Find out when you need to charge VAT if you supply food and drink for the purposes of catering or as a takeaway.
This notice cancels and replaces Notice 709/1 (November 2011) and incorporates the guidance contained in VAT Information Sheet 12/12.
1. Catering and takeaway food
1.1 Information in this notice
Although the supply of most food and drink of a kind used for human consumption is zero-rated, there are exceptions. Some items are always standard-rated and these are explained in Food products (VAT Notice 701/14). Other supplies are standard-rated because they’re made in the course of catering. This notice will help you decide whether your supply is one of catering.
This notice has been updated to reflect the changes to the law that were introduced with effect from 1 October 2012 relating to the definition of premises and supplies of hot takeaway food.
1.2 Who should read this notice
It is intended for all those who prepare and supply food and drink ready for consumption.
1.3 Decide if your supplies are ‘in the course of catering’
To do this you must ask yourself the following questions in this order.
- Is it within the ordinary meaning of catering?
- Is it for on-premises consumption?
- Is it hot takeaway food?
If the answer is ‘yes’ at any stage, your supplies are standard-rated supplies in the course of catering. But if you make the supply at a hospital, school or similar establishment, you must refer to paragraph 2.6.
2.1 The ordinary meaning of catering
Catering in its ordinary meaning includes the supply of prepared food and drink. It is characterised by a supply involving a significant element of service. Obvious examples of supplies in the course of catering include:
- supplies made in restaurants, cafés, canteens and similar establishments (except supplies of cold takeaway food)
- third party supplies of catering for events and functions, such as wedding receptions, parties or conferences
- a supply of cooking or preparation of food provided to a customer at the customer’s home, for example for a dinner party
- delivery of cooked ready-to-eat food or meals (with or without crockery or cutlery)
Examples of supplies that are not in the course of catering:
- retail supplies of cold takeaway food
- retail supplies of groceries
- supplies of food that require significant further preparation by the customer, see paragraph 2.2.1
2.2 Catering contracts
Any supply of food or drink as part of a contract for catering is standard-rated.
But a contract that merely entitles a food retailer to occupy a set of premises from which they make their supplies does not automatically determine that a supply is one of catering. In these instances it’s important to consider all of the activities being carried out.
2.2.1 Food for customer preparation
If you supply food that your customers must prepare themselves before it can be consumed, this is not a supply in the course of catering. This will apply whether the food is delivered to, or collected by, your customers.
If you make a charge for delivery you should read Postage, delivery and direct marketing (VAT Notice 700/24).
For these purposes, ‘preparation’ includes:
- thawing frozen food
- cooking food
- reheating pre-cooked food
- arranging food on serving plates
2.2.2 Delivered sandwiches and groceries
If you take sandwiches, or other items of food and drink, to buildings in order to sell them, but have no contract or agreement to do so, this is not a supply in the course of catering and you can zero rate any item that is eligible, see Food products (VAT Notice 701/14) for further details.
However, if you are supplying the food under a contract, for example to cater for an event, you are making a supply in the course of catering and all your supplies will be standard-rated.
If you make a charge for delivery you should read Postage, delivery and direct marketing (VAT Notice 700/24).
2.2.3 Grocery items sold from catering outlets
Provided these items are in the same form as when sold by a grocer or supermarket, and are clearly not intended for on-premises consumption, you do not have to treat them as being made in the course of catering.
Examples of items that are clearly not intended for on premises consumption include packets of tea, packaged coffee granules, powder, beans, sugar, loaves of bread and cartons of factory sealed milk.
2.2.4 Packed lunches
Where you provide packed meals as an incidental to an event or a function, such as for coach parties or race meetings, the meals are supplied in the course of catering and should be standard-rated.
If you run a hotel or similar establishment and you supply bed and board (including packed meals) at an inclusive price, you should treat the whole supply as standard-rated. Where you supply a packed meal over and above your supply of accommodation and a separate charge is made, then as long as it’s for consumption off your premises, it can be zero-rated (apart from any items that are always standard-rated - see Food products (VAT Notice 701/14).
