How to open a restaurant or bar in The Netherlands?

One of the most flourishing and successful sectors in the Netherlands is the hospitality and tourism sector. On a yearly basis, approximately 45 million people go on vacation in the country. Around 20 million of these people are foreigners, making this a booming sector that is always vibrant. There are more than 4,000 hotels in the Netherlands, offering almost 150,000 rooms per night. The restaurant sector is also very lively: the country houses more than 17,000 different restaurants.

So even though there is much competition, there is also a lot of space for new ideas and innovative (interdisciplinary) possibilities. Hospitality in general is a very profitable sector to operate in, and thus, many foreign investors create horeca companies that often offer different services under the umbrella of one main company or venture. We will provide you with more information about the horeca sector in this article, as well as details about the registration and establishment procedure for any company that falls under this category.

What is the Dutch ‘horeca’ sector?

The industry that is related to tourism and the food and beverage industry is named the horeca sector in the Netherlands. The word horeca is actually an abbreviation for hotel, restaurant and café. If you have a solid business plan and know this sector a bit, you can earn a significant profit from a business in a well-known Dutch city. All horeca companies are governed by the same laws and regulations, that regulate the entire food and accommodation industry in the Netherlands. If you would like to know more about the general regulations, and, whether you can adhere to these, you can always contact Intercompany Solutions directly for a personal consultation.

Why would you choose to open a horeca company in the Netherlands?

One of the first reasons we can name to start a horeca company is the popularity of the entire market. The tourism, food and beverage industry has always been popular, since it allows people to unwind from their daily responsibilities. During the past years, this specific sector has also seen a rise in general profits, since the number of Dutch citizens that chooses to go out to eat has grown exponentially. Due to the down-to-earth Dutch nature, eating out used to be more of a luxury for most families in the past. Since a few decades, however, it’s become much more of a regular activity for citizens in the Netherlands.

It’s a sector that also changes fast, due to the continually varying preferences of the customer. If you want to invest in something sustainable, which is still open to innovation and change, the horeca sector is just the thing for you. The Dutch restaurant industry especially has been expanding during the last five years. There are two general factors contributing to this trend, according to Euromonitor. The first one is the overall steady economic stability and growth in the Netherlands, which has been at a steady pace for decades. The second reason is the previously mentioned higher customer confidence in the horeca sector, which is evident due to the higher amount of customers eating out on a daily basis.

If you want to start a restaurant or another type of horeca business in the Netherlands, you will have to keep in mind that you need to respect the Dutch legislation regarding horeca companies. You will need to adhere to a variety of rules that are aimed at consumer safety mostly. For example, there are multiple necessary licenses for some specific undertakings. If you want to know whether your company can comply to these rules, you can always ask Intercompany Solutions for advice. Below, we will outline the necessary permits that you might need as a Dutch horeca business owner.

The licenses you might need to operate a Dutch horeca company

Due to the sensitive nature of the sector, there are multiple licenses that need to be acquired before someone starts a horeca company. This is aimed mainly at consumer safety, such as guidelines regarding the way food is prepared, safety guidelines as well as hygiene regulations concerning your company. The licensing requirements when opening a horeca company in the Netherlands are quite extensive, as such establishments are created to offer a wide array of services and sell various types of products. Amongst these licenses, the most important ones are:

  • The general food and drink license, which is issued by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority
  • If you want to serve alcoholic beverages, a beverage license is also mandatory
  • If you want to start a business with a terrace adjacent to it, you will need a terrace permit for serving food and beverages
  • For optimum consumer satisfaction, you can choose to play music on your premises as well. This requires a music performance license
  • If you want to install a few gaming machines, you will also need a separate license to be able to do this
  • If you would like to sell tobacco in your establishment, this will require a separate tobacco license as well

Next to the required permits, all horeca company owners need to comply to all existing employment regulations concerning this type of Dutch business. These regulations can vary, for example in the case of food handlers. If you would like to receive in-depth information about all the necessary regulations to adhere to, Intercompany Solutions can inform you about all legal obligations that go along with establishing a Dutch horeca company.

