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Small business start-up - opening a coffee shop

By Sarah Naylor

Published In: Business Services

Opening a coffee shop is an exciting venture, filled with opportunities to create a community hub, serve great beverages, and build a successful business. However, navigating the legal landscape is crucial to ensure your business operates smoothly and compliantly. At Switalskis, we're here to provide straightforward advice on the key legal aspects you need to consider.

Photo of young woman working in coffee shop

Business structure and registration

Choosing your business structure - Decide whether you will operate as a sole trader, partnership, or limited company. Each structure has different implications for liability, taxes, and administrative responsibilities.

  • Sole trader: Simple to set up and run, but you are personally liable for debts as everything is in your personal name
  • Partnership: Similar to a sole trader but shared between two or more partners. Each partner is personally liable and a formal partnership agreement is recommended
  • Limited company: this is more complex to set up but offers limited liability protection for individual owners, separating personal assets from business debts and liabilities

 Registering your business - Register with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for tax purposes. If you are setting up a limited company, you must also register with Companies House.

Location and premises

Commercial lease - Securing a suitable location is critical. You will more than likely be taking on a small commercial building or unit and so a commercial lease will be needed. You should instruct a solicitor to assist you with advising on and negotiating your commercial lease. Some of the key considerations will be:

  • Lease term: how long the lease is for and if this meets your needs
  • Rent reviews: Understand how often rent will be reviewed and how increases will be calculated
  • Repair obligations: Clarify who is responsible for repairs and maintenance
  • Break clauses: These allow you to exit the lease early under certain conditions

Planning permission - Ensure the premises have the appropriate planning permission for a coffee shop. Check with your local council for any specific requirements or restrictions.

Health and safety regulations

Food safety - Register your food business with your local authority at least 28 days before opening. Comply with food hygiene regulations, which include:

  • Regularly training staff in food safety
  • Implementing a food safety management system

Health and safety - Conduct a risk assessment to identify potential hazards and implement measures to mitigate them. This includes fire safety, employee safety, and ensuring public safety within the premises.

Licenses and permits

Food business registration - As mentioned, register with your local authority.

  • Alcohol license: If you plan to serve alcohol, you'll need a premises license and a designated premises supervisor who holds a personal license
  • Music license: For playing recorded music, you need a license from the Performing Right Society and the Phonographic Performance Limited
  • Outdoor seating: If you want to offer outdoor seating, you may need a pavement license from your local council

Employment law

Hiring staff - Understand your obligations as an employer, including:

  • Providing a written contract of employment
  • Complying with minimum wage laws
  • Ensuring health and safety in the workplace
  • Managing working hours and providing appropriate breaks

Training - Train staff in food hygiene, health and safety, and any specific requirements for their roles.

Supplier contracts

A well-drafted supplier contract is a cornerstone of a successful business. In this type of business you will likely need a number of different suppliers, so the contract arrangements are crucial. The contracts will provide:

  • Clarity and consistency: clear terms of supply, pricing, delivery and quality
  • Legal protection: defined liabilities and responsibilities protecting you from legal issues
  • Business stability: establish long-term relationships, securing consistent quality and availability of your essential products
  • Financial stability: prices are clear and fixed, with increases being planned and consulted on
  • Risk management: sets out procedures for resolving issues with defective goods or delays, and will give termination options if you need to exit the agreement

Intellectual property

Brand protection - Register your café’s name, logo, and any unique branding elements as trademarks to protect your intellectual property.

Copyright - Ensure that any original content, such as menus, artwork, and promotional materials, is copyrighted.


There are some essential insurance policies you will need on starting a business:

  • Public liability insurance: Covers claims from customers or third parties for injury or damage
  • Employers’ liability insurance: Legally required if you have staff, covering claims from employees for injury or illness
  • Contents insurance: Protects your equipment and furnishings
  • Business interruption insurance: Covers loss of income if your business is unable to operate due to an insured event

Final thoughts

Opening a coffee shop involves various legal considerations, but with the right guidance, you can navigate these with confidence. At Switalskis, we’re here to assist you every step of the way, from business formation to ongoing compliance. Contact us today to ensure your coffee shop is legally sound and set up for success.

To discuss starting up any business contact Sarah Naylor at or call 01302 320621 .



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Sarah has over 18 years’ experience in the legal sector. She is a Director and Solicitor as well as the Head of our Commercial and Disputes team

Director and Solicitor

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