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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Wed 12th Jul 2023 - Legal Briefing

Thoughts for the summer season by Michelle Hazlewood

As we enter a bustling summer holiday season, with schools about to break up and the possibility of June’s splendid weather extending throughout the rest of the summer, we begin to think about the trading prospects and potential licensing challenges that may arise during this season. Among the rush of customers eager for Pimm’s and pints in the sun is the opportunity for a really successful trading period.

Covid may have been traumatic in many ways, but one positive we have taken away from the experience is the appreciation of outdoor spaces – and the love for a stunning beer garden or alfresco dining option. We are pleased to report that the appreciation is also acknowledged within government, particularly around the provision of pavement licences. The simplified pavement licence application, which was originally introduced as an interim support system during the pandemic period and the restrictions that came with it, has now been extended until September 2024. This means the process for securing external space on public roads still lies with the licensing authority rather than the highways authority.

Additionally, the process continues to remain streamlined, simpler and generally cheaper. Although this is the case, this fortunate scenario has only arisen due to the government being preoccupied with other matters, leading to a delay in processing the new primary legislation before the current parliamentary period ends. Instead of introducing a completely new law, we now have the Business and Planning Act 2020 [Pavement Licences] [Coronavirus] [Amendment] Regulations 2023 in place. 

Although these regulations are still under consideration by the House of Commons, it is highly likely they will be approved. However, we are still awaiting confirmation regarding what will happen in respect of the off-sales dispensation, which is crucially in place for establishments that wish to upgrade to offer off-sales. This means customers can purchase beverages to take home or allows them to consume their drinks “off premises” such as in an outdoor area covered by the pavement licence.

This measure was put in place to temporarily modify the Licensing Act 2003 and automatically extended the terms of most premises’ licences, allowing establishments to sell alcohol for off-premises consumption in England and Wales. This adjustment was originally put in place to enable businesses to continue trading while maintaining social distancing measures, and while this is not particularly relevant now, it is still in place and continues to benefit operators across the nation. This aspect has been subject to last-minute extensions in recent years, so it is worth keeping an eye on if any of your premises do not have off-sales specified on their licences.

Outdoor areas do come with their challenges though. It is crucial to provide appropriate service and supervision to customers in these areas, including prompt order-taking and delivery. If app-based sales are being carried out, it is essential to manage this process effectively to maintain a smooth and controlled operation. The warm weather can often tempt people to drink more than expected, which can lead to unwanted noise, incidents of crime, disorder and antisocial behaviour, as well as potentially unintended sales to intoxicated individuals. It is important to make sure your outdoor areas are well supervised and do not end up being forgotten about. 

We have recently been presented with a valuable opportunity, which is sure to boost customer numbers in your venue: the Women's World Cup. Unfortunately, the event has not received sufficient publicity, primarily due to the reluctance of TV broadcasters to secure the rights until the last minute. It is puzzling and a little sad to see such limited promotion, especially considering the remarkable performance of the Lionesses in the European Championships and how popular women’s football has become in recent years. However, venues now have six weeks to prepare and to get things in gear for the final.

There are a few key dates to highlight, particularly when England and Ireland will be playing. However, due to the event's location in the southern hemisphere, three games have early start times. Because of this, it is important to note that you may need to obtain a temporary event notice to carry out a pre-match trading period or even to broadcast the entire game. The specific matches and their timings are as follows:
Saturday, 22 July: England versus Haiti [10.30pm]
Friday, 28 July: England versus Denmark [9.30pm]
Tuesday, 1 August: China versus England [12pm]

As for the Irish games, they have slightly more favourable timings, commencing at 11am on 20 and 31 July, and at 1pm on 26 July.

The upcoming celebrations of GCSE and A-level results days have made me consider the issue of potential proxy sales as it could be that adults wish to get their underage son or daughter a pint as a misguided gift of praise. It is crucial to remember that current criminal offence lies with the adult who makes the purchase. However, any establishments that turn a blind eye to the consumption of alcohol by under-18s or facilitate their access to it may face scrutiny for failing to uphold the objective of protection of children from harm, as mandated by their licence. It is important to remain vigilant during this time, check that your staff have the appropriate training and do not get sloppy with the rules. 

Despite this, as a general rule, we are noticing that the younger generation are becoming more drink aware and often opting for a sober night out. It is a move that we need to adapt to. According to the recently commissioned Low and No Report of 2023 by KAM, statistics reveal that one in three adult visits to a pub does not involve alcohol consumption. Additionally, there have been various reports highlighting the choices made by individuals aged 18 to 25, and it notably found that approximately 25% of customers opt for tap water as their beverage of choice – which is, of course, free and not good for profits. However, this does present an opportunity to promote and sell non-alcoholic products as a more exciting alternative. It is something the industry should try and tap into to avoid customers sat there with water.

To seize this opportunity successfully, it is crucial to educate and train staff members on the distinctions outlined in the Licensing Act 2003 between alcohol-free, low alcohol and alcoholic beverages. Each category has specific definitions related to alcohol by volume. By promoting these alternative options, it is important to avoid any potential misrepresentation. For instance, claiming a product is alcohol-free when it is, in fact, low alcohol could lead to criminal offences or individuals mistakenly believing they can consume unlimited quantities without exceeding the legal limit for driving.

With longer days, warmer weather and the summer spirit in the air, people are eager to socialise and enjoy a drink in the company of friends and loved ones. There are plenty of excuses for a celebration or to watch sport at the pub, and the outdoor spaces are expected to become lively hubs where people can enjoy what the sector has to offer while soaking up the sun. Hospitality has the chance to thrive during this season as we fully put covid behind us and take advantage of the opportunities ahead of us.
Michelle Hazlewood is a partner at John Gaunt & Partners

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