Opening a horeca company in Holland: general information about the food and beverage industry

Usually, every country in the world has its own unique cuisine. A very traditional Dutch meal generally consists of vegetables and potatoes with meat or fish, although the vegetarian and vegan market is greatly expanding in the Netherlands since the past decade. Next to that, due to a large amount of immigrants and expats and the former Dutch colonies, the Dutch cuisine has been influenced immensely by foreign food and dishes. If you choose to eat out in Holland, you will be able to eat anything from anywhere around the world because of this little fact. Which is exactly what makes the Dutch horeca sector so versatile.

The same applies to other businesses such as hotels, bed & breakfasts, pubs and bars. As such, the horeca industry is very broad and offers plenty of possibilities for creative entrepreneurs who feel passionate about the food and beverage sector. Opening a small hotel or hostel can also prove to be profitable, since the Netherlands is a very popular destination for all sorts of travelers: from families to backpackers and plenty of people taking short business trips. This enables you to choose almost any kind of establishment, provided you do solid research concerning your target audience. If you are interested in opening a fusion restaurant, then Holland is also a fantastic place to do business due to the extensive amount of foreign influences in the country. All in all, there are many possibilities you can explore. We strongly advise getting assistance from a third party, in order to create a good business plan, and know your strengths and possible pitfalls before you start.

What types of establishments can you set up?

There is a vast array of possible horeca companies you can choose to establish in the Netherlands. All these companies need to comply to the corresponding regulations, and consist of businesses that are categorized into a few subgroups. These subgroups are necessary in order to foresee the strain the company might have on its direct environment. For example, it would be rather difficult to open a nightclub in a residential area with many children, as this would cause a massive nuisance for the people living in that neighborhood. You can find all the categories and establishments below.

Category I: light horeca companies

These consist of businesses that, in principle, only need to be open during the day and possibly in the (early) evening. These businesses are mainly focused on the provision of food and meals, and therefore cause only limited nuisance to local residents. Within this category, the following subcategories are distinguished:

Ia - Hospitality related to the retail sector, such as:

  • Automatic food supply
  • Sandwich shop
  • Cafeteria
  • Coffee bar
  • Lunchroom
  • Ice cream parlor
  • Dutch ‘snackbar’
  • Tearoom
  • Caterer

Ib - Other light catering, such as:

  • Bistro
  • Restaurant
  • Hotel

Ic - Companies that attract relatively large traffic, such as:

  • Companies referred to under 1a and 1b with a business surface of more than 250 m2
  • Takeaway and delivery restaurants

Category II: medium horeca companies

The next level are businesses that are normally also open at night and can therefore cause significant nuisance to local residents, such as:

  • Bar
  • Beer house
  • Billiard Center
  • Café
  • Tasting room
  • Room rental (without a regular use for parties and music/dance events)

Category III: heavy horeca companies

These are all companies that are also open at night, in order to function properly. These companies generally also attract numerous visitors and can therefore cause major nuisance to the direct environment, such as:

  • Discotheque
  • Nightclub
  • Party center (regular use for parties and music/dance events)

Sometimes there is an overlap in business type, such as hotels that own a bar, or have a restaurant on the premises. In such cases, you will need to research well which permits you will need. Our company formation experts can assist you in registering and opening any of the food establishments that are mentioned above.

Requirements to start a food and beverage establishment in the Netherlands

If you want to open a restaurant, hotel or bar, you will need to obtain certain approvals from the Dutch government and several other authorities. This includes all the necessary permits, but also factors such as adherence to the hygiene code as described by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority. All regulations and laws are based on applicable EU legislation, such as regulations regarding the transportation, preparation and processing of food and beverages. Next to that, any horeca company in the Netherlands dealing with food and beverages needs to observe and comply to the statutory regulations of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points system (HACCP). This system provides plenty of invaluable information, such as the way you should handle and produce food in order for it to be safely consumed.

The steps involved to establish a Dutch horeca company

The steps for setting up a Dutch horeca company are the same as for any other type of business, but there are some extra actions to be carried out. This entails, for example, obtaining all the necessary permits. The first step is always the business plan, which should contain all the information that you need to establish a company. Once you have a broad outline regarding your preferences, you will need to register your company at the Dutch Chamber of Commerce. Once this is done, you will also automatically receive a VAT number from the Dutch Tax Authorities.

