CIFS Guide to

Opening a Food Business in Quebec

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

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

The food 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 
  • contact your local municipal office 
  • review food safety legislation 

In This Resource


Introduction

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

The food 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 
  • contact your local municipal office 
  • review food safety legislation 

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. 

Find out how to write a business plan.

Download a 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. 

CONTACT YOUR LOCAL MUNICIPAL OFFICE 

One of the first steps in starting your new business should be contacting the municipal office your food business will be located in for information on building code requirements and local zoning ordinances. 

Your local municipal office will also be able to assist you in determining what permits you will need and the most suitable business licence for your business. You can also use PerLE (French) or BizPaL (English) to generate a list of permits and licences based on your location. 

Note: At this stage, you may not be 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. 

Your local municipal office will also be able to direct you to the various departments you’ll need to contact. We encourage you to complete this step early. Call before signing any agreements to get an understanding of your approval timeline and verify any unexpected requirements. 

REVIEW FOOD SAFETY LEGISLATION 

It’s your responsibility to ensure that you comply with all applicable laws, regulations and codes, including local zoning bylaws and building, fire, electrical, plumbing, ventilation and licensing codes under the Building Act

All food establishments operating in Quebec must comply with the Food Products Act (“the Act”) and the food regulations under the Act.


Location and Zoning

Now that you’ve done your research, you need a location. Before you buy or lease a space to operate your food business, or buy or lease an operating business, consider: 

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

MUNICIPAL ZONING RESTRICTIONS 

Before signing a lease, call your local municipal office to confirm that the location you’re considering is approved for the type of business you want to operate. If it is not, you may be able to submit a zoning change request. 

However, you should never expect zoning to be changed to accommodate your business. Consult with your local municipal office before you make a commitment you may regret. 

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 

Depending on the location and your plans for the business, you may be required to obtain a certificate of occupation. 

If you are looking to purchase or lease a turnkey restaurant — one that requires no building or renovation, is in a condition that is ready-to-operate and which will be used for the same type of use (“same to same”) — you may not require either of the above, but it’s always a good idea to confirm this with your local municipal office. 

RENOVATIONS THAT MAY BE REQUIRED 

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 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 a 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. If you have not already chosen a name, now is the time to do so. 

CHOOSE A NAME 

It’s important to put some thought into your company name; the name of a business can make or break its chances of success. There are also compliance requirements you must meet with respect to the Charter of the French Language. 

When choosing a name for your business, keep the following in mind: 

  • Be sure it reflects the product or service you offer. 
  • Think about how you want your business to be perceived. 
  • Pick something that is easy to pronounce and remember. 
  • Make it unique and distinctive to avoid potential legal issues. 
  • Make sure that it complies with the rules concerning the names of companies applicable in Quebec. 

In Quebec, the name of a company must be in French; however, the Charter allows, under certain conditions, to use a version of a business name in another language. Review Chapter VII of the Charter for details. 

There are two types of business names in Quebec: the legal name (“constitutive name”) and other names (“aliases”). If you use an alias to operate, you must declare it in the business register. You may register a trademark in a language other than French as an alias, but make sure you understand and are complying with the rules

It’s a good idea to speak to legal counsel before registering your name. We recommend that you check for the use of a name in Quebec’s business registry before registering your business. This can help you to avoid any future hassles related to intellectual property infringement. 

REGISTER WITH THE REGISTRAIRE DES ENTREPRISES 

In Quebec, the majority of businesses must register their business in the province’s business registry by filing a declaration of registration. When you register a business, it is assigned a Quebec Business Number (NEQ), which is used to identify the business with the Registrar and other government agencies. 

To register your business in the business registry, you can: 

We strongly suggest that you use the government of Quebec’s Start a Business service to register your business in the registry (see section Keep it all Together with the Start a Business Service). 

REGISTER WITH REVENU QUÉBEC 

If your business income exceeds $30,000, or if you sell alcoholic beverages, you are required to be registered in the tax files — specifically the GST and QST files — held by Revenu Québec. These registrations require you to collect taxes on taxable sales you make and remit the amounts collected to Revenu Québec. 

