Luke and I were chatting this week about topics for today’s newsletter and the fact it was impossible to write about what the likelihood was of licensed premises opening up after 2nd December when this lock down ends. We decided it was too speculative to try and second guess what is going to happen. A further lockdown, return to the previous tier system, new tiers–who knows really. As a result of our chat, and the decision to wait until we had some understanding of what is to happen, it made me realise how impossible it is for the trade to plan. We know for certain that nightclubs will not be able to reopen, I can’t see how the government will change their position and we have to wonder whether some of the late night venues will now ever reopen.
We are now approaching the busiest time of the year for restaurants and bars. The next 5 weeks usually generate the business which provides the revenues to get through the fallow months of January and February. Without these 5 weeks of bumper returns, many operators could fail–from small independents right up to the largest of multiple operators. What do you order in to sell? I saw one of my clients posting this week as they were disposing of beer stocks going out of date in this lockdown. It is a complete mess that is for sure and the lack of certainty for planning is shambolic. We represent significant National Casino and Bingo operators and we have seen ever-changing schedules of who is open, who is on furlough, who we should deal with. It is taking a huge amount of effort for lots of these operators to change their style of operation to match what they can do, and have to do to provide a COVID safe environment.
2021 will be Andy and my 30th year as qualified solicitors specializing in the Leisure and Gambling sector. We have seen huge challenges in that time but we are both confident that as we pull out of this pandemic we will see the leisure and gambling sector show new buds of growth. Some, but not all, will come through the hardest of times. It is those who had viable, successful business which don’t survive who you feel the most sorry for.
What we are seeing is fresh challenges every day. The industry looks at bringing in innovative new ways to create a safe environment, and then people behave in such a way that it puts their licence in jeopardy. When we came out of lockdown I was in one of my client’s premises and was shown how the QR code worked. Scan it on your phone, up pops a menu, you order and pay without leaving your seat, and your drinks are delivered to you at your table. Wow, I was so impressed and the operator told me how they were able to go cashless in their premises and control the number of staff they needed so much more accurately. Good for the operator, good for the customer–win win. But, one step forwards, two steps back…every time something good comes forward, people begin to behave to frustrate the system. I had a meeting with the police and council licensing officers in Leeds. Great to see them, in a socially distanced environment with our masks on. It was at this meeting that they explained the new pitfalls of the QR system and remote ordering. People have been ordering drinks through these app-based systems for different tables or even adults have been ordering on their credit/debit cards from home for their kids in licensed premises. This brings about a whole new set of issues over assessing the age of people as they have their drinks delivered. Training of staff to ensure that challenge 21/25 is still taking place when alcohol is delivered to the table is now even more vital. It also brings about monitoring what people are drinking, how much people are consuming and how quickly, if they aren’t ordering their own drinks. Strong management right through all staff is going to be critical and I cant thank the officers enough for bringing this to my attention.
Luke and I have also been discussing Cumulative Impact Policies over the last few days as we delivered a session at the IOL virtual conference, on where they sit post pandemic. What is for sure is that every single CIP has been developed on data which is now fatally flawed and out of date. Lots of licensing authorities will be coming up to reviewing their policies, which they have to do at least every three years. Lets hope this is an open and honest process and we look carefully at what the landscape looks like now as opposed to when the policy was derived. We are making applications at the moment in CIP areas and trying to explain to committees why a fresh approach needs to be taken. Fortunately we have, for the most part, seen sense prevail and a good pragmatic approach being taken.
We are hoping for better news for the bar, leisure and gambling sectors as we approach the release from lockdown, whatever the government plan we will be hear to help and advise all of our clients.