confirm the specific requirements, procedures, and application forms. 

How Much Does a Pub Licence Cost?

The initial application fee might range from a few hundred to several thousand euros. You will also need to pay an annual renewal fee, which will depend on factors such as the size of your premises and the jurisdiction

2. Employer Registration Number (ERN)

All businesses require an Employer Registration Number (ERN) to legally operate in Ireland. 

An ERN is essentially a tax number that's issued by the Revenue Commissioners to help identify your business. The good news is that once issued, an Employer PAYE Reference does not expire. However, if you experience significant changes in your business such as a change in ownership or closure and reopening, it's advisable to contact the Revenue Commissioners for guidance on how to proceed and whether a new ERN is required.

How to Get an Employer Registration Number

You can apply for an ERN on the HMRC Website. 

How Much Does an Employer Registration Number?

It's free to get an Employer Registration Number.


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3. Alcohol Licence

Alcohol is the staple of your bar, so you’ll need an alcohol licence to legally sell these beverages. In Ireland, the most common type of alcohol licence for a bar is an on-licence. 

How to Get an On-Licence

Before starting the licencing process, it's a good practice to inform your local Gardaí (police) station of your intention to apply for an on-licence. They can provide guidance and address any initial concerns.

Obtain the application form from your local District Court office or download it from their website. Be prepared to provide additional documentation such as evidence of title for the premises, proof of insurance coverage, and a tax clearance certificate from the Revenue Commissioners. 

You should then notify the Revenue Commissioners, the Gardaí, and your local authority of your application by serving a copy on them. They have 21 days to make observations or objections.

In addition, you must publish a notice of your intention to apply for an on-license in two newspapers—one of national circulation and one of local circulation—on two separate occasions. This notice must contain specific information as outlined in the Licensing Act 2003. Display notices of your application on the premises for at least 21 days. The notices should be visible to the public and contain the same information as the published notices. Once the notices have been displayed and the relevant authorities have been notified, your application will be scheduled for a hearing in the District Court. At the hearing, you will present your case, and the Gardaí or any objectors will have the opportunity to voice their concerns. The District Court will consider all the evidence and decide whether to grant or refuse the on-license. 

Be aware that the on-licence may also include conditions related to fire safety, ensuring that your bar has appropriate fire safety measures in place, including fire alarm systems, fire extinguishers, emergency lighting, and fire exit signage.

How Much Does an Alcohol Licence Cost?

The fee for obtaining an on-licence can range from several hundred euros to over a thousand euros, but can vary depending on the type of on-licence and your location.

4. VAT (Value-Added Tax)

If you are planning to purchase goods for your bar from suppliers within Ireland or other EU member states, you may need to provide your suppliers with a valid VAT identification number (VAT ID). The VAT ID is used for intra-EU transactions and enables your suppliers to charge VAT at the appropriate rate, depending on whether the goods are for business use or for resale.

As a bar owner in Ireland, you may also need to register for VAT if your taxable turnover exceeds the VAT registration threshold. If you are registered for VAT, you can recover VAT paid on your business purchases against VAT charged to your customers.

How to Register for VAT

To determine your specific VAT obligations and whether you need to register for VAT, you should check the current VAT registration threshold and VAT rules with the Revenue Commissioners. If you do need to register for VAT, you will receive a VAT identification number, which you can provide to your suppliers for intra-EU transactions.

How Much Does it Cost to Register for VAT?

There is no direct cost associated with registering for VAT in the UK. Registering for VAT itself is free of charge. While registering for VAT is free, the ongoing VAT-related responsibilities and potential costs associated with VAT collection, reporting, and payment should be considered as part of your bar's financial planning.

5. Signage Permit

A sign is a key part of your bar branding and marketing efforts. But you need to obtain a signage permit from your local government. The requirements vary regarding the size of your sign, how it’s displayed, and your location. If you rent your building, you may have extra specifications to consider. 

How to Get a Signage Permit

Once you have approval from your landlord, apply for a signage permit from your local government. Search for signage permit + your city in Google and follow the instructions online. 

How Much Does a Signage Permit Cost?

Signage permit fees vary based on the sign’s size and your location. To determine the exact cost of a signage permit for your specific location, you will need to contact the local authority or council responsible for regulating signage in that area, but budget for at least €40.

