Upstairs F&B – It can work in Hong Kong

By HK Lawyer AJ Halkes Barrister-at-Law

Upstairs Hong Kong fnb

For many people operating food and beverage premises upstairs in Hong Kong has been a no-go; and the focus has always been modern buildings if that was going to happen. However, with prices having fallen dramatically for all upstairs premises and the availability of walk-up, low-rise first floor units let alone commercial modern spaces; it’s worth considering.

Anybody who would like to open that unique hideaway, a small Tokyo style eatery or perhaps even a quiet drinking establishment should keep their eyes wide open. There are quite a few hurdles, but they’re not always as difficult to clear as people think and the time may be just right.

Floor loading: This is a major consideration and whilst everybody has believed that many old buildings could never work for F&B upstairs; some properties were over-built, rendering the floor loadings (after proper technical assessment) adequate for food and beverage use.

Shared access: Often walkups and combined residential/commercial buildings have shared access with residential parts; this has proven challenging for the Liquor Licensing Board at times, but it’s not always a total barrier to a premises operating food and beverage business that is fully licensed.

Zoning and area restrictions:  Detailed checking is required however in many areas it is not the case that first floor premises are unable to be used for food and beverage or other commercial purposes.

Restraint of trade clauses in government leases: In the past in Hong Kong, this was a very difficult area. Certain food and beverage activity, specifically liquor trade, was viewed as being in breach of the underlying property leases from the government that related to the land. The process has now been streamlined and these are no longer in issue in most cases, if the correct steps are taken.

Don’t overlook the possibility of opening a food and beverage business at the first floor, an upper floor or even in a walk-up; but beware of restrictions on capacity that may be imposed and the matters above (which are not exhaustive). But right now, for any determined Hong Kong operator, or start-up entrepreneur, this may be the perfect time to grab that inexpensive unit you’ve looked at and walked past for many years and open a small or big F&B business in it.

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