Finding And Equipping Your Business Premises
CAROL GODSMARK food journalist, restaurant critic and consultant. She is also the author of How to Start and Run Your Own Restaurant and a caterer with twenty years experience. She is based in Chichester, West Sussex.
This chapter moves you to the next stage: your business premises, be they at home or on dedicated premises. Running a safe, hygienic business is one of the biggest tests a caterer has to deal with. This chapter covers:
- food handling on and off your premises;
- adhering to hygiene standards and Environmental Health requirements;
- Food Safety Act and Food Premises’ Regulations;
- temperature controls;
- types of food poisoning;
- finding and registering food premises;
- property conversion, planning applications and dealing with architects;
- design and construction for kitchens;
- lighting and structural requirements;
- equipment needed in a dedicated kitchen;
- refuse and drainage;
- pest control.
The amount of regulations you must adhere to will depend on whether you run a small business from home, or have dedicated premises. The bigger the company and staff, the more rules and regulations will come into play.
Do contact your local environmental health officers about required standards for running a catering business. This should be done when you are looking at premises to get a clear picture of the requirements. Some properties may not be at all suitable or may not be able to be changed to fit the required standards. You will also need to discuss the requirements for the use of your home as your kitchen may not pass the test. Free advice is gladly given.
REGISTERING FOOD PREMISES
If you are planning to start a new catering business, you must register your premises with the environmental health service at your local authority. Registration of premises used for a food business including market stalls, delivery vehicles and other moveable structures is required by law.
You must register your business at least 28 days before opening a new food business. If you run a food business for more than five days in any five consecutive weeks, you must tell the local authority about any premises you use for storing, selling, distributing or preparing food. Contact your local authority for the appropriate (and very straightforward) form. There is no charge.
Who has to register
Most types of food businesses must be registered including those run from home, mobile premises, stalls and burger vans. If in doubt, ask whether your business must be registered. This also applies to those using the same food premises such as village halls or conference centres. Ask the person responsible for these premises if they are registered if you are catering at these places. In short, if you use your own premises for catering as well as catering in another food premises, both must be registered. If the premises are used only occasionally such as a village hall, the law also allows some flexibility. But all premises still need to be registered.
If you run a food business from mobile or temporary premises, you need to know about the same hygiene issues as other food businesses. However, as space is limited, the legal requirements are slightly different and allow greater flexibility.
Moveable/temporary premises used for the occasional catering purpose including marquees, market stalls and mobile sales vehicles have different requirements to that of a permanent structure. You must make sure:
- premises and vending machines are kept in good repair and kept clean to avoid contaminating food and harbouring pests. They must also be well sited, designed and constructed;
- there are appropriate facilities to maintain adequate personal hygiene;
- surfaces are easily cleanable;
- there is provision for the cleaning of equipment and utensils, and food;
- there is adequate provision of hot and cold water;
- there is adequate storage and waste disposal;
- there are adequate facilities for monitoring suitable temperature and conditions for keeping food at the right temperature;
- food is placed where there is no risk of contamination.
Once you have registered with the local authority you need to notify them of the change of proprietor if the business changes or if there is a change of address at which moveable premises are kept. The new proprietor will have to complete an application form.
WORKING FROM OR AT HOME
This can be a great way to save money, but there are some special rules for those who use their home as a workplace.
- Check with your mortgage lender or landlord before you start your business as mortgage or tenancy agreements may prevent you from running a business from home.
- Check with your insurers to make sure you are adequately covered for running a business from home.
- If your business results in a marked increase in traffic or people calling in a residential area this may have an impact on the surrounding area and you will need to apply for planning permission.
- If your business disturbs your neighbours with extra noise or smell you will have to apply for planning permission from your local authority.
- Your local council may charge business rates for the part of your property you use for work but it depends on the circumstances of each case. (Check with your local branch of the Valuation Office Agency for advice by contacting them on 020 7506 1700 or www.voa.gov.uk)
- If you want to change the way premises are used, you may need to obtain planning permission from your local authority. Any significant building work must comply with building regulations.
