In order to operate a restaurant in Japan, it is necessary to apply for and obtain a restaurant license based on the Food Hygiene Law at the health department. This license system is in place to ensure that safety and sanitation is maintained in restaurants where food is cooked and served.
The core requirements relate to the equipment and facilities within the restaurant. Once the store location has been decided and procured, the applicant must prepare equipment and facilities meeting the specific criteria. This includes requirements to have certain refrigerating, washing and hot water facilities, as well as requirements to maintain the store’s cleanliness by making sure that all utensils and plates are stored in cupboards with doors, and that the kitchen is separated from the seating space, etc. Once the main planning and layout of the interior and equipment has been decided, it is strongly advised to consult with the health department in advance, before proceeding with the actual construction and purchases. In addition to this, it is important to schedule in advance, as it generally takes at least two weeks from application date until the license is obtained, thus the application should be submitted at least two weeks in advance of the planned opening date.
After the application has been submitted, an on-site inspection of the actual restaurant will be conducted by the relevant officers, and it is essential to make sure that all main constructions and equipment are ready by this inspection date. Only after passing this inspection is the license is granted, and it becomes possible to operate the restaurant from that point onwards. Moreover, the length of a restaurant license is decided for a term between 5 and 8 years, depending on the durability of the facilities.
In addition to these facility requirements, it is also necessary to appoint at least one manager who is in charge of food sanitation at each restaurant. This can be anyone holding a specific qualification, such as nutrition advisor or cook, and does not necessarily need to be the representative or officer of the company, thus can be elected from among the employees. Furthermore, even when no member has such qualification, any person can be appointed as the food sanitation manager as long as they have taken a designated seminar (one-day course), regardless of nationality. However, as the seminar is conducted in Japanese, it is desirable for the candidate to have at least a certain understanding of the Japanese language.
Other Licenses and Procedures
Moreover, it is necessary to take care not to cross over to other areas requiring separate licenses. For example, bars that primarily serve alcohol and only light foods are regulated by the Entertainment Business Law, and it is necessary to submit a notice to the police department when one wishes to operate a bar to serve alcohol during the hours between midnight and early morning.
Bars are also subject to various regulations regarding operating hours, location and facilities, whereas regular restaurants are generally not subject to any such restrictions under law regarding operating hours or location (provided that some local rules may apply to specific locations). The decisive factor in determining whether a store is classified as a restaurant or a bar is the main menu served, in other words, stores that mainly serve food will be classified as a restaurant (and are permitted to serve alcoholic beverages without any additional license or procedures), whereas those mainly serving alcohol and light foods will be classified as a bar. Thus, it is important to keep this in mind when deciding on the menu.
Another point to note is in relation to the licenses regarding the retail and wholesale of alcoholic beverages. It is possible to serve alcoholic beverages inside a restaurant without having to obtain a specific license or permit for alcohol selling, provided that it is served and consumed at the restaurant. However, when selling alcoholic beverages to take out, this will constitute retail or wholesale of alcohol, which requires a separate license with the tax office.
In addition to this, the Fire Protection Law requires restaurants to appoint a fire prevention manager. The fire prevention manager needs to have completed one of two types of designated courses, the two types depending on the size and capacity of the venue.