Recent amendments to the Liquor Act 1992 came into effect on 1 July 2016 which reduced the trading hours for licensed premises in Queensland. Those premises which are located in safe night precincts (SNP) and were able to trade past 3am prior to 1 July 2016 are now only able to serve liquor to 3am whilst those premises outside of the SNP have reduced trading hours to only 2am. The additional consumption period of 30 minutes past the time in which liquor could be legally sold remains in place (grace period).
One of the new initiatives following the reduction of the trading hours is that premises are no longer required to close their doors after the sale and consumption period of liquor has concluded. Patrons are now able to remain on the premises to continue enjoying the entertainment, dancing, gaming, etc. as well as the consumption of non-alcoholic drinks. We understand that quite a number of licensed premises, particularly those with gaming licences which operate past 3am, will remain open to allow patrons to avail themselves of these services.
There is, however, a “sleeping issue” that lurks for licensees and their staff if they make the choice to remain open. The question must now be asked: with a grace period of 30 minutes for consumption, how do licensees ensure that the patrons will consume their drinks within that period?
Prior to 1 July 2016 the grace period of 30 minutes coincided with the premises closing its doors. Accordingly, patrons were removed from the premises at that time which ensured that no consumption of liquor took place on the premises illegally.
Today that is not the case and the risk of patrons consuming liquor beyond the 30 minute grace period is real. If this were to occur, then the licensee would be liable for prosecution. Furthermore, staff members who inform patrons of the need to consume their drinks during the grace period are likely to be resisted and ignored by patrons if they are enjoying such activities as entertainment, dancing or playing poker machines. Whilst engaged in these activities, it is highly unlikely that patrons will be watching the clock to see if they have consumed their drinks in the required period. Staff requesting patrons to quickly “scull” their drinks to beat the deadline may not be seen as promoting responsible hospitality practices in the premises. Patrons may even covertly hide liquor for consumption later in the evening to avoid the necessity to consume it within the grace period.
One thing is certain: licensees will be liable if the consumption of liquor beyond the 30 minute grace period occurs. Accordingly, licensees and staff need to be vigilant with regards to this issue and introduce practices and procedures to ensure that no unnecessary conflict occurs between patrons and staff in the premises whilst ensuring compliance with the obligations under the Liquor Act 1992 in relation to this issue.