RENTING OR BUYING DEDICATED CATERING PREMISES
If it is not appropriate or possible for you to base your business at home – you may not have enough facilities or simply want to keep home and work separate – you will probably consider renting or buying premises.
If this is the case, here are some tips:
- Get a solicitor who specialises in commercial property transactions for either renting or buying a property.
- Have a business plan that has been approved by a bank.
- Go through the Yellow Pages and local papers or buy a catering magazine such as Caterer and Hotelkeeper to see which estate agents to contact.
- Good agents will get to know you, the client, instead of introducing you to masses of properties that don’t suit your wishes. What kind of property are you seeking? Make sure you get this across when talking to an agent, but be prepared to be flexible when viewing properties as you may surprise yourself.
- First and foremost you must have an excellent understanding of your market. This comes first before entering into any contract despite the excitement of falling in love with a property. Do you fit into this area? Who will your customers be? Look at the marketing chapter for more advice on how to gauge your market and the possibilities that exist for expanding your business.
If you decide to rent:
- Measure the property yourself, as the area given by estate agents or landlord can sometimes be more, and the rent therefore could be lowered.
- Negotiate a lower rent if taking out a long lease.
- If the property needs repairs or major re-decoration, ask for a rent-free period or discount until these are carried out.
- Always get an agreement in writing for all dealings with landlords or estate agents especially for any major alterations you would like to make to the property.
- Check on planning permission with your local council if putting up new signage or changing use of a property.
Leases: a brief guide
If you do decide to rent premises, this useful information will help you.
The average leasehold lease is 25 years, although some other leases are 20 or 15 years. Other leases can be negotiated with the landlord. A freehold lease’s finance changes only with the cost of borrowing.
Landlords are looking for long-term investments and if the tenant has no track record, the landlord may ask for a rent deposit of a year in advance or a bank guarantee. However, the tenant may ask for a rent-free period if money is being spent on the property such as re-wiring, re-decorating or new plumbing. Ask a tax advisor about setting off a large rent deposit against taxes as the period of non-profit making needs to be taken into account.
If the lease is a full repairing and insuring one with five-year rent reviews, the rent only increases, never decreases. A full repairing and insuring lease means that you are liable for all repairs to the property as well as insuring it. A smart move would be to first employ a solicitor, have a survey and ensure, if the property needs some attention, to have a schedule of works drawn up by the owner before taking over the premises. As it is quite a complicated area, do consult a solicitor.
The amount of rent increase can be calculated on profits or a comparable method of calculation.
A break clause is advisable. This is a walk-away sum should the lease be broken. A sub-let clause should also be included.
The shorter the lease, the less security there is for the business and its borrowing power. A longer lease could be used as security against a loan as well as a psychological feeling of security.
From viewing to signing via legalities and licensing your property can vary from eight to 12 weeks depending on the complexities of the property and the availability of your finances. It can also be affected by your council’s efficiency. Change of use can take one month.
Buying a property
You may wish to buy a property for your business as that way you can alter the premises to suit you, which would not be possible if you rented.
(Alterations are, of course, subject to planning approval if the structure requires much alteration.) It is also easier to sell a business if you own the property and it is a good investment. Buying a business property follows the same principles as buying a house.
- Find an architect whose practice deals in the catering industry to visit the property with you to discuss any alterations you may want to make. Be guided by his or her expertise.
- Check on planning permission with the your local council in relation to change of use, signage, and access to property via new doors for example.
- Instruct a solicitor to act for you.
- Communication is vital between buyer and seller. Keep people up to speed.
- Discuss with environmental health officers basic requirements such as hand basins for staff, refrigeration, kitchen extractors, fire extinguishers etc.
