Delicatessen legal issues

Woman in blue and white striped apron in delicatessen

The following is an outline of some of the areas where legislation may well be relevant to your business. 

What licences does a delicatessen need?

Because your business will store, sell, and possibly prepare food you will need to register as a food business with your local environmental health department. They will inspect your premises and help you to comply with the requirements of the Food Safety Act. You should contact your local authority early on in your planning so that you register in good time. There is no charge for registering.

Chairs and tables on pavements

If you intend to put any tables and chairs on the pavement outside your deli then you'll probably need permission from your local authority. They may refer to this permission as a 'pavement licence', an 'alfresco dining licence' or a 'tables and chairs licence'. Planning permission may also be necessary for the change of use - your local authority will be able to advise you on this. Similar conditions often apply to advertising A-boards placed on the pavement.

Alcohol licensing

If you decide to sell alcohol - for example organic and perhaps locally produced wines and beers and other speciality drinks - then you'll need to be licensed.

In England and Wales, the Licensing Act regulates the sale of alcohol. A premises licence is required for any premises where this will take place, and a personal licence is required by anyone who wants to sell alcohol from premises which have a premises licence. The website contains more information.

In Northern Ireland, alcohol licences are granted by the county court. There is a set number of off-licences in Northern Ireland and new licences for alcohol off-sales are not currently granted. So you'll usually need to find someone who's giving up or selling their licence. You can read more about alcohol licensing in Northern Ireland on the NI Direct website.

In Scotland, alcohol licences (premises and personal) are granted by local Licensing Boards. You can read more about alcohol licensing in Scotland on the Scottish Government website.

Background music

If you plan to play background music in the shop you will probably need to obtain a Music Licence from PPL PRS Ltd. There is an annual fee for this which you can pay online on the PPL PRS website.

Premises - planning usage classes

When choosing premises, note that you will need to find some with the appropriate planning usage classification. It may be possible to change the classification of a premises, but this will often require planning consent. Changing from retail only to retail plus a cafe, for example, will generally require consent. It is easier to change to some classifications than to others - for example it can be difficult to change from a cafe or restaurant serving food for consumption on the premises to a hot food takeaway (although there may be more leeway where hot food takeaway is only ancillary to the main business).

Planning usage classes covering food retailing, cafe and restaurant activities are as follows:

  • A1 - shops, including delis and many sandwich bars (cold food to take away)
  • A3 - restaurants and cafes (food and drink for consumption on the premises)
  • A4 - drinking establishments (pubs and wine bars, but not night clubs)
  • A5 - hot food takeaways (hot food for consumption off the premises)

Food safety

Food safety law is quite complex and there are many specific regulations. These are all concerned with ensuring that the food you sell is safe to eat.

You will need to manage hygiene systematically throughout the business. Premises and any equipment used must be of an appropriate design and standard. Cleanliness and good personal hygiene must be observed at all times and staff training may be required. Temperature controls may have to be observed for some types of food.

All food business must be registered with the local authority environmental health department. An officer will visit your site and will be able to give you guidance on the steps you need to take to comply with the requirements of the Food Hygiene Regulations made under the Food Safety Act.

All local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland participate in the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme. A similar scheme (the Food Hygiene Information Scheme) is run in Scotland. Under the schemes, food businesses are inspected and awarded a rating to reflect their hygiene standards. Although businesses in England and Scotland do not have to display their rating (although it is recommended that they do), in Wales and Northern Ireland businesses must by law display a sticker showing their rating in a prominent place in all entrances to the premises.

Food waste

If your business produces food waste you must make sure that you dispose of it correctly. It mustn't contaminate the environment and it can't be fed to livestock. If you use a waste carrier to get rid of your waste you'll need to make sure they're properly authorised. You can find out more about your responsibilities on the website.

Sale of alcohol

The sale of alcohol is regulated by:

  • the Licensing Act in England and Wales
  • the Licensing (Northern Ireland) Order
  • the Licensing (Scotland) Act in Scotland

If you intend to sell alcohol you'll need to obtain the appropriate licences and comply with the terms of the legislation. You can find out more information about alcohol licensing throughout the UK from:

  • the website
  • NI Direct
  • the Scottish Government website

From 1 May 2018, under Scotland's minimum pricing policy for alcohol, all alcoholic drinks in Scotland must cost at least 50p per unit of alcohol. This is unlikely to affect sales of alcohol by delicatessens since their prices will almost certainly exceed the minimum.


Businesses are responsible for clearing up any litter around their site that has originated from their retail activities (particularly ready-to-eat and take-away food). You will be responsible for clearing up any take-away food or drink packaging litter.


There is a wide range of legislation that applies to retail outlets and that protects the interests of the consumer. For example, goods and services must not be misleadingly described and the retail price of goods must be clearly displayed. You will be responsible for making sure that all goods are of satisfactory quality.

Remember that all food goods sold loose from bulk must be priced and weighed in metric units.

The Trading Standards Business Companion website includes detailed guidance for retail businesses, including those that sell food. Guidance is also available from local Trading Standards Departments and from the website.

Carrier bag charge

A minimum 10p charge applies for single-use carrier bags in England (other rules apply in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). You can get detailed guidance from the GOV.UK website.

Health & Safety, fire

You must comply with workplace health and safety and fire safety legislation.

Employment legislation

Anyone employing staff must comply with employment legislation. Important areas of legislation include recruitment, employment contracts, pay, working hours, holidays, employment policies, sickness, maternity, paternity, discrimination, discipline, grievances, dismissals, redundancies and employment tribunals.

Insurance for a delicatessen

Contact an insurer or insurance broker and explain exactly how your business will operate - they will then explain what insurance cover you must have by law, and other cover you should consider. This might include:

  • employer's liability
  • public liability
  • product liability, including cover for food poisoning and product contamination
  • environmental liability
  • premises, premises contents and stock
  • goods in transit (being collected or delivered)
  • refrigerator/freezer breakdown
  • cash
  • business interruption
  • motor insurance (for any business vehicles)

As with many other items of business expenditure, you can often save money by shopping around. Although many insurers can offer a complete package of business insurances, often at a competitive price, remember that you don't have to take out all of your business insurance policies with the same insurer.

It's worth noting that members of the Guild of Fine Food benefit from discounted rates on specialist business insurance. The Guild can also give members advice on insurance matters. For more information visit the Guild of Fine Food website.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.