2.3 Service charges
If you make a service charge, it’s standard-rated. But if the customer freely gives a tip above your total charge, no VAT is due on the tip.
2.4 Vending machines
Vending machine supplies follow the same general principles as food and drink supplied from catering outlets. In other words all:
- sales of items that are standard-rated within the excepted items (see Food products (VAT Notice 701/14)) are also standard-rated when supplied from vending machines (for example, sales of beverages or confectionery)
- supplies of food and drink from vending machines in canteens and restaurant type areas are standard-rated as supplies to be consumed on the premises where they have been supplied, an apportionment will only be allowed if the food seller can produce evidence to show that a proportion of the items of cold food (that would be eligible for zero rating) are taken away from the canteen or restaurant premises (see paragraph 3.3)
- supplies from machines sited in thoroughfares and areas not designated for the consumption of food follow the liability of the product sold (see Food products (VAT Notice 701/14))
If the vending machine is on a university campus and is run by the students’ union you’ll need to read paragraph 5.5.
2.5 Aircraft, ships, trains and other means of transport
If you make a separate supply of catering on board an aircraft, ship, train or other means of transport, it’s standard-rated unless it’s provided for consumption during a journey from the UK to another EU member state or on a journey to a country outside the EU.
If you supply passenger transport or cruises you’ll need to refer to The VAT treatment of passenger transport (VAT Notice 744A) and Tour Operators Margin Scheme (VAT Notice 709/5).
2.6 Schools, universities and colleges
Certain supplies of education, training and research are exempt from VAT. Where an educational institution provides exempt education to its own pupils and students, then the supply of catering they make is also exempt. If the supply of education is non-business, as in the case of a local authority school, free school or academy school, the supply of catering will also be non-business, as long as it’s made at or below cost. See Education and vocational training (VAT Notice 701/30) for more information.
Whichever treatment is appropriate it applies to anything provided by way of catering. This includes food supplied at mealtimes and break times from the refectory, canteen or other similar outlet but not items bought from a university campus shop, as they’re not provided by way of catering.
Food and drink supplied at or below cost from a tuck shop run by the school itself takes on the same liability as the education.
You cannot normally deduct input tax incurred on costs that relate to exempt supplies. Further information can be found in Partial exemption (VAT Notice 706).
You must account for VAT on supplies of catering to staff and visitors (except visiting students).
If you’re a student union, supplying catering both on behalf, and with the agreement of the parent institution, you’ll need to read paragraph 5.5.
2.7 Hospitals, clinics and nursing homes
Care provided in a hospital or other statutorily registered institution is exempt from VAT. This exemption includes the supply by such institutions of prepared food and drink directly to their patients in the course of care.
Supplies of catering to other persons such as staff and visitors are not exempt and you must account for VAT on such sales.
You cannot normally deduct input tax incurred on costs that relate to exempt supplies. Further information can be found in Health institutions supplies (VAT Notice 701/31) and Partial exemption (VAT Notice 706).
3.1 Why you need to work out the ‘premises’
You must always charge VAT at the standard rate if you make a supply of food and drink for consumption on the premises that it’s supplied in - see section 1.
So it’s important to know what ‘premises’ means as there’ll be times when it’s not just the outlet where your business is situated.
3.2 Definition of premises
For the purposes of Group 1 of Schedule 8 of the VAT Act, ‘premises’ are the areas occupied by the retailer or, any area set aside for the consumption of food by the food retailers’ customers, whether or not the area may also be used by the customers of other food retailers.
