10 Permits and Licences Needed To Open A Coffee Shop

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Katherine BoyarskyAuthor

Coffee is one of life’s great gifts, and we salute coffee shop owners for their tireless work in providing our daily cup of energy. 

If you’re thinking of opening up a coffee shop, you probably imagine a cosy spot for friends to gather over a cuppa, complete with a top-of-the-line espresso machine and a gorgeous glass display case full of delicious baked goods. 

However, when you get down to it, there are a ton of details that go along with opening and running a successful coffee shop. Not least among them are a good marketing plan, a business plan, and a fabulous website.  

But there’s one major hurdle that you’ll want to clear before you start drafting a menu and promoting your space on social media: coffee shop licences and permits. 

Every licence and permit is unique and has its own application. And each one takes varying amounts of time to secure, so you’ll want to leave plenty of time to get the proper licences and permits in place. While it’s a lot of information, don’t need to sweat it. We created this guide to cover all the coffee shop licences and permits you’ll need. 


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What Do You Need to Open a Coffee Shop?

1. Business Licence

Like all other businesses, coffee shops need a business licence to operate in the UK. Either the city or county you live in will dictate how to apply for a business licence and what the requirements are to remain in compliance with local zoning ordinances. 

How to Get a Business Licence

Check out your local city or county’s zoning office to find the business licence application. If you Google “Your Local Town/City + Business Licence Application” you should be able to find it along with any requirements.  

How Much Does a Business Licence Cost?

Like many of the following licences and permits in this guide, you’ll find that fees vary based on location. To determine the specific cost for your business licence, you should contact the local authority or council in the area where you plan to operate your business.

2. Registering a Business Name for your Coffee Shop 

To register a business name for your coffee shop in the UK, the process will depend on the legal structure of your business. 

How to Register a Business Name 

Once you have your coffee shop’s business name picked out and have confirmed that the chosen name is not already in use, you will need to register it with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). You can register online or by mail, providing the necessary information and details of your coffee shop.  

How Much Does it Cost to Register a Business Name?

The cost of registering a business name for your coffee shop in the UK can vary depending on several factors, including the method of registration and the legal structure of your business. Currently, the standard fee for online registration is £12, while the fee for postal applications is £40. This fee may change over time, so it's advisable to check the latest fee information on the Companies House website.

3. Food Premises Licence

As a coffee shop, you’ll sell coffee and food products directly to the end buyer, which in this case, is the consumer. This means you’ll likely need a food premises licence or food business licence. 

How to Get a Food Premises Licence

Typically the environmental health department or the food safety team where your coffee shop is located will regulate the issuance of food premises licences. You will need to complete an application form for the food premises licence, providing details about your coffee shop's location, the types of food and drinks served, and the food safety management systems you have in place. The type of licence you will need may also depend on whether you plan to open a pavement cafe, a street cafe, or a mobile coffee shop. 

How Much Does a Retail Food Service Licence Cost? 

These licences cost anywhere from £100 to hundreds of pounds. Additionally, the licence is typically valid for a specific period and will require renewal periodically, usually annually.

4. Value Added Tax (VAT) Registration 

If your coffee shop’s annual taxable turnover exceeds the current VAT threshold, you will need to register for VAT with HMRC. The VAT threshold is determined by HMRC and is usually reviewed annually. 

How to Register for VAT 

To register for VAT, you will need to complete an application with HMRC. This can typically be done online through the HMRC website. You will need to provide information about your business, such as turnover, expected future turnover, and banking details. 

How Much Does it Cost to Register for VAT? 

Good news: registering for VAT is generally free of charge. There is no specific fee for VAT registration with HMRC. However, once registered for VAT, you will be required to charge VAT on applicable goods and services sold to customers. The VAT rates in the UK can vary depending on the type of goods or services provided. Failure to do so could result in HMRC state revoking your registration.

Additionally, after registering for VAT, you will be required to submit regular VAT returns to HMRC. Depending on the results of these returns, you may be required to make VAT payments or you may be eligible for VAT refunds.

5. Sign Permit 

Once you’ve got the location established, you’ll need a sign to point customers the right way — which is through the entrance of your coffee shop! However, before you start plastering the neighbourhood with flashing signs to show the way, you’ll need to get a sign permit approved by your local authorities. Every city has its own requirements when it comes to regulating the sign’s size, location, lighting, and visibility. 

How to Get a Sign Permit

Contact your local planning authority or local council to inquire about specific sign permits and regulations. Oftentimes, larger cities with more businesses have more restrictions and requirements in place for sign permits. 

How Much Does a Sign Permit Cost? 

Sign permit fees vary based on the sign’s size and your location. To determine the exact cost of a sign 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.


