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Mobile Food Vendors - New Business Guide

A municipal business licence is required for businesses that offer mobile food services.

Examples of business activities which do require municipal licensing:

  • Bicycle food vendors
  • Catering trucks
  • Food trailers
  • Food trucks
  • Pushcarts
  • Hot dog carts
  • Ice cream trucks
  • Grocery delivery
  • Fresh produce vendors

Note: All businesses operating in Calgary are required to register their business, obtain a business identification number (BID) or Business ID, and obtain land use approval for the business location even if it does not require a licence. Certain businesses that do not need a municipal licence may still require licensing, permits or inspections from other regulatory bodies.

Step 1: Where can I operate my business?

Before you purchase or sign a lease for your business location, it is important to know if The City will allow you to operate there. Each space in a building has its own specified, approved use, and the use of that space cannot be changed without an approval and/or permit. A business can investigate its land use approval by contacting the Planning Services Centre. A planning services technician will take into consideration the land use district, proposed business activities and historical approvals for that address.

Land use approval may be obtained a number of ways:

Development permit

A development permit for a change of use is required if a business is moving into a space or operates in a different way than the last business that occupied that space. This is also required if a proposed business is intensifying or expanding operations from the previous approval (e.g. a child care service is taking more children or a restaurant is expanding a public area).

Building permit

A building permit may be required for a new business or a business changing ownership, even if there is no construction planned. Upgrades to the space may be necessary for compliance with the Alberta Building Code and applicable health and safety standards. If you have obtained occupancy on a commercial building permit, contact our Planning Services Centre to ensure the land use approval process for your business licence is completed.

Tenancy change

Tenancy change applications are typically required for businesses that are changing ownership. If no construction is occurring and the use is not intensifying or changing, land use approval may be completed through a tenancy change. A building permit may be required if upgrades are necessary to bring the space into compliance with the Alberta Building Code.

For more information on land use approvals for Commercial-based businesses, please visit commercial-based business.

Home occupation permit

A home occupation is a land use approval for a home-based business. Businesses operating from residential locations have special requirements and restrictions.

For more information on land use approvals for Home-based businesses, please visit home-based businesses.

Based out of town

A non-resident business operates within Calgary, but does not have a commercial or residential location within the city limits. These businesses do not require land use approval from The City, but are subject to review by a Police Information Check Unit where applicable.

Note: there are certain types of businesses that cannot operate as a non-resident business and must be located within Calgary's city limits. If you are unsure if this applies to your business, contact the Planning Services Centre.

Step 2: Before you apply

Prior to applying for a business licence with The City, please have this information:

Business trade name: Your business operating name, separate from the business ownership. To register a trade name, you must visit a provincial registry office, however, it is not a requirement to apply for a municipal licence.

Business location: You are required to provide the address where the business will operate. If the business will be based from a commercial location, you must provide the total leased square footage at time of application, or, if you are a sub-tenant, name the business you will be sharing space with. If the business will be home-based, you must provide the total square footage of the home and the total square footage of the space you will be using for the business. If your business is based out of town but you are operating business activities within the city, it would require a business licence - a non-resident fee surcharge is added to the base licensing fees.

Business ownership: You must determine how your business will be owned prior to registering with The City. The three options are: sole proprietorship, partnership and corporation. Please visit Business 101 for more information on these ownership types.

Businesses which require a police background check must provide personal information for the sole proprietor, partners or directors of the corporation who own the business, including full name (first, middle, last), legal name changes, gender, date of birth, residential address, phone number and email address.

Understanding your business activities: It is important to understand exactly how your business will operate so The City can determine the type of license(s) and approvals you require.

Business contact information: Your business phone number, email and mailing addresses are required.

Key licensing points

Business ownership changes

A business licence is not transferable from one person to another or from one person's business premises to another.

Multiple premises

A business operating from more than one location requires a separate business licence for each premises.

Licence type combinations

To ensure the proper approvals are generated for a business, multiple licence types may be attached to a single business licence. For example, a cabinet maker would require a  manufacturer licence type; if the business is also installing the cabinets, a contractor licence type is required. Both licence types will appear on the same business licence document and only one renewal will be required.

Charitable organization

All charitable organizations must be associated with another licenced business activity. Approval must be granted by the province before applying for a municipal licence.

Businesses not eligible for a charity status:

  • Alcohol beverage sales
  • Tobacco retailer

Fundraising

All fundraising activity is governed by the Charitable Fundraising Act. Charitable organizations that are only fundraising should contact Alberta Municipal Affairs, Housing and Consumer Affairs Division at 1-780-427-8044 or 1-877-427-4088.

Eligibility

All applicants for this licence type should first consult with the province about eligibility for this designation and register their busines, prior to applying for a municipal business licence. Contact Service Alberta at 1-780-427-4088 (or toll free from within Alberta at 1-877-427-4088) for more information.