But this is definitely not all you need to do! As explained earlier, at this point it’s important to obtain all the necessary licenses and permits. If you are a foreign investor, you will also need a residence permit for your company, or the company you will be investing in. Once you have all the licenses and permits, then you can proceed with the incorporation process. After receiving your registration numbers and information, you can think further about the location of your new business. If you intend to build an entirely new establishment, you will have to obtain a construction permit. Most entrepreneurs prefer to buy or rent an already existing building, which can be remodeled and renovated to your exact preferences.

Once you have all credentials and a location, you will need to inform yourself about all the hygiene and food safety regulations that you need to comply with. Once you decide to hire staff, you will also have to prepare an evaluation plan and a risk inventory. Intercompany Solutions can assist you during all steps of this process, so you can rest assured that all regulations and responsibilities are met.

Special design requirements for food and beverage establishments

One factor to keep in mind when you choose an appropriate building for your horeca establishment, is the layout of your future company. This is neatly written down in the Dutch Establishments Layout Requirements Act, which needs to be adhered to. This specific law prescribes how the spaces in the building need to be designed, especially the spaces where you cook, store, process and serve food. Some of the most important requirements are as follows:

  • At all times, the kitchen needs to be separate from the space where you serve food and beverages
  • The building needs to contain at least two separate toilets with adequate facilities to wash your hands
  • You need to install a ventilation system, which definitely needs to be connected to the kitchen
  • The entire building needs to be connected to a modern electrical system
  • The building also needs to be connected to a clean and proper water supply line
  • You need to have at least one telephone in the building

Another important regulation concerns noise levels. These need to be respected at all times, otherwise you can expect the Dutch police on your doorstep. Please keep in mind that all these laws and regulations are very tightly controlled and often inspected. If an inspector comes, and you don’t comply with one or more law or regulation, your company can be shut down almost immediately, until you resolve the problem. This could cost you a significant amount of profit, so make sure you comply to all laws at all times.

Staffing requirements for horeca companies in the Netherlands

If you open a horeca company, you will inevitably need to hire staff to take care of all daily business activities. The general regulations regarding hiring staff in the Netherlands apply, with some possible additions. For example, if you want to open an establishment that serves alcoholic beverages, you will need to make sure that your entire staff is at least 16 years of age. Next to that, your staff also needs to complete some mandatory courses about the sector, in order for them to be able to prove that they are informed about all food safety and hygiene regulations imposed in the Netherlands. This can be proven by certain declarations of personal hygiene, as well as their professional competence. The (general) manager of the company must be at least 21 years of age. If the business is an association, or in the case that there are multiple managers, then all business partners need to adhere to this requirement.

Are there any other factors to consider?

If you are a foreigner who is interested in starting a Dutch horeca business, or an investor within this sector, then the above-mentioned information provides you with a broad outline regarding all the laws and regulations that govern this sector. Next to all the necessary licenses and permits, there are other factors to consider. For example, the fire safety of the building is an important matter to tend to. The local police department in the region you establish your company will inspect your premises before you open, in order to make sure that you comply to all important rules. You will then be issued a fire safety certificate, if you comply to all necessary laws.

Another important subject is the existence of environmental regulations regarding the disposal of waste. As such, materials such as cooking oil and other substances that can impact the environment negatively, need to be collected in special recipients and deposited in these, before you dispose of the waste. You also need to register any restaurant with the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, this is mandatory for all establishments in the Netherlands that sell food and beverages. This authority will approve your company’s hygiene plan.

Intercompany Solutions can register your horeca company in just a few business days

As you can see, establishing a horeca company in the Netherlands requires a lot of administrative actions and paperwork. As a (starting) foreign entrepreneur, we understand that this can seem like an impossible task to carry out by yourself. Intercompany Solutions has many years of experience within the field of Dutch company registration. We can take care of the entire process for you, enabling you to focus solely on your business endeavor. Want to know more about our services? Feel free to contact us for more information, or if you would like to receive a personal quote.


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