How To Acquire Permits To Start A Restaurant In The UAE

Restaurant Permits in UAE

Are you an aspiring entrepreneur with a culinary interest? If so, then the UAE may be the right place for you to start. The UAE has become one of the top tourist destinations globally, and this is a major driving factor for its USD 6.2 billion restaurant industry. Consequently, the country’s food service industry has evolved to become one of the world’s most diverse food markets due to the influx of more foreigners coupled with a large expatriate population in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. 

The restaurant industry in the Emirate has undergone significant changes in the last couple of years with the inclusion of many exotic cuisines from all over the world, the addition of tens of thousands of new food businesses, and the use of technology, such as POS systems. The trend is likely to continue, and the number of restaurants is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years. So, do you wish to become a part of this growing foodservice market? If the answer is yes, here is a guide to acquiring the permits required to start a restaurant in the UAE.

Things You Need To Know To Acquire Permits To Start A Restaurant In The UAE

To start a restaurant in the UAE, you need to follow certain procedures and obtain permits from various authorities in the country. The authorities will run rigorous assessments focusing on consumer health and safety. You must adhere to the policies and guidelines to avoid penalties or even license cancellation. There is no doubt that the process is demanding, but it will become a cakewalk for you if you learn about it beforehand. So, here is a detailed guide that will help you acquire all the permits required to start a restaurant business in the UAE.

1. Location And Business Plan

Before applying for the licenses and permits, you need to shortlist the restaurant’s location and create a business plan.

    • You need to decide if you want to start the food business in a free zone or the mainland and, based on that, seek approval from the relevant authority – different independent authorities for each free zone or the Department of Economic Development (DED) for the mainland.
    • You will have to create a well-drafted business plan for the restaurant. The plan will capture your vision, the business’s financial viability, brand management, and various contingency plans.

Once the business plan for the restaurant has been finalized and submitted, you should initiate the process to obtain the required licenses from the appropriate authorities. Two main permits should be on top of your priority list – the Trade License and the Food License for Restaurants mandated by the UAE government.

2. Trade License

For Trade License, you need to contact the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) authorities. In the application, you should clearly mention the type of restaurant you plan to set up. The average cost of obtaining a trade license falls somewhere in the range of AED 30,000 to AED 40,000.

You must follow the steps mentioned below to obtain a Trade License for starting a restaurant in the UAE.

    • Identify the various corporate activities going to take place within the restaurant premise. The UAE government permits up to 10 different activities against each license.
    • Classify the operating nature of your restaurant in either of the three main industry categories – Professional, Commercial, and Industrial.
    • Delineate the legal status of your business as per the law of the land.
    • Decide on a trade name for the restaurant. You can have multiple brands under a single trade name.
    • Get an office space on lease or purchase if possible.
    • Submit the application for the Trade License.

The authorities will contact you if they require any additional documents, which you must submit through reference DED letter to the DTCM.

3. Food License

Once you have successfully obtained a Trade License, you need to contact the Department of Food and Safety authorities for a Food License. You need to provide the following two documents to the food safety department along with the application for Food License.

    1. A copy of the approval of the Trade License (this is why you should obtain the Trade License before applying for the Food License)
    2. A detailed illustration of the restaurant’s interior design and layout

Basically, the illustration is your restaurant’s blueprint. If you have already created a carefully drafted business plan, you must have the blueprint with you by now, and it shouldn’t be of any concern to you. So, produce the blueprint in front of the food safety authorities and help them identify:

    • Entry and exit points of your restaurant
    • A designated space earmarked for food processing
    • A dedicated warehouse space for storage of raw as well as processed food
    • Ventilation system and setting up of other amenities adhering to the guidelines of public health 
    • A dedicated space for kitchen, maintenance area, equipment storage, etc.

Based on the operating nature of your restaurant, you may be asked to provide additional documents which you need to furnish within the stipulated timeline.

5. Additional Permits

These permits are more of additional requirements that may or may not be relevant for your restaurant business. Besides the Food license, you may need approval from the food and safety department for the following permits:

    • Food Consignment Release License
    • Vehicle Permit for Food Transportation
    • Permit for Pork Product
    • Permit for serving Liquor

However, you will not require the permits for serving pork products and liquor if your restaurant plans to serve the customers Halal food.

Despite high competition as thousands of restaurants are opening every year, the UAE still has enough growth potential to offer great opportunities for enterprising restaurateurs. You may feel overwhelmed with complex decisions, but if you are patient, resilient, and can follow the given instructions in a disciplined manner, the dream of starting a restaurant in the UAE isn’t too far away.

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Daniel McCarthy is a seasoned restaurant consultant and serves as the Communication Manager at Restroworks, a prominent F&B SaaS company. Drawing from his vast knowledge of leveraging innovative technological solutions, Daniel excels at enhancing restaurant operations and revenue, thereby contributing to the ongoing transformation of the industry.


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