RENTING OR BUYING AN ESTABLISHED CATERING COMPANY
Taking on an established catering company is a quicker entry into the business as it has a ready-made client base as well as equipment, staff and suppliers. But do look at businesses you visit with a fine toothcomb.
Here are some points to consider when looking at an established company.
- Are the owners experiencing catering fatigue or are there other reasons such as retirement/illness for the sale/change of lease?
- Is there area development which will adversely affect the area? Or, conversely, add to the customer potential?
- How old is the business and how many years has it been profitable?
- What is the profit margin for the past few years?
- What percentage of repeat business is there?
- Do the books look accurate? Do the assets outweigh the liabilities? Ask your solicitor’s or bank manager’s advice.
- Have all renovations been undertaken with the necessary approval?
SCRUTINISING THE PROPERTY
Get a surveyor to help you before you rent or buy, just as you would do for buying a house. Scrutinising a rented property too is vital as the lease could be a long one and, if you enter into a full repairing lease, it could cost you dearly if you don’t establish at the beginning of the negotiations any problems with the building.
Therefore, view properties very carefully. It will help you negotiate your price if you have a sound checklist and a list of items to discuss with builders for quotations.
Take into account the following:
- Are there cracks or any visible structural problems?
- Are the ceilings flaking? Any damp patches?
- Is the flooring, particularly in the kitchen areas, suitable and in good condition?
- Is there good drainage?
- Does the flooring slope; have holes; is it uneven; are there changes of floor level?
- Are kitchen surfaces and equipment surfaces in sound condition?
- Is there adequate lighting or does new lighting have to be installed?
- Do stairs have hand rails?
- Are windows in good order? Check for rotting wood.
- Is the root sound?
- Does the whole property need to be redecorated?
- Is there good ventilation?
- Is there an adequate supply of hot water and drinking water?
- Is appropriate fire safety installed?
- If equipment such as fridges and cookers are included in the deal, are they moveable to clean behind, in good working order, well maintained and clean?
Good ventilation provides a comfortable working environment, reduces humidity, removes contaminated greasy air, steam and cooking smells. It also prevents condensation which will ultimately mean less redecoration and maintenance.
Cost cutting – if you don’t put in the appropriate ventilation suitable to your business – can result in high temperatures and humidity with increased risk of food poisoning due to increased heat and condensation. Remember to keep ventilation maintained so it remains effective. External ducts require planning permission in most cases and need to be positioned carefully to avoid fallout with neighbours.
There are three main types of ventilation:
- Natural ventilation: only suitable for small scale operations, this system is seldom ideal as it relies on open windows and doors, is subject to the weather and is least effective in hot weather. Mesh screening is necessary to keep out flying insects.
- Extract only system: a simple, inexpensive technique which uses an extractor fan to draw out hot or stale air, cooking fumes and steam. Useful to ensure that cooking smells are prevented from spreading to other rooms.
- Combined extract/inlet system: the most efficient system with the fullest control, it balances the flow of air in and out of the area. The design is based on a combination of ducting and fan exhausting the hot, damp and sometimes greasy air from the area with controllable replacement fresh air.
Hygiene is of the utmost importance in your catering business. It is vital to have an adequate water supply, wash basins, sinks, washing-up equipment and good drainage so that you run a safe business. Your environmental health officer is only too happy to give (free) advice on these matters to safeguard the public.
Water supply and drainage
When renting or buying a property, make sure that these points are covered with the buyer/landlord and with your staff. Water is something we take for granted and it is vital that you get this right for a safe, hygienic business.
- Drinkable (also known as potable) water must be used to ensure food is not contaminated.
- Only drinkable water can be used to make ice cubes.
- Water from a storage tank or private water supply should be monitored on a regular basis.
- In new premises, drinking water installation should be disinfected. Your local authority or architect can advise you on what to do.
- Drainage facilities must be designed and constructed to avoid the risk of contamination of foodstuffs.
- All sink, wash basin and dishwasher pipes should discharge directly into the drainage system through a trapped gully to prevent foul odours.
