Since their inception, licensed premises have always tried to obtain and retain customers by offering promotions which involve free or discounted alcoholic drinks. It is in their DNA to do so, and as a consequence, patrons of licensed premises are attracted to such premises that conduct these promotions. Although it is not illegal to run these promotions per se, licensees need to be aware of the legal requirements to conduct such promotions, particularly pursuant to the Queensland Liquor Act 1992 (the Act).

Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) practices have been a requirement under the Act for decades. However, in 2014 the Act was amended to better articulate the way licensees could conduct these types of free and/or cheap liquor promotions, thus making it easier to prosecute errant licensees who don’t conduct these promotions in accordance with these new requirements.

So what do you need to know if you are conducting free or discounted liquor promotions? Section 142ZZ of the Act states in part:

“Unacceptable practices and promotions

  1. A licensee or permittee must not engage in, or allow another person to engage in, an unacceptable practice or promotion in the conduct of business on the relevant premises – maximum penalty 100 penalty units.
  2. For subsection (1) each of the following is an unacceptable practice or promotion:

a. A practice or promotion that may encourage the irresponsible consumption of liquor;

b. A practice or promotion that may discourage a patron from monitoring or controlling the patron’s consumption of liquor;

f. A practice or promotion that involves providing free drinks, or providing drinks at discounts, in a way that encourages patrons to consume excessive amounts of liquor or consume liquor more rapidly than they would otherwise do.”

The Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation have published Guideline 60 as well, which outlines the types of unacceptable practices and promotions that may encourage the irresponsible consumption of liquor, which are prohibited on licensed premises no matter how they are conducted. Examples of these practices include:

  • a practice or promotion that involves a competition or game in which contestants or players consume liquor on the premises;
  • a practice or promotion that provides for patrons to drink as many free drinks as they can within a limited timeframe.

However, there are other types of drink promotions which are allowed to be conducted on licensed premises. These promotions require the premises to have a documented management plan in place that includes harm minimisation measures to ensure stated negative outcomes (eg. rapid or excessive consumption) do not occur and all staff are aware of such measures. Examples of these practices include a practice or promotion involving supply of liquor over a set period for free or at a discounted price e.g. a happy hour.

Measures that could be included in your documented management plan include:

  • providing free food and water to patrons;
  • limiting the number of drinks that can be purchased on each visit to the bar;
  • monitoring for and managing against stockpiling of drinks;
  • limiting the duration of the promotion while also ensuring that this does not result in patrons drinking more rapidly within that period; or
  • employing additional staff (e.g. RSA marshalls) to monitor the consumption of liquor during the course of the promotion.

If your premises has a Risk-Assessed Management Plan (RAMP) then this document should include the harm minimisation measures you have in place to properly manage the free or cheap drink promotions. If your premises do not have a RAMP, a separate documented management plan should be prepared and kept in a location where all staff have knowledge of its existence and can produce this plan to OLGR officers on request.

In recent times, OLGR investigators have been active in checking if licensees who conduct free and cheap drink promotions have in place a documented plan for these practices. A failure to have a plan in place is a breach of Section 142ZZ of the Act and leaves licensees open to prosecution.