|Type of business||Example of premises|
|Restaurant (or similar café, canteen type business)||The whole restaurant area, and areas with chairs and tables on the pavement, concourse or similar areas adjacent to (that is, near to or next to) the main premises|
|Retail outlet in a shopping centre||The outlet itself and any areas with chairs and tables in designated areas belonging to that outlet or provided for the exclusive use of that outlet and areas with tables and chairs in food courts shared with other food retailers|
|Retail outlet in the high street||The outlet itself plus any areas containing chairs and tables outside the establishment provided for use of customers|
|Supermarket||Any seating areas within the shop and areas with chairs and tables outside the shop for use of customers|
|Stall in a sports stadium, amusement park, exhibition, gallery or similar pay-entry venue||The stall itself, and any facilities provided adjacent to the stall for the use of customers|
|Retail outlet within an office building||The outlet and any facilities provided adjacent to the outlet for the use of customers|
The definition of premises does not include areas with tables and chairs provided for general use by members of the public who are not customers of one or more food retailer. Examples include:
- benches in shopping centres designed as general seating for customers to rest or wait
- tables and chairs in a public picnic area - for example, picnic benches by a motorway service station where people can eat sandwiches that they have prepared themselves (as well as ones that have been bought from the service station), and where the area is not regularly cleaned and cleared by the retailer or landlord
- seating areas in airport lounges and railway stations where customers wait for their planes and trains
3.3 Evidence and apportionment
Where you make sales of cold food to be taken away from your premises, but also have on-site facilities where food can be consumed, you’ll need to apportion your sales of cold food between those consumed on the premises (standard-rated) and those taken-away (zero-rated).
If you are unable to ascertain the correct liability at the point of sale, see paragraph 5.6, you must keep satisfactory evidence to support a fair and reasonable apportionment. Records, and the keeping of records are explained in VAT record keeping and Record keeping (VAT Notice 700/21).
4. Hot takeaway food and drink
4.1 Liability of takeaway food and drink
Hot takeaway food that meets certain tests set out below is standard-rated. Cold takeaway food and drink is zero-rated, as long as it’s not of a type that’s always standard-rated (such as crisps, sweets, beverages and bottled water). Hot drinks are standard-rated. Further information can be found in Food products (VAT Notice 701/14).
4.2 Definition of takeaway food and drink
Takeaway food is food sold for consumption off premises.
What the tests are
The sale of food is standard-rated if the food (or any part of it) is hot at the time that it’s provided to the customer (the precondition), and one or more of the following 5 tests are satisfied, it’s:
- been heated for the purposes of enabling it to be consumed hot
- been heated to order
- been kept hot after being heated
- provided to a customer in packaging that retains heat (whether or not the packaging was primarily designed for that purpose) or in any other packaging that is specifically designed for hot food
- advertised or marketed in a way that indicates that it’s supplied hot
4.3 Definition of ‘hot’
Under ‘the precondition’ only food that’s hot at the time it’s provided to the customer is standard-rated. Something is hot if it’s at a temperature above ‘the ambient air temperature’. Generally speaking, businesses do not need to specifically check whether the precondition is satisfied as it’s clear whether or not the food is hot at the time they provide it to the customer.
Test 1: food heated for the purposes of enabling it to be consumed hot
Taking into account all the relevant facts and circumstances, it’s the purpose of the supplier (and not the customer) in heating the food that’s the determining factor. This means that the sale of products that have been cooked specifically to enable consumption whilst still hot (as a result of being freshly prepared, baked, cooked, reheated or kept warm) are standard-rated. This is in contrast to products that are not intended to be eaten while hot and are sold warm simply because they happen to be freshly baked and are in the process of cooling down.
Examples of standard-rated products under this test include:
- chips, fish and chips, and similar items
- Chinese and Indian takeaway meals
- pizzas, kebabs
- baked potatoes with a hot or cold filling
- hot dogs and hamburgers
- pies, rolls, sausage rolls, pasties and similar items (unless the products do not meet any of the tests and are sold warm simply because they happen to be freshly baked and are in the process of cooling down)
- tea, coffee, chocolate and other hot drinks
- hot soup
Test 2: food that’s been heated to order
This test confirms that the sale of food that’s been heated to the customer’s order is standard-rated.
Examples of standard-rated products under this test include:
- toasted bread, sandwiches, panini, teacakes and similar items
- garlic bread
Test 3: food has been kept hot after being heated
This test confirms that food that is kept hot after being cooked, heated or reheated is standard-rated. This includes instances where a supplier of hot takeaway food stores the food in an environment which provides, applies or keeps heat, or takes other steps to ensure that it stays hot or to slow down the natural cooling process after it’s been heated. In practice, this will mainly affect products that are kept warm in heated cabinets (for example, under heat lamps), on spits, in hot water or on hot shelves or trays. It will also include any products kept warm in cooling down ovens or other appliances that slow down the rate of cooling.