6. Music Licence    

Music is an integral part of your business. It sets the tone and atmosphere for your bar. Before you can play music or hire a DJ, however, it’s important to get a music license. As songs are protected by copyright, you can face financial penalties without having a license in place. 

How to Get a Music Licence

Music licences are normally obtained from performing rights organisations, such as Broadcast Music Inc (BMI), The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) or The Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC). Alternatively, you can obtain licensed music from a business streaming service.

How Much Does a Music Licence Cost?

Music licences are normally obtained from performing rights organisations, such as the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO). Alternatively, you can obtain licensed music from a business streaming service.

7. Live Entertainment Licence

Live events like holiday celebrations or singles nights can bring more customers through your doors. If you’re planning on hosting a fun live experience, you’ll need a live entertainment license. 

If you’re opening a sports bar and plan on showing live games on the big screen, you’ll also need a commercial TV package as these events are copyright protected. 

How to Get a Live Entertainment Licence

Your local District Court is responsible for granting live entertainment licences. If you’re planning on holding a live music event, you’ll still need to obtain an entertainment license alongside a music license. 

If you plan on showing live sports events, sign up for a commercial TV package and research the stipulations for copyright for bars and restaurants to ensure you comply. 

How Much Does a Live Entertainment Licence Cost?

The cost depends on your city and state. Your bar’s maximum capacity can also be a factor. If your local government licence requires you to have a public hearing beforehand, this will cost extra and can depend on whether events will be indoors or outdoors, as well as the date and time.

8. Food Service Licence

As a business preparing and selling food and drink, you want to ensure the safety of your customers. The specific requirements for a food service licence will depend on the type and extent of food service you provide. For example, if you plan to have a full menu including cooked food items, a food service licence is likely to be required. However, if you plan on only providing snacks or pre-packaged items, requirements may differ. Reach out to your local Environmental Health Service or local authority to inquire about the specific requirements and regulations for food service licences in your area.

How to Get a Food Service Licence

Start by contacting your local Environmental Health Service or local authority. They will provide you with the necessary information and guidance on how to apply for a food service licence in your area. You will be issued with a licence once an inspection has taken place and you show that you meet their requirements. 

You’ll also need to give the name and address of your bar, in addition to the owner’s personal details. If a change of ownership or physical location occurs, you may need to renew your licence. 

How Much Does a Food Service Licence Cost?

The cost of obtaining a food service licence can vary  depending on location, number of employees, the size of your bar and the specific fees and requirements set by your local Environmental Health Service or local authority.

9. Food Handler Certification

Employees who handle food in a commercial setting, including bar staff, may be required to obtain food handler certification or training. Food handler certification ensures that employees have received proper training in food safety and handling practices to prevent foodborne illnesses.  In many cases, at least one member of staff who is involved in food handling or food preparation is required to hold a valid food hygiene certificate. 

How to Get a Food Handler Certification

Search for your town or city + food handler certification in Google to find the application process for your local environmental health department or local council.

How Much Does a Food Handler’s Certification Cost?

The cost of a basic food handler certification course could range from approximately €50 to €150 or more, depending on the training provider, the format of the training, and the location of your bar.

10. Food Establishment Registration

As your bar is selling beverages and possibly food to customers, you’ll need to obtain food establishment registration. This proves that your business complies with sanitation regulations.

How to Get a Food Establishment Registration

To discuss the specific requirements and processes for obtaining food establishment registration, contact the Environmental Health Office (EHO) in your area.

How Much Does Obtaining Food Establishment Registration Cost?

Fees can vary by location and the size and type of establishment. Application fees can range from approximately  €100 to €500 or more, depending on the jurisdiction.

Your Next Steps

Licensing is a costly yet essential part of starting a bar business. Make sure you factor in these fees when working out your bar startup expenses, and plan well in advance to ensure you obtain everything needed in time for your launch. 

Starting with a bar business plan will help you to map out every step of your business journey, from creative to deadlines to menu design. 

To understand the exact bar licences and permits you need, it’s important to do diligent research beforehand as deadlines always come up more quickly than expected

Opening a bar is an exciting venture. While applying and securing all the licences you need is a tiresome process, keeping your business on the right side of the law enables you to operate your bar with confidence, and saves you headaches and potential fines down the line. 


Restaurant Business Plan Template

No matter where you’re at in your restaurant ownership journey, a business plan will be your north star. Organise your vision and ensure that nothing is overlooked with this free template.


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