CIFS Guide to

Opening a Food Business in British Columbia

Each municipality in B.C. has specific requirements for opening a food business. Learn more about what's required.
Opening a Food Business in British Columbia

Each municipality in B.C. has specific requirements for opening a food business. To confirm the requirements in your area, we highly recommend that you contact your local municipality.

The restaurant and hospitality industry is dynamic, fast-paced and requires careful planning. Not only does this demonstrate to potential investors that you understand every aspect of your business and its ability to generate profit, it’s also just common sense. 

Leaping into this highly competitive industry without knowing your business objectives and strategies, financial forecasts and target market can be a costly mistake. So, before you do anything else, make sure that you:

  • create a business plan 
  • choose a business structure 
  • look into what permits and licences you may need
  • plan your menu

In This Resource


Introduction

Each municipality in B.C. has specific requirements for opening a food business. To confirm the requirements in your area, we highly recommend that you contact your local municipality.

The restaurant and hospitality industry is dynamic, fast-paced and requires careful planning. Not only does this demonstrate to potential investors that you understand every aspect of your business and its ability to generate profit, it’s also just common sense. 

Leaping into this highly competitive industry without knowing your business objectives and strategies, financial forecasts and target market can be a costly mistake. So, before you do anything else, make sure that you:

  • create a business plan 
  • choose a business structure 
  • look into what permits and licences you may need
  • plan your menu

BUSINESS PLAN

Preparing your business plan will help you to focus on how to operate your new business and give it the best chance for success.  It will help you set realistic and timely goals, secure external funding, measure your success, specify operational requirements and establish reasonable financial forecasts. 

Download an example business plan and free business plan template.

CHOOSE A BUSINESS STRUCTURE

The three common types of business structure are:

  • sole proprietorship
  • partnership
  • incorporation

Each structure has different legal and financial implications. Find out how to choose the right business structure for your business.

PERMITS AND LICENCES

At this stage, you’re probably not ready to actually apply for certain permits or licences, but you should be doing some research about which ones you’ll need based on where you live and what you want to do with your business.

You can use BizPaL to generate a list of the permits and licences you may need to start your restaurant based on your location, or you can contact your local municipality.

PLAN YOUR MENU

Knowing the type of restaurant you intend to open will help you find a location that is properly zoned. For example, in many cities, a cafe will have different zoning requirements than a full-service restaurant. 

Knowing what types of food you intend to sell will help you to:

  • choose a location that is equipped for your needs
  • apply for your Health Operating Permit (a copy of your menu may be required and your kitchen design must be approved by your health authority as appropriate for the type of food you’ll be serving)
  • apply for your liquor licence (a copy of your menu may be required)

Location and Zoning

Now that you’ve got your business plan, structure, menu and know what permits and licences you’re going to need, you need a location. Before you buy or lease a space to operate your restaurant, or buy or lease an operating restaurant, consider: 

  • municipal zoning restrictions
  • renovations you may be required to make
  • reviewing your lease with a lawyer 

MUNICIPAL ZONING RESTRICTIONS

Different zoning requirements may exist for different types of food businesses. Take the time to confirm zoning for any location you’re considering, even if the space was a restaurant previously. Never expect zoning to be changed to accommodate your business. 

Factors to consider when reviewing the zoning of a potential location include:

  • permitted uses
  • hours of operation
  • hours for serving alcohol
  • permitted outdoor serving or patio areas
  • washroom facilities for your intended capacity
  • adequate parking

Each municipality will have different zoning for different areas; contact your municipal City Hall for any questions you have about zoning. 

Note: a turnkey restaurant, which is one that is already in operation or was operating recently, is usually in compliance with zoning bylaws and the Building Code, but you should always check with City Hall to verify:

  • the building meets the Code
  • zoning allows for the type of restaurant you wish to operate

RENOVATIONS

It’s important to consider any necessary construction before you purchase or sign a lease. Even if you’re just leasing the space, you may be required to pay for renovations, which can be expensive and can cause costly delays. 

Getting a bargain on a lease or property is great, but building permits and construction costs can quickly add up. You may find that you can purchase or lease a space for cheaper than it costs to bring another location up to code.

REVIEWING YOUR LEASE

Before you sign the lease, it’s a good idea to have a lawyer, notary, chartered accountant or other legal representative review your lease for any unusual requirements or clauses.


Register Your Business

Now that you have your location, it’s time to register your business. Before you choose a name, you’ll want to review existing intellectual property records to ensure that you won’t be infringing on the intellectual property of another business. 

Once you’ve chosen a name, submit a name request application to BC Registry Services. BC Registry Services will check the availability of your business name and determine whether it is valid for registration.

Once they have processed your application, you will receive a Name Request (NR) Number. Within 56 days, use this number to register your business with BC Registry Services. Once registered, you’ll receive a Business Number (BN).

Most businesses will also need to register with the following government agencies:

  • WorkSafeBC 
  • Ministry of Finance
  • Canada Revenue Agency

WORKSAFE BC

Businesses that hire workers (full-time, part-time, casual or contract) are required to register with WorkSafeBC. Complete your registration at OneStop or through WorkSafeBC.

MINISTRY OF FINANCE

If your business is required to register to collect PST, you must charge and collect PST at the time the tax is payable, unless an exemption applies. 

