From street food to high-end restaurants, and from Thai to international cuisine, Bangkok is a paradise for foodies. According to statistics in the month of June 2015, there were 10,056 companies in the restaurant business with a total investment amount of approximately 67 Billion Thai Baht. As the hospitality sector is restricted to foreigners, naturally the majority of investment comes from Thai nationals with 84%. Foreign investment comes in with Americans (3%) and Japanese (2%) on top of the list.
The operation of a restaurant requires a license, that is, a permission by the Thai government. There are two types of government permission with regards to restaurant businesses, (1) the restaurant license and (2) a certificate of notification.
1. The Restaurant License
If the applicant wishes to set up a restaurant having an area exceeding 200 square meters, he must apply for a restaurant license from the local government.
The local official shall issue the license within 30 days from the date of receipt of the application. All licenses are valid for one year from the date of issuance. They shall be displayed openly and conspicuously in the business establishment and can be used only in the jurisdiction of the issuing government agency.
If the licensee fails to comply with the provisions of the ministerial regulations issued under the law of public health, or with the conditions specified in the license, the local official shall have the authority to withdraw or suspend the license (for an appropriate period but not exceeding 15 days).
2. The Certification of Notice
If the area is smaller than 200 square meters, the applicant is only required to notify the local government. A certificate of notification shall be obtained before setting up the restaurant (Section 38 of the Public Health Act).
The following documents will be required to support the notification: ID card of the applicant, lease agreement, medical certificate of staff, and any related license from a government agency (see below). The certificate shall be issued within 7 working days from the date of receipt of the notification. After receiving the certificate, the recipient must display it openly and conspicuously at the business establishment.
The licensee must renew the license annually before the expiration date. If the local official refuses to issue or renew the license or certificate and the order receiver does not agree with that order, he has a right to appeal, within 30 days from the date of refusal.
Small restaurants located in a food court or market are subject to specific rules.
3. Related Licenses
It should be noted that a restaurant business usually entails the application for other licenses, such as a liquor license and a construction permit.
a) Liquor License
A liquor license is a permit that allows an establishment to sell alcohol legally. Establishments that require liquor licenses include pubs, bars, restaurants, distillers, importers, distributors, wholesalers, hotels, clubs, theaters, grocery stores and liquor stores. To obtain the liquor license under the Liquor Act, the applicant shall apply with the District Office or Local Excise Department.
b) Construction Permit
Furthermore, the premises of the restaurant must comply with building regulations (in particular the Building Control Act of 1979) and the applicant shall apply for a construction (or modification) permit for the restaurant. The application for such construction permit shall be granted or rejected within 45 days from the date of receipt thereof. As supporting documents, the applicant shall provide details concerning the plans for the building’s design, and state the names of building architects, contractors or engineers. It is important to note that specific laws exist for different types of construction.
4. Operating without License
Operating without a restaurant or related license constitutes a violation of the respective laws and regulations. It shall be punished by fine and/or imprisonment under the Public Health Act, the Liquor Act and Building Control Act respectively.
It is interesting to note that a significant number of restaurants, in particular in tourist resort locations, operate without a legally required restaurant license or certificate of notice. The reasons for the lack of compliance are various. However, stringent enforcement of the existing laws is certainly desirable to achieve the Public Health Act’s goals of transparency and quality control, and to maintain the high quality of food in Thailand.