This month we will be concentrating on issues that often arise at licensed premises during the festive season, complete with hints and tips at maximising revenue and minimising potential problems.

The Christmas paradox

There is, understandably, a desire to make the most of the Christmas season's opportunities to get customers through the doors for some festive cheer and revelry. Whether this simply means doing more of the same, only with tinsel and hats, or offering something new to attract a different crowd is often a product of location and customer base.

What can you do differently?

There have been changes to the licensing legislation over the years that have liberalised, in particular, the provision of live and recorded music. You no longer need a specific permission to provide live or recorded music between 8am and 11pm in your licensed premises, so long as you are licensed for, and open, to sell alcohol on the premises. This will not, of course, get you through to midnight New Year's Eve, but would certainly be enough to provide some entertainment to guests enjoying a meal with you. The one caveat is that you can lose this right on review of your premises licence, so check that this exemption has not been lost (often referred to on the licence as the S177A exemption).

Temporary Event Notices (TENs) allow for a limited number of events each year where ordinarily you would not be covered by a premises licence. A form needs to be completed and a fee of £21 paid for each event notice applied for. There is a maximum of 15 events over 21 days permitted each year at any given premises, so used wisely, they can cover a significant part of Christmas and up to the New Year. Remember, no one event notice can cover more than 7 days at a time and a 24 hour gap is required between events. Further information and application forms can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/temporary-events-notice

Premises licences also often have additional hours specified on them in relation to bank holidays and New Year's Eve in particular. A careful look at what is permitted over Christmas and new year may reap rewards in terms of extended hours for certain days that therefore don't require you to use TENs.

Christmas trading pitfalls

Unfortunately, as with all things new, there is a chance that doing something outside of your ordinary course of trading can have unintended consequences. Additionally, the fact that Christmas draws out people who would not usually go to licensed premises also has its own problems. Add some festive spirit and there is a possibility of things going wrong. Take some time to consider the potential issues and brief staff accordingly.

Christmas work parties attract all kinds of age groups and people who may not usually come out. As such, individuals will drink a little too much and there may be under 18's with them looking to join in the Christmas cheer. There are a number of offences a licence holder can commit, including:

  • allowing disorderly conduct;
  • sales of alcohol to someone who is drunk;
  • sales of alcohol to children; and
  • knowingly allowing the sale of alcohol to children.

Ensuring that staff are particularly vigilant and putting management tools in place so that they feel able to refuse sales where needed is a key to demonstrating that you take these matters seriously.

Premises licences will (as well as setting out what you can do) most likely have conditions restricting your activities too. Ensuring that any changes to how you intend to operate over the festive season will not breach conditions is the first step to planning your itinerary. Likewise, whilst a licence may set out additional hours of operation, there can also be restrictions. In particular, a number of councils put the old Christmas Day hours on licences in 2005 and they have not been removed. Look for a section marked 'embedded restrictions' or 'grandfathered restrictions'. If you have such limited hours, but wish to open all day Christmas Day, then you will need a TEN or to vary the premises licence to remove this restriction.

Whilst most neighbours are generally understanding that living near licensed premises will result in noise on occasions, and indeed most appreciate that Christmas is a special time of year, there is also scope for relationships to be fractured if you are intending on having a season of late night parties. Early planning and notifying your nearest neighbours of what you intend and how you will seek to control noise can go a long way to preventing January being a time of trying to re-build shattered relationships.

Whether you are keeping it simple or going all-out, early planning and ensuring the right licences are in place for what you intend, along with preparing staff for the busiest time of the year can mean Christmas is very merry for you and your customers.

Gambling News

Christmas tends to bring out a number of contradictory narratives from the press to do with gambling. The "Christmas lottery miracle" winners' tales vie with the "my hubby gambled away our Christmas money" tabloid stories for prominence. 2017, it is fair to say, has seen a change in the focus of the Gambling Commission in terms of its stated aims and this has driven a lot of the narrative in public.

Public image of gambling

The difficulty that the gambling industry has to deal with is that it is often hamstrung in terms of how to get out a positive message around gambling. Tighter restrictions on what is considered socially responsible advertising, the LCCP Code of Practice Provision 5 in relation to marketing and restrictions on sponsorship, whilst all invaluable tools in ensuring gambling is only undertaken by responsible adults, also make it difficult to promote a strong positive message around gambling. This, coupled with the Gambling Commission's restatement on how it will deal with breaches of codes of practice and licence conditions, can lead to a feeling of negativity around a certain gambling products, in particular certain on-line products and off-course betting. Operators are having to look harder for a means of promoting their products positively and engaging with the public.

Some areas, such as lotteries and on-course horse and dog racing can emphasis the social aspects of what they offer, such as raising money for good causes and bring people together for social events. However, this does not work so well in other areas. In particular, betting shops have been increasingly feeling the strain in terms of negative press and the backlash against FOBT's. However, without a stronger affirmative message, this negativity will permeate throughout gambling.

The positives that perhaps need to be emphasised include the work that the industry has done to protect problem gamblers and encourage a responsible attitude to gambling. In particular, this will help to counter the negative press whenever a company statement comes out through the Gambling Commission on a finding that the system has failed. In addition, where there is a social story to tell, this needs to be emphasised, as does the message of how much the industry spends in each sector on good causes. It's not just the lottery that gives money to charity, in the same way it's not just people having a day at the races that benefit from social inclusion around gambling.

There will always be a certain stigma that some people will attach to any and all gambling, just as there will be for alcohol; but it is not the only story out there. Perhaps it's just that at the moment, the negatives seem to be gaining more traction than the positives?

Out and about

In between looking for venues for our own Christmas party, September has been a month of hearings and meetings. We have been involved in new licence applications in Norwich, Bristol, Sevenoaks, Peckham and Stratford, with variations and other hearings in Newcastle Under Lyme, Haverford West and Cardiff, to name a few. We have also given training for Institute of Licensing members on the fundamentals of licensing hearings and attended various meetings up and down the country. The training sessions were particularly timely following the House of Lords concerns about the disparity of knowledge between licensing sub-committee members sitting in licensing hearings. The training was mainly attended by councillors and included practical advice on all aspects of the licensing process, as well as a mock hearing where they could test their knowledge and act as a party to a hearing.