- As this is a complex area with floor channels, deep seal gullies and sewers do contact your local authority for further information.
Sinks and washing equipment
You will need adequate facilities for food preparation, staff use, crockery, general cleaning and disinfecting of work tools and equipment. All these require a supply of hot and cold water, should be able to be cleaned easily and should be well sited. Below are some recommendations, but take advice from your environmental health officer, particularly if you have small premises with little space.
Position hand dryers carefully so that dirt and bacteria aren’t blown around food areas. As they are slow and inefficient and perhaps put people off frequent hand washing, disposable towels are your best bet.
Sinks for washing food must be separate from hand washing sinks; separate hand wash basins are recommended to be placed in each work and food service area including the bar and preferably at the entrance of the kitchen. Stainless steel wash basins are strongly recommended but glazed ceramic basins are acceptable. Domestic sinks are not acceptable. Wash basins with foot, knee, ‘automatic operated’ taps or mixer taps are deemed a good idea but are not necessary.
Commercial quality stainless steel sinks, one or more, are recommended for the main sinks with one or more deep sinks for pot washing. In large catering premises separate sinks are required for each of the following: vegetables, salads, meat and fish. A separate sink for mops, buckets etc should be located outside the food area.
A dishwashing machine with a fitted water softener (for certain hard water areas) is recommended for all but the smallest of food premises. A double sink with double stainless steel (never wooden) drainer is also recommended and may be used instead of a dishwasher but why be hard on yourself? Commercial dishwashers take very little time in comparison to domestic dishwashers to operate and are designed with a simple interior and simple controls.
It is important to be able to dispose of refuse safely while it is on your premises and before it is taken away so that is doesn’t attract vermin and flying insects which can lead to infection, contamination and food poisoning. Most of it is just basic, good common sense.
Don’t allow food waste and other refuse to accumulate in food rooms. Waste must be in closed, sound, easy-to-clean containers.
Free-standing or wall-mounted lidded holders for plastic bags should be provided or a foot operated plastic lidded bin lined by a plastic bag. Remove full bags and clean containers and surrounding area frequently.
Refuse storage and removal must be arranged and designed to be protected from pests (those pesky flying insects plus cats, dogs and foxes in particular) and mustn’t contaminate premises, drinking water or equipment. Either site bins externally with a roofed shield if space allows or in a non food area with plenty of ventilation.
Keep wheelie bins clean and clearly marked with the catering company’s name and street number if applicable.
Bulk collection of refuse can be arranged for larger businesses. Contact your local authority for what is on offer as the type of service offered varies as well as charges. Contact them too for disposal of white goods (fridges and freezers for example).
Keeping infestations of rodents, insects or other food pests out of your premises is a priority. They will be attracted to food sitting on counters, in open bins, bags of waste which have accumulated, dirty surfaces and on floors. It is forbidden to store food on floors – it must be kept on shelving.
Any infestation will lead to contamination of food and food surfaces, damage of food stocks and the building. To combat this, maintain high standards of cleanliness, good housekeeping and food storage.
Both country and town have vermin problems with cockroaches, mice, pharaoh ants (tiny brown ants) and rats, all of which can be dealt with by local authority or private contractor exterminators. The cleaner your premises (and that means behind fridges etc where vermin love to congregate), the fewer problems you’ll encounter.
Food preparation areas and storage areas
Floors, walls and ceilings in contact with food must be in a sound condition and easy to clean. They should be smooth, hard-wearing, washable and in a good state of repair.
Ceilings must be designed and constructed in a way that prevents condensation, build-up of dirt, moulds and shedding of particles (paint or building materials that could contaminate food, for example).
Windows and other openings (you may have a door leading from the kitchen to the outside) must be designed and built in a way that prevents dirt building up. You may also be asked to fit insect-proof screens by your local authority. Doors must also be easy to clean.
All equipment that comes into contact with food must be in good repair and be easily cleanable.