Posted by Woods Whur | Alcohol, Licensing Law

I have seen a recent increase in concerns over “bottomless brunches” or “bottomless prosecco” promotions at a number of licensed premises. This resulted in a recent case where the Police were threatening to prosecute an operator client of mine for breach of a mandatory condition. However, these were quality premises, offering food with the promotion, with no suggestion of any negative impact from what had become a popular attraction. The premises were well managed, the promotion was well supervised and there had been no reports of drunkenness as a result of the promotion. We entered into a long series of discussions with the Police who were very uncomfortable about the bottomless brunch. We helped the operator draft a guidance document for all staff to be trained on how to manage the promotion and finally the Police accepted that this was not an irresponsible promotion.

Where are we then with how irresponsible promotions are defined and should be avoided by operators? The principle of an irresponsible promotion was introduced into licensing legislation through the mandatory conditions attached to all premises licences which authorise the sale of alcohol.

The Licensing Act 2003 (Mandatory Licensing Conditions) Order 2010 (“the 2010 Order”) set out five new conditions that apply to all premises in England and Wales authorised to supply alcohol under a premises licence or club premises certificate. The first three of these conditions came into force on 6 April 2010. This included the condition dealing with irresponsible promotions.

The Home Office issued a specific Guidance document in 2014 which helps with understanding the reasoning behind these conditions and this can be found at the link below:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/350507/2014-08-29_MC_Guidance_v1_0.pdf

The relevant sections of the Guidance document state as follows:

The 2014 Order states that the responsible person must ensure that staff on relevant premises do not carry out, arrange or participate in any irresponsible promotion, as listed below, where that promotion is carried on for the purpose of encouraging the sale of alcohol on the premises.

Drinking games

This includes any game or activity that requires or encourages (or is designed to require or encourage) individuals to drink a quantity of alcohol within a time limit, or to drink as much as possible. This does not include “drinking up time”, shortly before the end of licensed hours.

The application of this prohibition is not subject to a judgement of risk, and so any game or activity that falls within it would be in breach of the condition.

Examples of this type of activity include drinking relay races and drinking challenges based on quantity.

Provision of alcohol free or for a fixed or discounted fee. This prohibits the provision of an unlimited or unspecified quantity of alcohol for free or for a fixed or discounted fee if there is a significant risk that such provision would undermine a licensing objective.

Rewards for consumption of alcohol

The new conditions ban the provision of free or discounted alcohol or any other thing as a prize to encourage or reward the consumption of alcohol over a period of 24 hours or less if there is a significant risk that such provision would undermine a licensing objective.

‘Significant risk’

The application of these prohibitions is subject to an assessment in any case about whether the activity in question would give rise to a significant risk of breaching one or more of the four licensing objectives:

  • The prevention of crime and disorder;
  • Public safety;
  • The prevention of public nuisance; and
  • The protection of children from harm.

Factors that may be considered when deciding if a promotion is irresponsible may include:

  • Type of promotion:

o How big is the discount?

o For how long does the discount apply?

  • Potential customers:

o Is there likely to be a significant increase in the number of customers?

o What is the profile of the customer base?

  • Type of premises:

o Is it a high-volume vertical drinking establishment or a community pub?

  • History of premises:

o Have previous promotions been handled responsibly?

o Has the licence been reviewed recently?

o Have sufficient security measures been taken for any potential increase in the number of customers?

If there is any doubt as to whether the promotion the operator is planning to run falls foul of this new mandatory condition, The Home Office strongly recommends that the operator discusses its proposals with its local licensing authority and/or police before running the promotion.

So the Guidance is pretty helpful in setting out what the Home Office believes are factors which will indicate whether the promotions are irresponsible. This is a judgement call. It does not mean that, per se, a bottomless brunch or prosecco hour is automatically irresponsible. The criteria above, if followed, can ensure there is not a “significant risk” to the licensing objectives being compromised and therefore the promotion would be legitimate and permissible.

The most recent version of the S182 Guidance also deals with the issue.

Para 10.39 states:

Under this condition, the “responsible person” (defined in the 2003 Act as the holder of a premises licence, designated premises supervisor, a person aged 18 or over who is authorised to allow the sale or supply of alcohol by an under 18 or a member or officer of a club present on the club premises who can oversee the supply of alcohol) should be able to demonstrate that they have ensured that staff do not carry out, arrange or participate in any irresponsible promotions. An irresponsible promotion is one that fits one of the descriptions below (or is substantially similar), is carried on for the purpose of encouraging the sale or supply of alcohol for consumption on the premises. The aim of the condition is to prohibit or restrict promotions which encourage people to drink more than they might ordinarily do and in a manner which undermines the licensing objectives.

Drinking games

10.40 Drinking games which require or encourage individuals to drink a quantity of alcohol within a time limit, or drink as much alcohol as possible within a time limit or otherwise, are prohibited. For example, this may include organised ‘drink downing’ competitions. This would not prevent the responsible person from requiring all drinks to be consumed or abandoned at, or before, the closing time of the premises. Nor does it necessarily prohibit ‘happy hours’ as long as these are not designed to encourage individuals to drink excessively or rapidly.

Large quantities of alcohol for free or a fixed price

10.41 Irresponsible promotions can include the provision of unlimited or unspecified quantities of alcohol free or for a fixed or discounted price, where there is a significant risk that such a promotion would undermine one or more of the licensing objectives. This includes alcohol provided to the public or to a group defined by a particular characteristic, for example, a promotion which offers women free drinks before a certain time or “all you can drink for £10”. Promotions can be designed with a particular group in mind (for example, over 65s). A common sense approach is encouraged, which may include specifying the quantity of alcohol included in it or not targeting a group which could become more vulnerable or present a greater risk of crime and disorder as a result of excessive alcohol consumption.

Prizes and rewards

10.42 The sale, supply or provision of free or discounted alcohol or any other item as a prize to encourage or reward the purchase and consumption of alcohol can be within the definition of an irresponsible promotion, where there is a significant risk that such a promotion would undermine one or more of the licensing objectives. This may include promotions under which free or discounted alcohol is offered as a part of the sale of alcohol, for example, “Buy one and get two free” and “Buy one cocktail and get a second cocktail for 25p”. This includes promotions which involve the provision of free or discounted alcohol within the same 24 hour period.

So the original Guidance and the most recent Statutory Guidance is particularly helpful. If properly managed and supervised, then these are nor irresponsible promotions. The key phrase from the Guidance is perhaps, “A common sense approach is encouraged, which may include specifying the quantity of alcohol included in it or not targeting a group which could become more vulnerable or present a greater risk of crime and disorder as a result of excessive alcohol consumption.”

So, think it through. Plan ahead. Advertise carefully. Have a training and supervision plan prepared. Make sure what you are doing does not pose a significant risk to the licensing objectives and everything should be fine. Should you encounter any difficulties as an operator or an enforcement agency, then do not hesitate to contact me to discuss the issues that have arisen.