Examples of standard-rated products under this test include:
- freshly baked croissants, pretzels and similar items that are kept hot in a heated cabinet
- hot dogs kept hot in water or on a tray
- hamburgers kept hot on a hot shelf
- doner kebabs kept hot on a spit
- cooked chickens kept in a heated cabinet or on a hot tray
- meat pies kept in cabinets during a controlled cooling process
Test 4: food provided to a customer in heat retentive packaging
This test confirms that food that’s provided to a customer in packaging that keeps heat (whether or not the packaging was primarily designed for that purpose) or in any other packaging that’s specifically designed for hot food is standard-rated. In practice, this will mainly affect products that are sold in specialised packaging, such as foil lined bags and insulated containers including specially designed cardboard boxes. It will not affect products that are sold in ordinary paper bags or similar packaging.
Examples of standard-rated products under this test include:
- naan bread and garlic bread sold in a foil lined bag
- Chinese and Indian takeaway meals sold in foil lined containers
- pizza sold in specially designed cardboard boxes
- cooked chickens that are sold in heat retentive packaging or packaging designed to prevent leakage of hot fluids or grease
Test 5: food advertised or marketed in a way that indicates that it’s supplied hot
This test confirms that takeaway food that’s advertised or marketed in a way that indicates that it’s supplied hot is standard-rated. This will be established by examining the nature of the advertising or marketing campaign and whether this indicates that the takeaway food in question is sold hot. This could include pictures of the products showing steam rising from them.
‘Advertised or marketed in a way that indicates that it is supplied hot’ does not include advertised or marketed as ‘freshly baked’.
Examples of products that are standard-rated under this test, as long as they are advertised or marketed as ‘hot’, include:
- rotisserie chickens
- roasted chestnuts
4.4 Types of hot food that are not caught by these tests and stay zero-rated
The new tests ensure that the vast majority of hot takeaway food is standard-rated. The exception is food that is either not hot at the time it’s provided to the customer or that’s hot at the time it’s provided to the customer but does not satisfy any of the tests. For example, freshly baked bread or bakery products that are incidentally hot at the time they’re sold but which are often eaten cold (that is, when they have cooled down to ambient air temperature).
Businesses selling food that’s hot at the time it is provided to the customer will need to work through each test to confirm that none apply before zero rating their products. This is illustrated in the following examples.
A retailer sells a Cornish pasty that’s been baked off and left to cool naturally but is still hot at the time that it’s provided to a customer (and so the precondition is satisfied). But the retailer:
- does not intend that the pasty will be consumed hot by the customer (Test 1 is not met)
- has not cooked the pasty to order (Test 2 is not met)
- has not kept the pasty hot after being cooked (Test 3 is not met)
- has provided the pasty to the customer in a standard paper bag (Test 4 is not met)
- advertised the pasty as ‘freshly baked’ (Test 5 is not met)
As none of the tests are satisfied, the sale of the pasty is zero-rated.
The retailer in example 1 decides to keep its pasties under heat lamps to slow the cooling process. In this example, Test 3 is met as the pasties are being kept hot after they have been cooked and the sale of the pasties is standard-rated.
The retailer in example 1 decides to advertise its pasties as ‘hot’ rather than ‘freshly baked’. In this example, test 5 is met and so the sale of the pasties is standard-rated.
A retailer bakes batches of fruit pies, tarts, cakes, buns and bread for sale throughout the day. None of these products are baked with the intention of:
- being eaten hot
- baked to order
- kept hot after being baked (they have been allowed to cool naturally)
- provided in heat retentive packaging or advertised as ‘hot’
The sales of all of these products are zero-rated as, even where they are hot at the time they’re provided to the customer, none of the 5 additional tests are satisfied.