Step 3: Apply for your business licence

Business licences can be set up online through our business registration system, in person at the 3rd floor of the Municipal building or by contacting our Planning Services Centre.

All fees are non-refundable and must be paid at the time of application for a business licence. Business licence fees are adjusted annually and vary depending on licence type and location. For business licence fees, see Business Licence Fee Schedule or call 403-268-5311.

Step 4: Complete required approvals

Required approvals chart

After applying for a business licence, outstanding approvals must be completed before the business licence is issued.

A business licence will often have multiple licence types associated with it. Below is a chart of the related licence types that fall under this business activity. If your business requires multiple licence types, approval processes are only generated once per licence. For example, only one fire inspection is required even if multiple licence types require that inspection.

Land use approval

All businesses in Calgary require land use approval. Each space in a building has its own specified, approved use that cannot be changed without an approval, permit or both. Contact our Planning Services Centre to investigate land use approval for your business.

Calgary Police Services approval

This licence type requires recommendation by the Police Information Check Unit. You are required to provide your full name, address, birth date and proof of identification (government-issued photo ID and one other form of ID). You must show ID at the Planning Services Centre. This approval generally takes about two weeks to complete.

When a business licence requiring a police check is applied for, this approval is automatically initiated and is completed by the Calgary Police Service internally. A police check from the past or from another police agency is not valid.

Fire Prevention Bureau approval

Businesses that operate from commercial premises require an inspection from the Fire Prevention Bureau, before the licence can be issued. You will need your Business Identification (BID) number when you call to book the inspection. You must contact the Fire Prevention Bureau at least five business days prior to your open date to arrange for the inspection. The Fire Prevention Bureau will notify the Licence Division with the results of the inspection.

This inspection must be completed by a Fire Prevention Bureau inspector. A business licence cannot be issued on the basis of an inspection completed by the firefighting division.

Contact 311 to book your inspection. See the Fire Department Business Licence Checklist for inspection requirements.

Alberta Health Services approval

Businesses involved in the sale, preparation, manufacturing or storage of food products must have the location inspected by Alberta Health Services (AHS). The results of the inspection will be provided to the Licence Division, or you can email your inspection to licencedivisionteam@calgary.ca. Contact AHS at 403-943-2296 for your health inspection.

If you have contacted AHS and they have advised you that your business does not require a health inspection, record the name and phone number of the individual you spoke with and provide it to our Planning Services Centre.

Provincial Licensing approval

Certain business activities require provincial licensing. Contact Service Alberta at 1-780-427-4088 (or within Alberta at 1-877-427-4088) for details on obtaining provincial licensing if you are a prepaid contractor or a direct seller.

A prepaid contracting business:

  • Solicits, negotiates or concludes prepaid contracts in person at any place other than the sellers’ place of business, and
  • Accepts money before all of the work is done or the services are provided.

A direct seller:

  • Solicits, negotiates, or concludes sales contracts in person, at any place other than the seller’s place of business.

You can present your provincial licence in person at the Planning Services Centre, fax it directly to the Business Licence Division at 403-537-3034 or email it to licencedivisionteam@calgary.ca.

Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council (AMVIC)

Certain motor vehicle business activities require provincial licensing. You are required to contact the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council (AMVIC) at 1-877-979-8100 for details on obtaining your provincial licence. AMVIC requires land use approval before issuing an AMVIC licence. Once you’ve obtained your AMVIC licence, you can present it in person at the Planning Services Centre, fax it directly to 403-537-3034 or email it to licencedivisionteam@calgary.ca.

Photo identification card

In addition to the paper copy of your business licence, a photo identification card is required for your business. This can only be obtained in person at the Planning Services Centre.

Building Regulations heating ventailation air conditioning inspection (HVAC)

Based on the business activities, a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) inspection may be required to ensure it meets code requirements. This may require you to install a ventilation system. 

To book your inspection, call 403-268-2738, select option 2 and quote your business name or Business Identification (BID) number.

Step 5: Receive your business licence

Upon completion of all outstanding approvals, a business licence will be issued. It will be sent in the mail to the applicant or, if requested, can be held at our permit pick-up counter. For commercial businesses, the physical copy of your business licence should be posted in plain sight of the public.

Step 6: Annual renewal

Business licences expire one year from the issuance date. Forty-five days before the licence expires, a notice is mailed out advising the licensee of the expiry date. Any outstanding fines must be paid prior to renewal.

If you are intending to make any changes to your business after you’ve received your licence, please visit changes to your business for more information.

Rules and regulations

Caterers

A catering business can only provide alcohol with meals served in conjunction with catered events for private social functions (e.g. a wedding). A catering business can store alcohol at the business premises if it is not sold or consumption on or away from, or at the premises. In this situation, no alcohol beverage sales or liquor store licence is required.

