Run a bar, hotel, restaurant or club? If you do, you might need this timely reminder that the Christmas period requires you to have the right licence for any extended festive plans.
EA-Today chats to the Licensing Team at Birketts LLP about what companies must remember, and why.
For any business in the world of hospitality, this next few weeks is likely to be a buoyant time of the year.
It’s the six week period where revellers spend a little more time in bars, pubs and licensed restaurants, enjoying the festive celebrations with the perfect seasonal tipple.
What this means for those serving cheery Christmas ‘punters’ however, is that there are certain legal requirements which become critical to maintaining their full compliance.
Many venues will look to extend their opening hours during days like New Year’s Eve; while others will be considering taking on more staff to cover what they expect to be a far more popular period for social drinking.
Julie Gowland and Joanna Kasprzyk are senior solicitors in the Licensing Team of Birketts LLP, and they claim it’s all too easy for owners and managers to ‘drift’ into this festive period without giving due consideration to what planning they need to have in place.
“Our umbrella of services within corporate licensing is vast, but at this time of year, the emphasis is really far more on things like temporary event notices, and late-notice applications,” said Julie.
“At this time of year, any business which hasn’t looked at the rules of its license lately, should certainly be refreshing their memory and seeing if it covers them for things they may want to do over Christmas.
“It’s very common to want to change or extend hours on the main celebration days, but there’s no guarantee that your existing license allows this.
“As well as timings, the owner or manager ought to be looking at what the accepted regulations are in their specific agreement around maximum number of persons allowed into the venue.
“These are crucial considerations.”
Julie and the team have seen time and again how licensed venues fall foul of deadlines or simply ‘hope for the best’ instead of reaching out for legal expertise, getting a licence reviewed or asking for appropriate extensions.
Joanna continues: “These aren’t things which are brought in by the licensing authorities just to create more paperwork or be a nuisance.
“As much as anything, these enforcements help with health and safety, and with a community being able to enjoy their festivities.”
She adds: “Something like an application to have extended hours over the Christmas or New Year period, could be completed in as little as 10 days.
“Similarly, temporary event notices can be granted in five to 10 days – but failure to do so has big consequences.”
Those ‘consequences’ could mean the breach is dealt with via a fine, a court appearance, or in the very worst of cases prison.
However ‘light’ the punishment, for a business which relies on reputation in the public eye, neither outcome would be attractive.
Julie points to other nuances which licensed property owners or managers may want to be considering in the coming weeks, in addition to extended hours.
“I’d urge businesses to think about the ‘area’ in which they plan to have guests on their property during the festive season,” she says.
“We’ve seen people caught out where they’ve decided to add a marquee or some other function space, specifically for that period of the year.
“We completely understand why the venue wants to do that, and that they’re keen to accommodate even more customers, but their existing licence agreement may be limited only to within the four walls of their property.
“Again, unless an application is made to cover the extended area, they may be guilty of breaching the terms.”
It’s not all about the hours or the space in which you serve your revellers, of course.
Just as pertinent is the issue of ‘who’ is serving the customer, and how responsibly you’re choosing to serve that festive drinker.
Joanna says their work regularly includes criminal cases around issues such as ‘unofficially employed’ staff at licensed properties (she’s just been involved in a very significant case for an exceptionally high profile fast food establishment employing migrant workers ‘not on the books), and that employers must be more vigilant than ever.
“First and foremost, I would stress to any business owner that a good relationship with the licensing authority goes a long way,” she says.
“Always be upfront about what you’re trying to achieve, and what your premises needs from any agreement. That can hold huge store going forward, in terms of any changes you want to make or issues which arise.
“Beyond that, employers must do all they can to consider whether their premises is covered for the purpose they want to use it for, whether staff are legally engaged, and whether the wider community could look at that licensed property as being truly responsible and respectful.”
On the matter of responsibility, both Julie and Joanna agree that it is, at least in part, some responsibility of the licensed property owners to address appropriate drinking behaviour at this festive time.
They stress to their clients the need to be vigilant about asking for identification when serving alcohol, to consider initiatives which applaud the non-drinking ‘designated driver’ (such as providing free soft drinks) and to generally encourage safer drinking.
“As a legal team, sadly we see a number of cases every year where someone has lost their life in a road traffic incident due to alcohol,” says Julie.
“What we’re not here to do as a licensing team is to be a ‘killjoy’ in any way, or just to create paperwork and issues for the sake of it.
“What we must do, however, is help our clients, and all licensed premises owners, to fully understand how their responsible approaches to serving alcohol and welcoming guests throughout the Christmas season can make such a difference.
“It’s all about helping people have a safer, happier, legally compliant festive time.”
To speak to a member of Birketts’ Licensing Team please contact Joanna Kasprzyk on 01473 406367 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.