You have a project to start up a catering business but you are not clear about which permits are necessary? This article details the different permits and documents which you need to put together before starting your business
Business Owner Requirements
Certificate of Good Character
The Certificate of Good Character indicates that you are qualified to sell or offer spirits and fermented beverages. In order to obtain it, you must go with your identity card to the municipality where you are listed in the population register.
It is issued to any person likely to hold or work, occasionally or permanently, in a drinking establishment (catering establishment, snack bar, etc.). So anyone serving drinks in your establishment must have this certificate. In the case of a company, the joint operators also need such a certificate.
Professional competence and basic management knowledge
In order to start a business in Brussels, it is necessary to demonstrate basic knowledge of business management before you can start.
Some catering establishment activities also require competence in the professional sector involved. These involve the activities of a caterer. The activity of a restaurateur or caterer-banquet (FR) organiser means the person who, in a regular and independent manner, prepares hot or cold meals intended to be consumed on the premises of the establishment or to be served by him or her, on order, outside the establishment.
By preparation, we understand any act by which a dish is made; put together; prepared; heated; thawed.
Some activities are exempted from the competence in the professional sector involved, you will find the list of exceptions by following this link.
Fire safety certificate
In order to prove that your establishment meets fire prevention standards, you must provide the municipality with a fire safety certificate. On most occasions, you will have to organise a visit by the Brussels Fire Brigade to your establishment in order to obtain the certificate.
The reference site for Brussels in this matter is www.pompiers.brussels.
Catering establishments will very often need to obtain a new certificate when they change their operator.
- Before anything else, it is recommended to call the Fire Department. For administrative questions, you will get an answer directly. If your questions are technical and concern the installations to be foreseen, an officer will call you back to tell you the main rules to follow and the applicable regulations, according to the type of establishment.
- Once you have spoken to the officer, followed their recommendations and made the necessary arrangements at your facility, you will need to fill out a form to arrange for the firefighters to visit, and return it to email@example.com. The date of the visit will be set in agreement with the fire department. There is a flat fee of 60 EUR for the application and each visit costs 100 EUR per hour. In general, 1 hour is enough for a visit to a catering establishment.
- If, during the visit, shortcomings are found, the Fire Department will send you their inspection report with these shortcomings highlighted. The municipality will also receive it. You will then be asked to sort out any issues. In order to verify that you have complied with the recommendations of the Fire Department, you can send photos (as long as what had to be sorted out can be photographed, such as the placement of fire extinguishers), attached to the initial form which must be returned. If you are unable to demonstrate your changes through photos, you will need to reschedule a visit (at the same rate as the first appointment).
- If everything is in order, you will receive the certificate without any comments.
Please note: you must apply for a renewal of your certificate after seven years. You will not receive a reminder. If you open without a certificate, you will risk a fine and a forced closure.
Declaration for camera surveillance
Before installing cameras, it is mandatory to submit a declaration. The declaration should be made on the site declarationcamera.be.
Permit, registration or approval from the FASFC
An operator active in the food chain in Belgium may not, with some exceptions, carry out any activity without first being registered, authorised or approved by the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC).
The registration, permit or approval must have been made/issued prior to the start of the activity.
The FASFC must also be notified of any change or cessation of activity.
Depending upon your area of business, you will need to obtain one of the following types of permit:
- a registration if you serve food which is prepackaged and has a shelf life of at least 3 months at room temperature, such as potato chips or canned goods;
- a permit if you sell food which you have processed first or which is not prepackaged, such as meals in a restaurant;
- an approval if you are starting an industrial business which produces foodstuffs, such as fish or meat.
The municipal hygiene department will usually come and check that your establishment complies with hygiene standards. Please contact your local catering industry department for more information.
Changing a business into a snack bar or a restaurant into a bar, for example, requires prior planning permission. The same applies to placing a sign, or the construction, demolition, renovation or conversion of a building.
Planning permission is a permit attached to a building and defines its use, external appearance, supporting structures, etc. Some land is also covered by planning permission.
