Call us 7 days a week!
800-LICENSE (5423673) Email Us Live Chat



How to start a restaurant or cafeteria in Dubai and the UAE

February 24, 2019

How to start a restaurant or cafeteria in Dubai and the UAE

How to start a restaurant or cafeteria in Dubai and the UAE 

The global restaurant industry is booming. Despite economic fluctuations the world over, nothing seems to dampen our appetite for eating out.

 Recent figures value the international foodservice market at around USD 3tn. And it shows no signs of slowing. Here in the UAE, the trend is much the same. The Emirates’ restaurant market is predicted to be worth around USD 3.3bn. Fast food restaurants account for around USD 1.5bn of this, followed by casual dining with USD 880m and fine dining making up around USD 840m.

But a large market is not the only reason why the UAE’s restaurant industry is such an attractive opportunity. Here in the Emirates, we eat out on average 6.75 times per week – that’s higher than the US average of 4.2 times.

 So, if you’re looking to start a restaurant, open a cafeteria in Dubai, or even open a bar in Dubai, now is a great time to get involved in this vast market.

Restaurant formation in Dubai

If you’re looking to start a restaurant or open a cafeteria in Dubai, the formation process is largely the same.

You will require two separate licenses. The first is a trade license. This can be applied for either via the Dubai Department of Economic Development (DED), or via a free zone. Next, you must get your restaurant plans approved by the food control department.

Once this stage is completed, you can then apply for your food license. This is issued by the Dubai Municipality Food Safety Department.

As part of your application, you must provide the department with a copy of your trade license, and a restaurant floor plan which must include all entrances and exits, food processing areas, food storage areas, all windows and ventilation, all food processing equipment, and all washing equipment.

For your license to remain valid, you must adhere to the ‘Food Code’. This is much like food safety laws in many other major countries and essentially involves meeting certain benchmarks in terms of food preparation, production, and hygiene.

The code covers everything from where food can be made and stored, ventilation, cleaning facilities, and much more. The code is applicable to any establishment wishing to prepare or serve food including restaurants, cafeterias, hotels, and supermarkets.

How to open a bar in Dubai

The process required to open a bar in Dubai is similar to that above. However, to serve alcohol, you will also need to apply for a liquor license from the Dubai Police General Headquarter (DPGH).

 As part of your liquor license application, you will be asked to provide:

  • Personal details such as your name, address, and date of birth
  • A detailed description of the premises in which you intend to serve alcohol
  • How you intend to secure your alcohol inventory against theft
  • Approximately how much alcohol you intend to purchase per month

 If your application is successful, you can expect to receive your liquor license within ten days.

The application process

While there are some additional steps required to apply for a food or liquor license, the process for applying for a trade license is relatively standard.

Before you make your initial application, you must first outline your business activities. That is to say, will you be running a bar, a café, a restaurant, a food kitchen, and so on. You should also stipulate the type of cuisine you wish to sell and how you wish to sell it – eat-in, take-out, or delivery.

It’s important that you include these details to avoid delays to your license application. You must also ensure that you do not carry out any trading activities that are not listed on your license. Because this is such a precise part of the application process, it’s a good idea to work with a company setup expert at this stage.

With your trading activities decided, it’s time to choose your company name. Here in the UAE, there are a few extra stipulations to consider that may not apply in other areas of the world. For one, your company name can only include your personal name if it is used in full. As in: John Smith Foods, rather than J Smith Foods or Smith Foods.

The rest are largely common sense. For example, you cannot use the name of any existing organisation such as NASA or MI5 and your company name should not include any offensive or blasphemous language. Finally, you should check that your chosen name is available to be registered. Again, a company formation specialist can help you with this step.

Now it’s time to apply for your trade license. If you wish to set up in the Dubai mainland, you should make your initial application to the DED. For free zone setups, you can apply directly to the relevant managing authority. In both cases, you are usually expected to provide the following documentation as a minimum:

  • Completed application form
  • Passport copy of the proposed owner or owners
  • Two coloured passport size photos

Starting a restaurant or cafeteria in Dubai

 As the stats at the start of this article make clear, Dubai’s food industry presents a huge opportunity to entrepreneurs. With tourist numbers growing, relaxation of visa rules set to stimulate further expat immigration and the impending arrival of Expo 2020, this opportunity is only going to get greater.

What’s more, the process for starting your restaurant or bar is relatively straightforward, if a little particular. You will likely require some prior knowledge of the licensing process, particularly when it comes to obtaining your food or liquor license. It is also important to note that the application process is only straightforward if your trade license application is complete at the time of submission and free from errors.

To help you to ensure that this is the case, it’s a good idea to work with a company formation specialist such as CREATIVE ZONE when establishing a new company in the UAE. 

 As well as handling your license application, we can also assist with the opening of corporate bank accounts, and advise on the most appropriate financial institution to suit your specific needs.

We also offer visa and immigration services and can handle all government formalities, permissions, work permits, and visas applications that are required to trade in the UAE.


In short, our experts can establish your company on your behalf, make your license and visa applications, and take care of all the necessary admin, leaving you free to get on with running your business.