Licensing lawyers outline potential pitfalls of the festive season and how to avoid them
Christmas is the season to be jolly and for most people that will mean visiting pubs, bars and restaurants, leading to a busy old time for Scotland’s licensed trade.
With so much to keep on top of from stock levels to staffing, the festive period brings its fair share of challenges for licensees, but no matter how hectic things get operators can’t allow standards to slip when it comes to compliance.
To help licensees keep on the right side of things over the festive period, licensing lawyers servicing the Scottish trade have highlighted areas of compliance that can potentially trip operators up at Christmas time.
Licensing lawyer John Grant of Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP, (WJM) said that during the festive period one of the main things to remember is that operators can apply for extended hours for their premises.
Grant said boards will be publishing their festive hours policies “in due course” and so licensees should be prepared to check what paperwork they are required to complete to secure extra trading time.
“In particular, it is important to check whether their operating plan deals with seasonal variations which would avoid the need for a specific application,” said Grant.
Check whether your operating plan automatically gives you extra hours.
Checking the premises’ operating plan was also advised by Jack Cummins of Hill Brown Licensing, which joined forces with law firm Miller Samuel in a merger earlier this year.
“This is absolutely critical,” said Cummins.
“Check whether your operating plan automatically gives you extra trading hours over the festive period.
“Those hours are likely to be set by the licensing board’s policy – make enquiries of the board’s office.
“You may need to apply to the board for an extension of hours: if so, be sure to meet the deadline.”
Licensing lawyer Audrey Junner, also of Hill Brown, echoed Cummins and added that the approach to extended hours varies from board to board.
“Some licensing boards will insist that bona fide festive events are held [before granting an extension] which have to go much further than a DJ playing a couple of songs by Wham and Wizard,” she said.
“It’s important to remember also that as a result of extensions additional conditions may apply like the requirement for toughened glass or plastics in Glasgow where you remain open after 12 midnight.
“They may seem like minor requirements, on one-off occasions, but if an incident occurs and a licence holder is found to fall short, their full licence – not just their extension – is potentially at risk.”
Other licensing areas operators should pay particular attention to over the festive period include irresponsible promotions restrictions, which Stephen McGowan, partner and head of licensing (Scotland) at TLT, said some operators can “unintentionally fall foul of” – particularly in relation to “party packages”.
“You should ensure that you take specialist advice on specific promotions when alcohol is involved,” said McGowan.
As a consequence of Christmas being peak trading time for the licensed trade, McGowan said LSOs and Police Scotland are likely to deploy “additional resources” over the festive period.
He advised operators to undertake a “pre-festive ‘licensing health check’ to ensure all their documentation, training and records are up to date”.
“Remember, all staff involved in the sale and supply of alcohol must receive two hours mandatory training, this includes seasonal and temporary staff,” said McGowan.
Ensure you take specialist advice on promotions when alcohol is involved.
Grant at WJM also noted that as Christmas and New Year is the busiest period for pubs and restaurants, this can place extra stress on staffing requirements, and so operators must be prepared to meet mandatory training requirements.
“Licensed premises are, of course, under an obligation to make sure that they are adequately staffed and that their staff are sufficiently trained to deal with the potential challenges during this busy period,” he said.
An additional pressure for 2016 which was highlighted by Grant – particularly for publicans in Glasgow and the central belt – is the Old Firm match which has been scheduled for Hogmanay at 12.15pm.
He said this will “likely lead to an extremely busy 12-plus hour period for premises” which licence holders will have to be “adequately prepared for”.
Operators should ensure staff are reminded of their mandatory training, “particularly in relation to best practice as regards standards of service and good practice in managing conflict situations,” Grant said.
Licensing lawyer Janet Hood also urged operators to carry out some licensing-based refresher training with staff ahead of the festive period, paying particular attention to Challenge 25 and monitoring drunkenness.
“Many people drink at this time of year who never touch alcohol otherwise and they can be very vulnerable,” said Hood.
She added that licensees should also ensure any additional staff brought on for the season are familiar with the operating plan.
“They need to know opening and closing times; activities permitted; access by children and young people; and, of course, understand the mandatory and local conditions,” said Hood.
And with LSOs and Police Scotland expected to deploy extra resources over Christmas, Hood recommended operators ensure they have everything organised and in order in terms of compliance.
“Make sure you have a folder with a certified copy of the whole premises licence, a certified copy of personal licences and all up to date staff training certificates – make sure all your staff know where this is,” she said.
“Behind the bar is a good place to keep this folder so it is easily accessible. Originals should be kept in the office/safe; keep incident and refusal books up to date and available for inspection.”