Sandwich bar legal issues

Woman holding plate with sandwich on it in sandwich bar

The catering industry is subject to a significant amount of regulation, much of it concerning food hygiene and safety. You might consider getting specialist help to make sure you comply with all your legal requirements. The following is an outline of some of the key pieces of legislation that are likely to be relevant to you.

What licences does a sandwich bar need?

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

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

If you plan to have some tables and chairs outside your sandwich bar on the pavement you'll probably need to get permission from your local highways department.

Most sandwich bars don't serve alcoholic drinks, but if you decide to then you'll need to be licensed. You'll need a personal licence and a premises licence.

Premises - planning usage classes

When choosing premises, note that you may need to find some with the appropriate planning usage classification. It may be possible to change the classification of a premises, but this requires planning consent. It's 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.

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

  • 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)

It's sometimes possible to run a sandwich bar from A1 premises (retail). For example, if you're going to sell ready-prepared sandwiches and you're not going to do any cooking on the premises - and if you're going to have few or no tables for eat-in customers - then the planning department may not require A3 permission. However, do check carefully first before committing to a particular premises.

Food safety

All businesses in the food and catering industries must comply with strict food safety legislation. This is concerned with ensuring the food you sell is safe to eat, and that sufficient information is given to customers - including information about certain allergens where applicable. Before you open, you must register your business with the local authority environmental health department. Your local environmental health officer will be able to give you advice and guidance as to what you should install in your premises to make sure your operating areas are hygienic and how to comply with the requirements of the Food Safety Act and regulations made under it.

Food businesses are subject to a Food Hygiene Rating Scheme - the so called 'scores on the doors' scheme. Food businesses are given a star rating when their premises are inspected ranging from 0 to 5. Businesses in Wales and Northern Ireland are legally required to display stickers showing the results of their inspections at or near each entrance to the premises used by customers. The stickers must be in a conspicuous place where they can be easily read by customers before they enter. People can also search for ratings online. The legal requirement to display the results of food hygiene inspections is set to come into force in England by 2020 at the earliest and it is expected that Scotland will then follow suit.

Food waste

If your business produces food waste - most catering businesses do - 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.


The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act makes businesses responsible for clearing up any litter around their site that has originated from their retail activities. You will be responsible for clearing up any take-away food or drink packaging litter, such as empty crisp packets, drink cartons, sandwich wrappers and so on.

Price marking

Special regulations apply to businesses in the catering industry - including sandwich bars - and cover matters like giving clear pricing information and indicating what prices do and don't include.

Smoking ban

Smoking is not permitted in enclosed public places - including work vehicles - and you must display appropriate 'No Smoking' signs. The legislation varies slightly in different parts of the UK so contact your local authority for details of how the ban affects you. You can also find out more on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website.

Environmental legislation

The Environmental Protection Act and regulations made under it apply to catering businesses - including sandwich bars - and cover matters that include:

  • nuisance like noise, smells and accumulated rubbish
  • proper disposal of controlled business waste
  • preventing the contamination of drains and groundwater from potentially harmful substances

For more information contact the Environment Agency in England, Natural Resources Wales, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

Employing staff

Anyone employing staff must comply with employment legislation. Important pieces of legislation which you must be aware of include:

  • The National Minimum Wage Act
  • The Working Time Regulations
  • The Employment Rights Act

The employing people section of the website includes information and guidance on all aspects of employment legislation. Information for businesses in Northern Ireland is available on the NI Business Info website.

More information on legal matters

The British Sandwich Association (BSA) provides a free legal helpline service for its members to help them with a variety of legal matters ranging from employment issues to invoice disputes. You can find out more on the BSA website.

The Trading Standards Business Companion website includes detailed information on a range of relevant topics, including price marking, fair trading, food labelling and food waste.

Carrier bag charge

A 5 pence charge applies in England, but small and medium-sized businesses (with fewer than 250 full-time equivalent employees) are exempt. You can get detailed guidance from the website.

Retailers in Wales and Scotland must charge customers at least 5 pence if they supply them with a single-use carrier bag. This applies to all types of single-use bag, whether they are made of plastic, paper or plant-based starch. There is detailed guidance on the Gov.Wales and Zero Waste Scotland websites.

In Northern Ireland retailers must charge customers a 5 pence levy on all bags with a retail price of less than 20 pence (including any bags that would otherwise be free of charge), whether they are single-use or reusable.

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 sandwich bar

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 and product liability (this should cover food poisoning and other problems such as foreign objects found in sandwiches and other foodstuffs that you have made)
  • premises, premises contents and stock
  • freezer breakdown
  • cash
  • business interruption
  • motor insurance (for delivery vehicles)

If you belong to a trade association it's well worth finding out if they can provide business insurance cover or refer you to an approved provider who will give you the cover you need at a favourable rate. The British Sandwich Association (BSA), for example, offers its members access to competitive rates on all types of business insurance. You can find out more about this and other membership benefits on the BSA website.

When comparing insurance quotes, uncover the differences between policies by using an insurance comparison form.

What does the * mean?

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