If a catering business promotes or organizes a public event and sells tickets to the general public, it may require alcohol beverage sales, food service - premises, and entertainment establishment licence types.

Food truck versus food service – no premises

The key to determining which licence type is applicable is the location of the truck. Mobile food vendors operating from city streets are licensed as food trucks (full service food vehicles), whereas those operating on private property are licensed as food service – no premises.

There are other considerations when determining how a mobile food business is licensed. Food trucks must adhere to maximum dimensions, contain a full kitchen and prepare food to be sold directly to the public. Food service – no premises businesses do not require a self-contained kitchen and often sell pre-packaged food; these businesses are not limited to the size and vehicle requirements of food trucks. Pushcarts that operate outside of the downtown core are also licensed under the food service – no premises licence type.

Food trucks

  • A food truck cannot be over 10 metres (32’-9 5/8”) in length.
  • A commercial licence plate must be obtained through a registry office.
  • Wastewater must be disposed of at approved locations. The Industrial Monitoring Group/Water Services has more information.
  • Streets, traffic, truck Route and wastewater bylaws must be complied.
  • There must be a licence for each mobile unit/location.
  • A public liability insurance policy of $2 million must be in place, prior to licence issuance.

Prior to a business licence application: 

  • An Alberta Health Services consultation is required if food in is prepared in a commercial-grade kitchen within a home. Contact 403-943-2296 for more information.
  • A building regulations consultation is recommended if there is a home-based commercial kitchen. Contact a commercial safety codes officer at 403-268-5311.
  • Acquire a licence plate number.

Building regulations for food trucks

All full service food vehicles require a safety inspection to ensure compliance to all relevant provincial and federal safety codes. This is coordinated in conjunction with a business licence fire inspection by calling 311.

Special event inspection

All food trucks are required to call 311 and request a special event inspection to ensure the vehicle complies with all fire safety regulations.

Food truck locations

Food trucks are allowed to operate from a number of locations across the city but additional permits or approvals may be required.

  • Operating from a street downtown (other than Stephen Avenue Mall, Barclay Mall or Eau Claire Market) requires a street use permit​. The food truck must be at least 100 metres from a school and 25 metres from a food service establishment. Two trucks are allowed per block face.
  • Food trucks cannot operate inprohibited zones.
  • To operate a food truck in a City of Calgary park, written permission from the director of the Parks department is required. Visit booking food truck stalls for contact information, restrictions and fees.
  • On other city properties, such as in Transit or Calgary Parking Authority lots, written permission is needed by calling 311.
  • To operate from private property, written authorization from the property owner is needed.

Food service – no premises

This licence type includes food prepared and stored in a vehicle, in a commercial kitchen (including catering trucks) or in a trailer. Some examples include: food trucks that only operate at festivals or only sell pre-prepared foods, pushcarts outside of downtown and bicycle vendors operating on roadways that do not meet the definition of pushcart. Ice cream trucks and catering trucks are licensed under this category. To operate a business on private property, written consent by the property owner must be obtained. This service can only be offered downtown between 7 a.m. and 3 a.m.

There must be a licence for each mobile unit/location.

A public liability insurance policy of $2 million must be in place prior to licence issuance.

Pushcart vendor

A portable cart or wagon (which may be attached to a bicycle) used for carrying goods to sell to the public fall under this category. This includes bicycle food vendors operating on downtown city sidewalks. Pushcarts can operate on public property but are limited to specific sites downtown.

Pushcarts operating downtown other than on Stephen Avenue Mall, Barclay Mall or Eau Claire Market can be located in either north or south downtown, as shown on the Downtown Pushcart Locations map. There are four designated sites in downtown south that are assigned by a lottery held on April 1 each year.

There are no pushcart vendors operating outside of downtown. These businesses would be licensed as food service – no premises, or retail dealer – no premises when selling non-food products. A statutory declaration and indemnification agreement must be completed upon application.

All pushcarts must apply for an annual approval with the Pushcart Approval application requirements list. Land use approval is also required for the location of operations.

Pushcarts have a maximum size of 1 metres wide and 1.5 metres long. No hitch is allowed to remain on the cart when set up.

You must have a licence for each mobile unit/location.

A public liability insurance policy of $2 million must be in place prior to licence issuance.

Downtown Association

If a business is operating on Stephen Avenue Mall, Barclay Mall or Eau Claire Market, approval from the Downtown Association.is needed.

Special events

If your mobile food business is solely operating at City-approved events, then no city licence is required. Contact eventservices@calgary.ca for food vender pre-qualification and contact festival organizers directly to obtain permission to participate.

Disclaimer: This information has no legal status and cannot be used as an official interpretation of the various bylaws, codes and regulations currently in effect. The City of Calgary accepts no responsibility to persons relying solely on this information. Web pages are updated periodically.​​​​

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