HK fishball takeaway stall typical of the city's "food factory" licensees. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Hong Kong outlets of Starbucks, Pacific Coffee, agnes B. Cafe and other chains have been operating what amount to unlicensed restaurants in shopping malls across the territory, according to local investigative-journalism site FactWire.

The report alleges that some of Hong Kong’s leading developers are allowing the food outlets to trade as restaurants even though they are licensed only as “food factories” — which entitles them to prepare and cook food for public consumption away from the premises. They are not allowed to set up chairs and tables for customers, nor provide waiters.

Operators of the buildings cited in the FactWire report include Sun Hung Kai Properties, Henderson Land, Swire Properties and MTR Corp.