How can I open up my own bar, brewery or microbrewery in China?
Photo by Laia
Opening up your own bar on the Chinese mainland requires ploughing through a lot of bureaucratic red tape. Then again, so do most things on the Chinese mainland, and won’t it be worth it when you’re chatting with your regulars?
Opening a bar
What kind of bar will you open?
Depending on which region of China you are in, the authorities may have defined two types of bars. The first is the on universally accepted across China: a business that sells snacks, meals and alcohol (though such businesses should only sell Chinese alcohol and/or foreign alcohol bought from licensed importers – if they import their own they must set themselves up as an importing business).
These bars are classified as being part of the catering service industry and prospective bar-owners must go through the same registration process as a restaurant, while also getting a License for Alcoholic Drink Retail (see step 8 in the guide below for how to acquire this document). This is probably the route that you will need to take, as it is the only definition in use in much of China.
However, if you bring entertainment into the mix then things get a little bit more tricky. Laws issued by the Ministry of Culture define an entertainment venue as somewhere that is open to the public, seeks profits, and is used for the purpose of allowing customers to sing, dance and play games. In 2013, this was further clarified to explain that “singing” is placed within a karaoke context; that “dancing” refers to businesses supplying music or space for the purpose of dancing (ie. not just having background music in a bar) and that “game playing” refers to the provision of “game playing devices”.
All of this means that unless you are opening up a dedicated KTV or karaoke joint, nightclub, or gaming arcade, there shouldn’t be any reason for you to apply for an entertainment license. If your bar exists to sell drinks and food, but also plays music, or occasionally has people singing for fun, or playing dice games at tables, you should be fine just following the restaurant registration process. As the Ministry of Culture explained earlier, in 2006, bars are not entertainment venues if any singing and dancing that occurs in them is a supporting service rather than the main focus.
Nevertheless that same year the Changsha government went its own way and required bars to establish themselves as entertainment venues before they could open (this Xinhua article, in Chinese, addresses the contradiction).
Entertainment venues require a different series of permits and permissions to restaurants and regular bars (although a Catering Services License is still required during the set-up process for this kind of bar). Additionally, foreign investment in an entertainment venue must take the form of a Joint Venture with a Chinese partner or Chinese company, rather than a Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise. For detailed definitions of these terms, see this article.
So before you start setting up your business, you should call your local Administration Bureau of Industry and Commerce and find out which laws apply to your business in your specific location. If they say it’s okay to just follow the same registration laws as a restaurant then you can do that. However, if they need you to establish an entertainment venue then you’ll need to follow the guide below.
Step-by-step guide for setting up entertainment bars
In order to set up an “entertainment venue” bar, you will need to follow some of the steps mentioned in the guide to setting up a restaurant; you will also find addresses for the relevant places there. These will make up steps 1-5 of the guide below. It is suggested you perform steps 2-5 at the same time, as they can be applied for independently of one another, and this will save you considerable time
1. Obtain the Notice of Approval of Enterprise’s Appellation.
2. Get a Catering Services License.
3. Obtain approval from the local Fire Administration.
4. Have an Environmental Assessment made.
5. Obtain Health Certificates for your staff.
6. Get Approval to Set up a Joint Venture Entertainment Venue from the Bureau of Culture (for Bureau of Culture addresses for the four first-tier cities, see the bottom of the article). Foreigners must obtain one of these before they are allowed to start operating their business in the entertainment industry. Getting the approval involves checking whether the potential owner has committed any crimes (such as gambling, drug use, money laundering, rape or pimping) that would, under Chinese law, make them unsuitable to run an entertainment venue. More detailed information can be found here (Chinese only). You can actually do this step as soon as you have the Notice of Approval of Enterprise’s Appellation and the approval from the Environmental Protection Bureau, as both of these approvals are required by the Bureau of Culture.
Time to process: 20 working days.
8. Acquire the License of Alcoholic Drink Retail from the Alcoholic Drink Circulation Administration Office assuming you’re planning to sell alcohol (and what kind of a bar doesn’t?). this should be done within 60 days of the business being registered. See bottom of article for addresses of the first-tier offices. More detailed information can be found here. Note that if the bar is in Shenzhen the bar does not need to apply for the license, but it must ensure that all alcoholic drinks are purchased from a company possessing a License to Sell Alcoholic Drinks Wholesale. Further information on this matter can be found here.
