All you need to know about obtaining a restaurant licence

You will need a licence if you are planning on serving alcohol in your restaurant. 

What are the different types of licence? Which one do you need and how can you obtain it? Here, we explain.

What is a restaurant licence and when is it required?

Obtaining a licence is compulsory for any establishment that sells alcoholic beverages, whether as a main or secondary activity, and whether consumed on or off the premises.

This concerns a wide range of business establishments – from restaurants, bars, pubs, hotels, bar-restaurants, cafés, brasseries, bed and breakfasts and night clubs to wine shops, supermarkets and grocery stores, for example.

Obtaining a licence is, therefore, one of the administrative formalities to be completed to open a restaurant. To find out about all the formalities required, see our article on the subject.

The different categories of restaurant licence: which one do you need?

The choice of licence for your restaurant depends first and foremost on the nature of the drinks sold and the type of sale made.

Beverages are classified according to group:

  • Group 1: non-alcoholic drinks (no licence is required for the sale of non-alcoholic drinks).
  • Groupe 3:  alcoholic beverages with an alcohol content of 18° or lower (non-distilled fermented beverages, beer, wine, cider, mead, perry, natural sweet wines, crème de cassis, alcoholic fruit juices, etc.).
  • Group 4 and 5: alcoholic beverages with an alcohol content over 18° (distilled spirits, rum, vodka, whisky, gin, etc.). 

Here's how to choose the right licence for your restaurant: 

  • If you serve alcohol with meals:
    - Petite licence restaurant (for group 3 drinks - wines, beers, ciders, etc.).
  • If you serve alcohol outside mealtimes (e.g. in a bar-restaurant), you will have to obtain a drinks licence (Licence III for group 3 beverages and Licence IV for all types of beverages). 

You can sell take-away drinks with a Licence III or a Licence IV. 

Good to know:
Food trucks or other itinerant restaurant vendors are not permitted to sell beverages with an alcohol content over 18°.


How to obtain restaurant licence?

To obtain a restaurant licence, you must :

  1. Ensure you meet the right conditions
  2. Obtain an operating permit (permis d’exploitation)
  3. Make a declaration of opening at your local town hall.

1) Ensure you meet the right conditions

A restaurant owner must first meet a few simple conditions to hold a restaurant licence:

  • Be of age (or an emancipated minor)
  • Not be under guardianship
  • Not have been sentenced to certain penalties. 

There is no condition relating to nationality. However, a non-European citizen must obtain a temporary residence permit which authorises him or her to carry out a professional activity on French territory.

2) Obtain an operating permit for your restaurant

An operating permit (permis d’exploitation) is issued further to a compulsory training course with an approved organisation. This specific training session lasts 20 hours (over 2.5 days) and costs between 200 and 500 euros.

The objective is to train future restaurant owners and raise awareness of public health issues (fight against alcoholism, protection of minors, repression of public drunkenness, prevention of noise disturbance, etc.).

See the list of approved organisations where this course can be taken.

You will be issued your operating permit at the end of this course (provided that you have completed the entire course). The permit is valid for ten years and can be renewed by taking a new six-hour, one-day course.

3) Make a declaration of opening at your town hall

To obtain a licence for your restaurant, you must also make an administrative declaration to the town hall or the police headquarters at least 15 days before your restaurant is due to open.

You will then be given a receipt to prove that you are in possession of the licence. This document will be requested when you register your restaurant with the Trade and Companies Register (RCS). 

Attention: the number of licences issued by each commune is limited. If the total number of restaurants with a licence IV in a municipality exceeds the proportion of one outlet per 450 inhabitants, then an application for a licence III cannot be accepted. 

If you plan to take over a restaurant through the purchase of an existing business, you must request a licence transfer from the prefecture of the department concerned.

Good to know
Restaurant owners or publicans are obliged to display a clearly visible sign indicating the category of licence on the restaurant premises. To find out more, see our article: Statutory notices and signage for restaurants.

If you are thinking about opening a restaurant and want to find out more, check out our other articles on the subject :

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