If you plan on hiring employees, you must also register for the payroll deduction file

If you are registering a new business with Revenu Québec, you may do so: 

We strongly suggest that you use the Start a Business service to register with Revenu Québec. 

KEEP IT ALL TOGETHER WITH THE START A BUSINESS SERVICE 

Start a Business is an online portal that allows you to: 

  • complete the steps required to open your business with various departments and agencies of the Quebec government 
  • keep track of your applications and obligations in one place 
  • follow up with various departments and agencies 
  • get information about other requirements from departments and agencies that do not participate in the Start a Business service 

To use the service, your business must not already be registered in the business registry or entered into the Revenu Québec files. 

If you have already registered your business in the provincial registry, or have already registered for a GST / HST or QST account with Revenu Québec, you will not be permitted to use the portal. 

REGISTER WITH THE CRA 

If you plan on hiring employees, you will need to register with both Revenu Québec and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Call the CRA at 1-800-959-5525, press the star (*) button to speak to an agent or click here to register online

When you register with the CRA, you will be assigned a federal Business Number (BN) if you don’t already have one. The federal BN is different from the provincial NEQ.


Apply for a Restaurant and Retail Permit

All food businesses in Quebec must obtain a Restaurant and Retail Permit (Permis de restauration et de vente au détail) from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ) before they can start operating. 

The type of permit granted depends on the nature and activities of the establishment. 

PERMITS BY SECTOR AND CATEGORY 

If your business prepares food that will be sold and consumed on site (e.g. full-service restaurant, snack bar, cafeteria, ice cream shop, food truck), you will need a restaurant permit. 

There are four different categories of restaurant permits: 

  1. If you prepare and serve food, the permit you need is General preparation (Préparation générale)
  2. If you prepare food and customers serve themselves, the permit you need is General preparation with buffet (Préparation générale avec buffet). 
  3. If the only food preparation that is carried out is keeping food hot or cold, the permit you need is Keep hot or cold (Maintenir chaud ou froid). 
  4. If the only food preparation that is carried out is keeping food hot or cold, and customers are allowed to serve themselves, the permit you need is Keep hot and cold with buffet (Maintenir chaud ou froid avec buffet)

Note: Salad bars, bread counters and ice cream counters or vending machines where the customer serves themself are also considered buffets under the law. 

If your business prepares food that will be consumed off site (e.g. grocery store, convenience store, market stall, bakery, butcher shop, candy store), and it is not sold for the purpose of resale, you will need a retail permit. 

There are two categories of retail permits: 

  1. If you handle food for the purpose of retail sale to customers, the permit you need is General preparation (Préparation générale)
  2. If the only food preparation that is carried out is keeping food hot or cold, the permit you need is Keep hot or cold (Maintenir chaud ou froid)

In order to obtain a permit, you must certify that your facility: 

  • has a dedicated food preparation area 
  • has an area or space with a sink 
  • has hot and cold running water (60°C / 140°F or above) 
  • is equipped with a liquid or powder soap dispenser and paper towels 
  • has a system for the recovery or disposal of wastewater 
  • has an suitable ventilation system for the business’s operations 
  • has an adequate waste management system and waste containers 
  • is compliant with Quebec’s mandatory food safety training requirements 

To obtain your permit, you must complete the permit application form and mail to: 

Permis alimentaires 

Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation 

200, chemin Sainte-Foy, 11e étage 

Québec (Québec) G1R 4X6 

Along with your completed form, be sure to include your fee payment (cheque or money order). 

CALCULATING THE COST OF YOUR PERMIT 

To calculate the total cost of your permit, choose your annual base rate (see licensing and permit fees). The base rate includes five hot or cold holding units. If you will have (or plan to have) more than five total hot or cold holding units, there is an additional fee per unit. 

There is also a one-time licensing fee that applies to all operators applying for a new licence. You will not have to pay this fee again when you renew your licence. 

For example: 

Let’s say you’re applying for a General preparation permit. 

You plan to have a total of eight hot or cold holding units and you’re applying for a new licence. 