You must therefore determine whether your project requires a new permit for some types of work (for example construction, demolition, change of use, felling of a tall tree, significant modification of the ground surface, placing a sign, chimney or shutter, replacement of a bay window).
Warning: before signing a lease, always check the use of the premises with the town planning department of the municipality.
In most municipalities in the Brussels-Capital Region, a permit must be requested before opening a catering business.
The request is made to the "Service des Classes Moyennes" (Department for local middle-class businesses). Some municipalities have a unit which deals specifically with catering businesses.
The municipality issues this permit after verifying that the future operator has met the legal obligations and has completed the necessary formalities. It may also conduct an inspection before allowing the business to open.
The municipality will generally request the following documents:
- a letter of application, describing the proposed activity (possibly with a supporting plan)
- a copy of the operator's identity card
- a certificate of good character for partners and managers (to be requested, depending upon the municipality, from the Police Department or another specialised service)
- the business number
- a copy of the company's Articles of Association
- a copy of a document attesting to the access to the profession for the chef in a restaurant
- a medical examination protocol issued by a doctor
- a certificate of objective liability insurance, if the area accessible to the public is equal to or greater than 50 m²
- a certificate of inspection for the electrical installations, issued by an approved organisation
- proof of authorisation from the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC)
- a favourable report from the SIAMU prevention service
- proof of planning permission, if such permission is required under planning legislation
- a copy of the waste removal contract
- if applicable, a request for authorisation to put in place a terrace (with a plan of the terrace and the surrounding public space)
- if applicable, the positive decision concerning the sale of fermented beverages and the licence for the sale of spirits (issued by the municipality)
Often, a municipal fee is charged for the opening, reopening or takeover of a catering establishment.
Contact the "Service des Classes Moyennes" (Department for local middle-class businesses/Self-Employed) of the municipality where the business is located.
Permission to operate an establishment selling fermented beverages
In order to open and operate an establishment selling fermented beverages (beer and wine), a positive decision from the municipality is required. They will verify the good character requirements for the operator as well as the hygienic conditions of the premises if the outlet is a fixed location.
The sale of alcoholic beverages (spirits) is subject to a licence. The licence must be requested from the municipality. Whether it is a fixed or itinerant outlet, the municipality will verify the good character of the operator, and the hygienic conditions if it is a fixed outlet.
What if spirits are sold or offered free of charge to the public on premises open to the public at a party or event? The organiser of the event does not have to apply for a licence. Please note that some municipalities require a "special authorisation from the college of burgomasters and aldermen" for the sale of spirits during cultural, sports or political events.
Generally, you should go to the Department for the Self-Employed in the municipality where the establishment is located to obtain these authorisations. Some municipalities have a unit which deals specifically with catering businesses.
The municipality will usually ask you for a certificate of good character and a photocopy of your identity card.
Depending on the municipality, a fee for opening a file may be required.
Please note: it goes without saying that you cannot serve alcoholic beverages until you have obtained your licence. But did you also know that it is forbidden to buy alcoholic beverages before having obtained this licence?
Terrace or object on public property
In the entire Brussels region, the installation of terraces is regulated. It is therefore necessary to request a permit from the municipal authority. As a rule the permit is issued annually.
There are also permits for events, which must always be requested from the municipality.
The regulations are specific to each municipality.
If you want to find out more.
If you wish to broadcast music in your business, restaurant, snack bar, etc., you must first make a declaration to SABAM in order to contribute towards an equitable remuneration for the artists. You will have to pay an annual fee depending upon your area. You can find the procedure and information on this page of the 1819 website and on the SABAM website.
Also, be careful to respect the noise standards applicable to the Brussels-Capital Region and not to create any noise nuisance. You will find all the details on this page of the 1819 website.
Licence C for drinking establishments offering games of chance
As a coffee shop operator, you can make games of chance available to your customers. However, only two are allowed: Bingo and One-ball. You may only offer these games with the permission of the Gaming Commission.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact our 1819 advisors, either by phone, from Monday to Friday from 9am to 1pm and on Tuesday from 4pm to 6pm, or by filling in this form.