Restaurant Rules, Laws and Regulations

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Restaurant Rules, Laws and Regulations

If you’re planning to open a restaurant, you’ll find plenty of challenges lie ahead – not least those relating to the raft of legal requirements that govern every business in this sector. In fairness, most restaurant regulations are based on common sense and designed primarily to keep staff and customers safe from harm and to standardise operating procedures. Nevertheless, it’s worth familiarising yourself with the rules and regulations that apply to restaurants so you don’t accidentally fall foul of the law.

Managing Risk

The Health and Safety Executive offers guidance to business owners on managing risk in the workplace. Its ‘six-pack’ of regulations forms the basis of health and safety procedures across all sectors. Naturally, no workplace is free from risk entirely but a restaurant has more opportunities than most for workers and customers to sustain an injury as food is prepared, cooked and served.

The first task is to consider what, in your workplace, could cause harm and then to examine the steps you have taken to mitigate the risk of harm. This risk assessment process forms the basis of your health and safety policy and should be as thorough as possible. Once you’ve identified any risks, you can put the necessary measures in place to prevent accident or injury occurring.

It’s important to understand that this process isn’t just about getting through the inevitable red tape and ticking boxes, it’s a crucial phase in establishing a bona fide business and will help to protect your own interests as well as ensuring workers’ safety and complying with the law.

Identifying risk and putting in measures to prevent harm can be simple and straightforward. For instance, spillages can cause slips, so ensuring they are cleaned up promptly is a cheap and effective way of protecting your workforce and your customers. Remember, the law does not expect you to eliminate all risk, but to protect people as far as ‘reasonably practicable’.

You must:

• Prepare a statement of safety policy, complete with procedures for achieving your aims
• Appoint someone competent to assist you with health and safety
• Assess significant workplace risks and make effective arrangements to control them
• Carry out health surveillance where appropriate
• Set up emergency procedures including those for temporary workers (fire and gas leaks)
• Consult and train employees on the risks present and the arrangements in place to control them

Premises Fit for Purpose

Your premises will need to comply with the necessary regulations. In essence, they need to be suitable for your business, allow you to prepare food safely, be clean and kept in good repair and condition. Your premises must allow you to follow good food hygiene practices, including protection against contamination and, in particular, pest control. Regulations cover every aspect of your workplace, including internal decoration, equipment, washing facilities and waste handling, so it’s essential to comply from the outset.

Handling Hygiene

As restaurants all rely on their reputation to attract and retain customers, it’s in everybody’s best interests to ensure that hygiene standards are impeccable. Again, the majority of the extensive rules and regulations contained in the Food Safety Act 1990 are founded on the same safety procedures you would apply in a domestic kitchen, adapted to meet the output of a commercial catering business.

The Food Standards Agency oversees hygiene standards and offers plenty of resources to help new businesses take a methodical approach to establishing sound practices from the get-go. The ‘Safer Food, Better Business’ guide for caterers is an invaluable, downloadable reference pack and includes pages for recording daily information that may be required for food safety inspectors.

Once you’ve registered your business with the environmental health service at your local authority, food safety inspectors will perform random checks to make sure your business produces food that is safe to eat. They will look closely at your premises, the kinds of food you prepare and your food safety management system. The SFA’s Food Hygiene Guide provides advice on the legal requirements around food safety and hygiene.

As a restaurant, you’re likely to be covered by the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, which means that when your business is inspected, you will be given a hygiene rating from ‘0’ to ‘5’, based on the hygiene standards found at the time. Scotland operates a ‘Pass’ or ‘Improvement Required’ rating as part of a similar scheme called the Food Hygiene Information Scheme. You will be given a sticker and certificate with your rating or result which can be displayed to show your customers how good your hygiene standards are.

Allergy Alerts

In 2014, a new regulation was introduced requiring food businesses to provide allergy information on food sold unpackaged, as in restaurants and cafes. The FSA provides a selection of downloadable resources and documents on their Resources for Allergen Information page. There’s also a useful training video available.

Businesses can choose how they give the information on the 14 specified allergens contained in their food – for example through conversations with customers, leaflets, food labelling or by highlighting ingredients on menus. But if allergy advice is not clearly given, there need to be clear signs about where it can be obtained.

Measure for measure

It may seem obvious, but restaurants must make the prices of food and drink clear before customers enter the premises – it’s why most restaurants display a menu in the window or on the door. Naturally, prices must include VAT and should include any compulsory service charges, cover charges or minimum charges. You must also not omit information which the average consumer needs to make an informed decision regarding a purchase and are prohibited from giving misleading descriptions of food.

In restaurants, as in pubs, drinks can only be sold in approved measures: pints, half pints and a third of a pint for draught beer, lager and cider, with multiples of 25mls or 35mls for gin, rum, whisky and vodka except when they’re served as part of a cocktail. Wine must be offered in 125mls, 175mls or 250mls. The Trading Standards Institute has guidance notes for restaurants on its website.


It’s a requirement to keep written records of all the suppliers that provide you with food or ingredients. As well as the name and address of the supplier, type and quantity of products and delivery dates, it’s good practice to record batch numbers or the ‘use by’ dates. It may provide an invaluable source of information if there is a safety problem with the food you have sold.

If you supply food to another business, you also need to keep records containing the same details. Make sure that you keep all your records in a way that means that you could quickly find the details of a particular food when asked by an enforcement officer.


Remember – you’ll need a licence if you want to do the following things:

• Sell or supply alcohol
• Sell hot food and drinks between 11 pm and 5 am
• Provide entertainment, such as theatre, cinema or live music performances
• Sell food from a stall or van on the street

You should contact your authority for information on all of these licences.

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