Your calculation would look like this: 

  • $331 (base annual rate for General preparation without buffet) 
  • $39 (three additional hot or cold holding units at $13/each) 
  • $129 one-time licensing fee 
  • TOTAL = $499 

Note: You must complete Section four of your permit application, ‘Calculation of Permit Cost’, by hand. 


Apply for Other Permits and Licences

BUILDING PERMITS 

If you’re planning to do any construction or renovations, you will likely require one or more building permits. 

Building permits are issued by the municipality in which your business is located. 

You must obtain the necessary building permit(s) before proceeding with any alterations or development of commercial premises. 

Contact your local municipal office for information about building permits or use PerLE (French) or BizPaL (English) to generate a list of permits and licences (and contact information for the corresponding department or agency). 

Fees and requirements will differ depending on your municipality; however, in general, you will be required to submit detailed plans and specifications (what you’re going to do and the materials you’re going to use) along with your application in order to obtain a building permit. 

Required supporting documentation may include (but is not limited to): 

  • complete architectural plans 
  • interior design plans (before and after) 
  • mechanical plans (e.g. electricity, plumbing, ventilation) 
  • copy of the lease 

Note: If your application is approved, it is approved based on the plans you submitted. If you decide to change your plans after successfully obtaining a permit, submit a new application — making unapproved changes can be a costly mistake. 

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: 

  • liquor licence 
  • music licence 
  • sidewalk patio permit 
  • sign permit 
  • waste disposal permit 

For more information about obtaining permits and licences, contact your local municipal office or do a search in PerLE (French) or BizPaL (English). 


Comply with Food Safety Training Requirements

Food safety training is an essential part of running a food business. Not only does it protect the public from health risks like food poisoning and allergic reactions, it also protects you, the business owner, from serious financial and legal consequences. 

In Quebec, training in food safety and hygiene is regulated and mandatory. Every operator of a food establishment who prepares food for sale must ensure that one or more employees are trained to uphold food safety and hygiene standards. 

WHAT ARE YOUR OBLIGATIONS AS A FOOD BUSINESS OPERATOR? 

In order to be compliant with the law, the operator must: 

  1. Assign responsibility for the control of food hygiene and safety on the premises or vehicle to the holder of a Food Establishment Manager training certificate. 
  2. Ensure that: at least one employee who holds a valid Food Establishment Manager training certificate or Food Handler certificate is present on the premises / vehicle during all hours of operation; or 
  3. At least 10% of employees assigned to food preparation or to washing / cleaning food contact surfaces and equipment holds a valid Food Establishment Manager training certificate or Food Handler training certificate. (If you choose this option, you do not have to ensure that a certificate-holder is present at all times.) 
  4. Maintain a register of past and current employees assigned to food preparation or to washing / cleaning food contact surfaces and equipment in the business. This must include the name of the person responsible for the control of food safety and hygiene, as well as the names of employees who hold valid Food Establishment Manager or Food Handler training certificates. 

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FOOD HANDLER AND FOOD ESTABLISHMENT MANAGER TRAINING? 

Food Handler training must be of a minimum of 6 hours (including a final exam) and cover the following topics: 

  • microbiological, physical and chemical hazards associated with food safety and hygiene 
  • food storage temperatures 
  • food origins 
  • food labelling 
  • general principles of hygiene for persons in contact with food or with material or equipment in contact with food 
  • material and equipment cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting procedures 
  • environmental sources of food contamination 
  • Food Establishment Manager training must be a minimum of 12 hours (including a final exam) and cover the following subjects, in addition to all topics covered in Food Handler training: 
  • analysis and assessment of hazards 
  • hazards management, including the establishment of appropriate procedures 
  • regulatory and legislative standards applicable to food safety and hygiene 
  • preparation of continuous training activities related to the rules governing food safety and hygiene 

Food safety training courses can be completed online or in class. You can complete training with an authorized trainer, or you can complete an equivalent training program that is recognized by MAPAQ. 

The Canadian Institute of Food Safety (CIFS) Food Handler Certification Course is recognized by MAPAQ and accepted by all local health authorities. 

For more information about food safety training, contact the Canadian Institute of Food Safety

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 government.

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