In order to pay the PST you collect (as well as the PST you owe on items you use in your business), you will need to register with the Ministry of Finance. Complete your registration online at OneStop

CANADA REVENUE AGENCY

You will need to register with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) if you:

  • collect GST
  • pay employees
  • are incorporated
  • import goods or sells goods or services abroad
  • make $30,000 or more per year

Go to OneStop to register.


Permits and Licences

A number of permits and licences may be required to open and operate a restaurant in B.C. It really depends on the space you’ve chosen and what you’re planning to do with it. 

For example, if you’re planning to make any structural changes to the building or changing the design of the kitchen, you’ll need to obtain one or more building permits. 

BUILDING PERMITS

In many municipalities, before you can apply for any type of building permit, you’ll need to get your plan(s) approved by the city and your local health authority. Contact your local municipal office to find out if this applies to you, or if you can submit your plans with your permit application(s). 

These may include permits for:

  • building (for structural changes to the premises, such as additions, altering the structure’s interior, demolitions, etc.)
  • electrical (for installation of new wiring or circuitry, installation of electrical equipment, lights, etc.)
  • plumbing (for installation, additions or alterations to plumbing, water connections, or sewage systems)
  • gas (for installation or alteration of gas appliances)

You, or the qualified tradesperson who represents you, will need to submit detailed plans of what you plan to do and the materials you’re going to use. You will need to submit your plans to your municipality. In some cases, your plans will be automatically routed to various departments, such as Health and Fire Services; in others, you may need to reach out to your public health authority and submit one or more copies of your plans to them directly.

If your plans are approved, you can go ahead and apply for the necessary building permits. If not, you will need to revise your plans and resubmit them to the municipality and public health authority. 

If you’re unsure about whether or not the work you want to do requires a permit, check with your municipal City Hall. Never start construction before you get the required permits and remember that any construction work must be done to the exact specifications of your approved plans (with the approved materials). 

Making unapproved changes can be a costly mistake, so if you want to change your plan, you must submit a new application to your municipal City Hall and restart the process. 

After construction is complete, contact your municipality and your local health authority to let them know that you are ready for inspection (inspections are required to ensure the work complies with your permit and local bylaws). 

Your inspection will be carried out by an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) from your local health authority; if you pass your inspection, your EHO can help guide you through the process of obtaining a Health Operating Permit. 

Even if you are not doing any construction or renovating, an inspection of the facilities is typically carried out whenever there is a change of ownership. Contact the city and your local health authority to arrange for an inspection or for more information about how to obtain your Health Operating Permit. 

HEALTH OPERATING PERMIT

All food service businesses in B.C. must have a Health Operating Permit, sometimes called a Food Service Permit, which are issued by regional health authorities. If you’re unsure of your regional health authority, visit the B.C. Government’s Map of Regional Health Authorities.

To obtain a Health Operating Permit, you’ll need to submit an application and supporting documentation to your health authority. Supporting documentation may include:

  • floor plans or construction plans 
  • a food safety plan (click here for a guide to writing your food safety plan)
  • a sanitation plan
  • proof of your Food Handler Certification
  • a copy of your menu
  • any additional information required by your EHO

If everything looks good, you will be issued a Health Operating Permit. 

BUSINESS LICENCE

Most municipalities require a Business Licence to operate any type of business, and restaurants are no exception. You’ll want to submit your Business Licence application as early as you can, as there are many steps to starting a food business in B.C. and the process of acquiring different licences and permits can be slow. 

Apply for your Business Licence online or in person at your municipal City Hall.

As part of your application, you may be required to submit:

  • approved building or construction plans 
  • safety approval from your local fire department
  • approval by your municipality for maximum occupancy or structural changes

If you’ve already received your Health Operating Permit, you should have everything you need to apply for your Business Licence. Your final Business Licence will not be issued until all construction and inspections are complete.

OTHER PERMITS AND LICENCES

Depending on your region and the type of business you wish to operate, you may be required to obtain other licences and permits, such as:

For more information about permits and licences, contact your municipality.


Employees

In British Columbia, the Employment Standards Act sets out the minimum standards that apply in most workplaces. 

The Act provides guidelines for:

  • minimum wage
  • paydays and payroll records
  • overtime
  • vacation time
  • leave entitlement
  • notice or payment for termination

If you have (or will have) employees, you are required by law to register with WorkSafeBC. Visit the WorkSafeBC site  to learn more about the benefits of coverage and your obligations as an employer.

Depending on the type of restaurant you have, your employees may also be required to have the following certifications:

At least one Certified Food Handler must be present during all hours of operation in every municipality in B.C. All licensees, managers and staff must obtain Serving it Right (SIR) certification prior to working in a licensed establishment. Find out more about who needs to have an SIR certificate in your business. 


About the Canadian Institute of Food Safety

At the Canadian Institute of Food Safety (CIFS), our mission is to reduce food-borne illness in Canada through education, promotion and advocacy for better food safety. 

To improve food safety in Canada, we want to make it as easy as possible for businesses to do the right thing. We strive to protect both business owners and consumers from the consequences of food-borne illness.

We work with the public, as well as small, medium and enterprise food businesses in every industry that is regulated by the Canadian government.

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