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Running a shisha lounge within the rules

This information is provided by:Netherlands Chamber of Commerce, KVKNetherlands Chamber of Commerce, KVKNederlandse versie

Do you have a shisha lounge or are you taking over an existing shisha cafe? Then you will have to deal with rules and obligations. No tobacco is allowed in your shisha lounge, and you must have the appropriate permits. Read how to comply with the rules.

What is a shisha lounge?

A shisha (water pipe or hookah) is a device with which flavoured pipe tobacco, herbs, or vapour stones (steam stones) are smoked. A shisha lounge is a place where customers can smoke shisha for a fee. Unsurprisingly, there are strict rules about how to run a shisha lounge. Consider things such as the various permits required, health and safety regulations, and the rules about smoking tobacco. Follow this step-by-step guide to learn more.

1. Check the zoning plan

You can only start a shisha lounge in a location where catering is allowed. You can check this in the zoning plan of your municipality.

Please note: ‘shisha lounge’ is not literally mentioned in the zoning plan. The municipality determines if a shisha lounge fits in an area. So, always contact your municipality before you start. Even if you see that catering is allowed.

2. Write a business plan

There is a lot to consider when starting or taking over a company. In a business plan, you describe what your plans are and how you will make a profit. You choose a business name and a legal structure, and register with the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce (KVK). Read what steps you need to take before you start. And see what opportunities there are to get financing for your company.

3. Apply for an operating permit

You need an operating permit for a catering establishment (exploitatievergunning horecabedrijf) if you start a shisha lounge – just like a hotel, cafe, or restaurant. Apply for a catering operating permit from the municipality where you want to start the shisha lounge.

Do you already have a restaurant or cafe, and do you also want to offer shishas? You must apply for a new catering operating permit or have the current permit changed.

Note: If you take over an existing shisha lounge, you do not always automatically take over the current permit. Check with your municipality.

Granting of an operating permit: your municipality decides

Each municipality determines in a different way if you will receive a permit.

Your municipality decides:

  • How many permits are possible for shisha lounges within a (sub)municipality.
  • How the licence is issued (for example, in order of application, or by public lottery).
  • What the permit looks like, for example with a mention of 'shisha' on the operating permit. Or adding 'shisha' as a permitted business activity for your catering business.

4. Provide good ventilation and a CO meter

When smoking a water pipe, harmful substances are released, such as tar (PAHs, nitrosamines and heavy metals), and carbon monoxide (CO). High carbon monoxide levels are dangerous for your employees and your guests. So, you must have a good ventilation system. Have this system installed by a professional company. Also install a CO meter. The CO meter alarm warns if there is too much carbon monoxide in the air.

Supervisors monitor how much carbon monoxide is released in your shisha lounge. If it is too much and you do not take the right measures, you could be fined and/or lose your permit. You must then close your shisha lounge.

Find out how you can prevent carbon monoxide poisoning (in Dutch) in your shisha lounge.

5. Apply for a terrace permit

Do you want to have a terrace (an outside seating area) at your shisha lounge? Then you usually need a terrace permit (terrasvergunning). You can apply for a terrace permit from the municipality. Your guests are allowed to smoke shisha with tobacco outdoors on the terrace. The terrace must be fully open on at least 1 side.

6. Prevent noise pollution

A ventilation installation on the outside of your property should not cause more than 40 decibels of noise at the property boundary with your neighbours. This is stated in the Building Decree 2012.

Do you expect to make more noise than usual? For example, with live music? In most municipalities, this is allowed a few times a year. You must apply to the municipality for an exemption (noise exemption for the catering industry).

7. Consider the normal opening hours in your municipality

You must follow the closing times for the catering industry in your municipality. Would you like to be open longer? In that case, you must apply to the municipality for dispensation from closing times.

8. Beware of fire hazards

As the owner of the shisha lounge, you are responsible for fire safety and prevention.

A water pipe can cause a fire in your business. The coals used can burn for a long time. You are also not allowed to store or offer nitrous oxide (laughing gas) in your business.

Note: For some buildings you need an environmental permit for fire safety measures. And sometimes you have to report a usage notification to the municipality for fire safety measures. You can check if you need a permit or only need to submit a usage notification via the 'Service counter all-in-one permit for physical aspects(Omgevingsloket Online, OLO)

9. Apply for a liquor and catering permit

Will you serve alcohol in your shisha lounge? Then you need a liquor and catering permit. Read which requirements you must meet.

10. Know the health risks of smoking a shisha

Smoking is bad for your health. So, it is best not to smoke shisha.

You have an increased risk of:

  • Infectious diseases: use your own mouthpiece and do not share it with others.
  • Lung, cardiovascular diseases: smoke only herbal and fruit mixtures, or aromatic steam stones without tobacco leaves and nicotine. Even then, using it is not without risks.
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning: carbon monoxide (CO) is an odourless, invisible gas that is released when fuels (such as charcoal) do not burn completely. With carbon monoxide poisoning, there is not enough oxygen in the blood. This can be deadly.

Read more about the dangers of smoking shisha (in Dutch).

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