Time to process: 10 working days.
Opening a brewery
Mass-production bottled/canned beer breweries
Regulations created by the State Council of China and the National Development and Reform Commission of China state that breweries bottling or canning their product for sale cannot be established unless approval is given by the commission. Furthermore, limits are placed on the numbers of alcohol production lines that produce less than 18,000 bottles or cans per hour, and lines that produce less than 12,000 bottles per hour will not receive approval at all.
Additionally, bottled or canned beer cannot contain yeast or any other microbiological agents, meaning that the flavorful “live” ales that are enjoyed in countries such as Britain, the US and Belgium cannot be bottled in the mainland – although they can be imported from abroad.
Detailed regulation can be found on this page.
Microbreweries and kegged ales
However, due to a loophole in Chinese law, microbreweries are allowed in the Chinese mainland, and operate under the umbrella of the License of Food Manufacturing. This can be obtained from the Food and Drug Administration after the obtaining the Notice of Enterprise’s Appellation or after successfully registering the business. For addresses of the first-tier Administration addresses, see the bottom of this article. The food production plant, processes and personnel will be subjected to strict scrutiny, as will quality control.
Even after the license is granted, the alcoholic drinks should not be bottled for sale; however, they can be sold in kegs within the restaurant or bar. The law also allows for brewing and production to be performed outside the bar/restaurant, but it must be sold within the creator’s own restaurants or bars. Selling beers to be sold in other establishments is illegal, although this is practiced by some microbreweries in China. Beijing’s Slow Boat brewery gets around the bottling/sale rules by having its beers brewed and bottled in the USA and importing them into China to be sold, while only selling China-brewed beers from its own kegs.
For detailed regulation, please see here.
Time to process: After presenting the application and all required materials, the authority will examine the site within 20 working days; it will take another five working days for them to make a decision and notify the enterprise. If the site is approved, the manufacturing workshop should produce trial products for examination, which take another 15 working days to confirm. If the product examination is approved, the enterprise will receive the license within another 15 working days.
Addresses of offices in first-tier cities
Alcoholic Drink Circulation Administration Offices
Beijing Alcoholic Drink Circulation Administration Office. Please check district locations of the offices here.
Shanghai Alcoholic Drink Administration Bureau
Address: No.1, 691 Nong, Yan’an Xi Lu, Changning district, Shanghai 上海市长宁区延安西路691弄1号上海市酒类专卖管理局
Contact: 021-62259709, www.scofcom.gov.cn/zsbm/223147.htm
Working hours: Mon-Fri, 9 am-midday, 1 pm-6 pm
Bureaus of Culture
Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture, Administrative Hall, 30 Shangyuancun, Haidian district, Beijing 北京市海淀区上园村30号行政许可受理大厅
Contact: 010-8221-0798, www.bjwh.gov.cn
Working hours: Mon-Fri, 9 am-11:30 am, 2 pm-5:30 pm
Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture, Radio, Film & TV, Service Hall of Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture, Radio, Film & TV, 709 Julu Lu, Jing’an district, Shanghai 上海市黄浦区四川中路276号上海市文化广播影视管理局行政事务受理中心
Contact: 021-5403-5290, http://wgj.sh.gov.cn
Working hours: Mon-Fri, 8:30 am-11:30 am, 1:30pm-5:30 pm
Guangzhou Bureau of Culture, Radio, Film & TV, Service Hall of Guangzhou Bureau of Culture, Radio, Film & TV, Room 521, F/5, Guangzhou administration service center, 61 Huali Lu, Zhujiang Xincheng, Tianhe district, Guangzhou 广州市天河区珠江新城华利路61号广州市政务服务中心五楼521广州市文新局行政许可事项统一受理窗口
Contact: 020-38920582, www.xwgd.gov.cn/xwgd
Working hours: Mon-Thu, 9 am-midday, 1 pm-5 pm, Fri, 9 am-12 am, 1 pm-3 pm
Shenzhen Municipal Bureau of Culture, Sport and Tourism, Administration Service Hall, Civil Center, Fuzhong Sanlu, Futian district, Shenzhen 深圳福田区福中三路市民中心行政服务大厅
Contact: 0755-82-2253, www.szwtl.gov.cn
Working hours: Mon-Fri, 9 am-midday, 2 pm-6 pm
Please go to district Bureau of Economy and Trade to apply for the license.