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6. Coffee Shop Insurance

So, technically insurance isn’t a permit or a licence. However, it’s critical to your coffee shop that you have the proper protections in place in the event of damage to the property or injury to an employee or patron. In fact, state law often requires many types of insurance for coffee shop owners to carry. 

We recommend looking into the following policies for your coffee shop:

  1.  Public Liability Insurance: this type of insurance is a must-have for any business, but especially coffee shops that come into contact with guests daily. Public liability insurance covers you as the owner if you, your employees, your coffee, or other food products accidentally cause harm to a patron. 

  2. Business Property Insurance: Keep your coffee shop’s interior and exterior covered in case of accidental damage.  

  3. Employers’ Liability Insurance: If you plan to have employees help run your coffee shop, employers’ liability insurance is a legal requirement in the UK, required to keep your employees protected.  

  4. Commercial Auto Coverage: Planning on taking your coffee shop mobile? Or, will you have a company vehicle to transport supplies when necessary? If either of these situations applies to you, you will need a commercial auto policy that covers your company vehicle in case of a car accident.

7. Food Hygiene Training 

To allow your employees to serve food to paying guests, there are certain food hygiene and safety regulations that must be followed. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) provides guidance on food safety and hygiene practices for food businesses in the UK. It is recommended that all staff involved in the handling and preparation of food, including those working in coffee shops, receive appropriate food hygiene training to ensure compliance with these regulations.

The most common level of food hygiene training in the UK is the Level 2 Food Hygiene and Safety course. Many online and in-person training providers offer this course, and it typically takes a few hours to complete. It is also important to consider regular refresher training to reinforce food hygiene practices and keep staff up to date with any changes in regulations or best practices.

8. Building Regulations Approval

You will need to look into obtaining building regulations approval from your local authority or an approved inspector in order to comply with the relevant building regulations, including health and safety requirements. A building control officer or an architect can work with you to ensure that you meet all the necessary health and safety requirements for your building project.

9. Liquor Licence

Booze? In a coffee shop? Sign us up! While most coffee shops stick to lattes and cold brews, some expand their offerings to include alcoholic beverages. If you intend to sell or supply alcohol, you will need to obtain a premises licence. Check out Rosella Coffee & Wine Bar for tips to perfect the coffee shop by day, wine bar by night concept. 

How to Get a Premises Licence

The premises licence is issued by the local licensing authority, typically the local council. You will need to apply to the licensing authority for the premises licence. Your application for a premises licence will need to demonstrate how you will meet these objectives. As part of the application, you will need to submit an operating schedule, which outlines how you will meet the licensing objectives. This includes details about your opening hours, the types of alcohol you plan to sell, and any specific conditions you propose to ensure responsible alcohol service. 

How Much Does a Premises Licence Cost?    

There is an application fee for a premises licence, and the amount can vary depending on the local authority. Plan to invest at least a few hundred pounds in your coffee shop’s premises licence, and be aware that while premises licences are usually valid indefinitely, they may require an annual fee for renewal.

10. Live Entertainment Licence 

Coffee shops striving to liven up their atmosphere often offer live entertainment on select days. Whether you plan to host a solo guitarist, a slam poetry event, or a spoken word artist, you’ll need a live entertainment licence first.

How to Get a Live Entertainment Licence

The local council or the local licensing authority is typically responsible for granting live entertainment licences. They will provide information on the specific requirements and application process for obtaining a licence.

How Much Does a Live Entertainment Licence Cost? 

Live entertainment licences vary depending on the local authority. However, they can also vary based on the size of your coffee shop, whether you have performances indoors or outdoors, and whether the entertainment will go on late into the night.

Coffee Shop Licensing and Permit Laws in the UK

As you can see from the permits and licences in this guide, there are many hoops to jump through to open up a coffee shop. However, all of them help keep you, your customers, and your employees safe and your business in compliance with local law.

Claiming ignorance is never a defence when it comes to following local laws and regulations. Double check your local city council’s websites to ensure you know which permits and licences you need and how to apply for them. 

One more thing. Make sure you keep all insurance policies, permits, and licences current and up-to-date — otherwise you could face a huge fine or even possibly lose the right to hold that licence! It’s always easier to renew something than it is to have to start from scratch and apply all over again.

Next Steps to Open Up Your Coffee Shop 

If you have the drive, dream, and determination, all you need is to follow through with the plan. Think of the amazing memories your customers will create in your coffee shop — just follow the right rules, obtain the permits and licences you need, and you’re set to open your doors! 

There’s no doubt that the cost of licences and permits alone is enough to put a dent in your coffee shop’s budget. However, if you’re aware of all the costs of opening a cafe from the beginning, you’ll be able to plan accordingly to make the numbers work. 

Ready to hit the ground running? 

With a solid business plan, the necessary permits and licences, and the right amount of caffeine, you’ll be ready to seize the day and get your dream coffee shop ready to go. 

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