A retailer sells hot freshly cooked chickens that have not been heated for the purposes of:
- enabling them to be consumed hot
- being cooked to order
- being kept hot after cooking (they have been allowed to cool naturally)
- not being advertised as ‘hot’
But they’re provided to customers in specially designed (foil lined) bags designed to prevent leakage of fluids and grease from the chicken. So the sale of these hot chickens is standard-rated as Test 4 is met as the chicken is provided to customers in packaging that is specially designed for hot chickens.
A retailer sells joints of beef that are kept hot in a cabinet after roasting. The sale of these joints at this point is therefore standard-rated as Test 3 is met. At the end of the day, the retailer removes the joints that have not been sold from the heated cabinet. These are sold cold the next day or are used to make cold takeaway sandwiches. As they’re no longer hot at the time that they’re provided to the customer the ‘precondition’ ceases to be met and so this sale is zero-rated for VAT purposes.
4.5 If you provide a microwave oven for your customers to use
If you sell food to be taken away for consumption elsewhere, but you make a microwave oven available for your customers to heat up the food, either before or after the till point, you’re making a supply of hot food which must be standard-rated. This is the case whether or not you make a charge for the use of the oven.
4.6 Hot and cold ingredients supplied as a single item of food
If you sell hot food with an ingredient that’s cold as a single item, the whole supply is standard-rated. This is includes anything in a bun, bap, baguette or other speciality bread with any hot filling such a sausage, reheated cheese and ham, pastrami. Some examples are:
- hot dogs
- bacon sandwiches, chip butties
- baked potatoes with a cold filling
- hot steak sandwiches
4.7 Hot and cold food sold at the same time
If you sell a mixture of standard-rated and zero-rated items for an inclusive price for consumption off the premises, you’ll have to work out the tax value of each item in order to calculate how much VAT is due on the standard-rated item. You can do this on the basis of cost or market values as explained in the VAT guide (VAT Notice 700).
Examples of mixed supplies of takeaway food include:
- burger, chips and a milkshake
- a cup of tea with a non-chocolate coated biscuit
- a meal consisting of hot and cold items or dishes supplied in separate containers
You’re normally considered to be making mixed supplies if each of the items in the inclusively priced package can be bought separately from your menu. This is not the same as the single item of food that happens to have a cold ingredient for which one charge is made.
Ignore any minor items that you make no charge for, such as salt, pepper, vinegar and mustard.
This applies whether or not the customer uses the condiments on the food.
5. Accounting for VAT
5.1 Catering provided by the owner of the catering facilities
If you run your own catering outlet you’re acting as principal. This means that you must account for VAT on any supplies of catering or hot takeaway food. You can reclaim any VAT charged to you as input tax, subject to the normal rules.
5.2 Catering provided by a catering contractor acting as principal
If you’re a catering contractor running catering facilities on someone else’s premises as a principal, you must account for VAT on:
- any supplies of catering or hot takeaway food, you can reclaim any VAT charged to you under the normal rules
- sales of other standard-rated items of food
- your fee to the owner of the catering facility
- any subsidy you receive from the owner of the catering facilities (this subsidy is standard-rated and should include payments you receive to balance a profit and loss account)
You must account for VAT on your supplies even if the owner of the facilities makes exempt supplies, see paragraph 2.6.
5.3 Catering provided by a catering contractor acting as agent
Although you run the canteen, the food and drink is supplied by the owner of the catering facilities - your principal. The owner must therefore account for VAT on the supplies of catering or hot takeaway food (unless they make exempt supplies as in paragraph 2.6 and paragraph 2.7).
The following explains how you should treat invoices, your fee and your profit and loss account as an agent. For more information regarding invoicing in these circumstances see the VAT guide (VAT Notice 700).
(a) Invoices made out to your principal - if you buy goods or services for your principal and they’re invoiced to them, the supplier should send the invoices direct to your principal, who can reclaim the VAT subject to the normal rules. You should show a VAT inclusive amount against the purchase of the item in your profit and loss account.
(b) Invoices made out to you - if you buy goods or services for your principal and they’re invoiced to you, you should re-invoice them to your principal and account for VAT on them. If you buy goods or services from unregistered suppliers, you will have to charge VAT where appropriate. You can reclaim the VAT on the invoice subject to the normal rules (see the VAT guide (VAT Notice 700)).
As long as you issue a separate tax invoice for these goods or services when you charge them on to your principal, you should merely record the VAT inclusive amount in your profit and loss account. But if it’s your normal practice to issue a single document to serve as both the tax invoice and the profit and loss account, you must clearly show the dual purpose of the document and keep the tax invoice details separate from the other information.
(c) Your fee for your services to your principal - you must account for VAT on the fee you charge for running the catering facilities. The canteen owner can reclaim the VAT you charge subject to the normal rules.
(d) Profit and loss account - if you provide the canteen owner with a profit and loss account, you must show the VAT inclusive amounts spent on food and received from supplies of meals. If there’s a profit that you pay to the canteen owner or you are reimbursed by them for any loss, these amounts are outside the scope of VAT.
5.4 Catering provided by a catering contractor acting as both principal and agent
If you supply food and drink to the owner of the catering facilities and then you prepare and serve it to the users of the canteen on the owner’s behalf, you’re acting both as a principal in your own right and as an agent of the owner. You must account for VAT on both your:
- supplies of prepared food and drink to the owner, you can reclaim any VAT invoiced to you subject to the normal rules
- fee for your services to the owner of the catering facilities for running the canteen
Although under these arrangements you run the canteen, you’re supplying the food and drink to the canteen owner and the owner supplies the food and drink to the users of the canteen. The owner must therefore account for VAT on standard-rated supplies of catering and hot takeaway food, unless they make exempt supplies as in paragraph 2.6 and paragraph 2.7.
5.5 Catering provided by student unions in universities and other higher education establishments
If you’re a student union and you’re supplying catering (including hot takeaway food) to students both on behalf, and with the agreement, of the parent institution, as a concession you can treat your supplies in the same way as the parent institution itself. This means that you can treat your supplies as exempt when made by unions at universities, and other institutions supplying exempt education, and outside the scope of VAT when supplied at further education and sixth form colleges.
This means that most supplies of food and drink made by the union, where the food is sold for consumption in the course of catering will be exempt (see section 2 and section 3. For example, food and drink sold from canteens, refectories and other catering outlets (excluding bars), plus food and drink sold from vending machines situated in canteens and similar areas.
But it does not cover food and drink sold from campus shops, bars, tuck shops, other similar outlets and certain vending machines (see paragraph 2.4). The concession does not cover any other goods or services supplied by the student unions.
5.6 Retail scheme calculations
If you cannot use the Point of Sale Scheme as outlined in Point of Sale Retail Scheme (VAT Notice 727/3), you may be eligible to use the catering adaptation detailed in Retail schemes (VAT Notice 727).
5.7 Meals supplied free of charge
If you give your customers or friends free meals or drinks, this is regarded as business entertainment and you will not be entitled to deduct any input tax incurred in the provision of the meal or on the purchase of the drinks.
But where you provide free sweets or drinks as part of a meal your customer pays for, such as mints or liqueurs with the bill, you may treat this input tax as attributable to the taxable supply of the meal.
If you give meals or drinks in exchange for an identifiable benefit to your business, for example to coach drivers or to group or party organisers in return for bringing their party to your establishment, you can deduct any VAT incurred but you must account for output tax on the cost to you of these supplies.
5.8 Catering for family or employees
If you’re the proprietor of a restaurant, café or other catering establishment and you supply yourself or your family with meals, this is not regarded as catering and you need not account for VAT on those meals. But you must account for tax on the full cost to you of any standard-rated items (such as ice cream, sweets and chocolates, crisps, soft and alcoholic drinks that you take out of your business stock for your own or your families use, see Food products (VAT Notice 701/14).
If you provide catering to your employees and they’re not required to make any payment, no VAT is due. The same applies if deductions are made from gross wages where this is provided for in a contract of employment.
Similarly, if you install vending machines for your employees to use free of charge and you give them tokens to operate the machine or it is operated without tokens or coins, no VAT is due on the supplies from the machine. But if you give your employees money, or they have to pay for tokens to operate the machines, the supplies are standard-rated and you must account for VAT on them.
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