Legal Eagles - Ashdale Business Consulting

Legal Eagles


A number of years ago I attended an industry conference which looked at the latest trends which the hospitality sector could expect to see over the coming years.  Although the event was excellent in its own right, the day was even better due to the conversations I was able to have with one of the other attendees who I was fortunate enough to sit next to.

My fellow delegate specialised in helping the hospitality sector deal with the myriad of laws and regulations which the industry has to deal with on a daily basis.  During our discussions it became obvious to me that despite best intentions, many operators put themselves and their businesses in harm’s way by not keeping abreast of even some of the most basic legislation.  What was even clearer was that even when the business owners where on top of things, as you moved down through the various front and back of house teams this knowledge soon disappeared.

This got me thinking, do operators do enough to make sure that they and their teams don’t inadvertently break the law?

I would note that the legislation and fines quoted in this section are for the UK and were correct at the time of writing.  It is incumbent on anyone reading this to keep up to date with the latest legislation where they operate.


Age is just a number

In the UK it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to buy or consume alcohol in a pub, bar or restaurant.  The only exception being that someone aged 16 or 17 can consume alcohol as long as it is drunk with a meal.  It is therefore illegal for anyone under 18 to be served with alcohol.  As part of this the Licensing Act of 2003 introduced mandatory conditions on every alcohol license which required all premises to have a policy to prevent underage sales.

To help with this, many bars and pubs have adopted the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group “Challenge 25” policy.  Challenge 25 simply requires that every person buying an age restricted product such as alcohol, who looks under the age of 25, is challenged to produce a valid ID.

Whether you choose to adopt this policy or not, it is vitally important that you have a program in place to regularly train staff about under-age sales, including who to challenge and how -  especially when inducting new staff.  Your teams need to be confident in making the necessary challenges and whatever approach you decide upon it needs to be consistently applied at all times.  Remember these things only work if your teams have confidence that the decisions they make will not be undermined or overturned.

It is also recommended that you advertise whatever your underage policy is throughout your venue.  You should also keep records regarding who and when your teams have been trained.  Best practice also suggests that it is useful to keep records of all failed attempts to buy alcohol of those without ID (who look under 25), this could help with police or trading standards operations.

This is not just about social or morale responsibility; there are significant penalties for selling alcohol to a person under the age of 18 for both staff and operators.  These include a fine of up to £5,000 if a member of staff makes an underage sale, unless they can show they had taken all measures including asking for identification that would convince a reasonable person that they were over 18.  Venues can also be fined up to £20,000 if they are found to be persistently selling to people underage as well as the risk of being temporarily closed.


One too many

Whether you run a pub, bar or even a restaurant chances are some of your guests will over do things from time to time.  And while no one wants to turn down a sale or be a spoil sport when it comes to someone having one more drink, there are things your bar and serving staff need to be aware of.

Back to our friend the 2003 Licensing Act.  Section 141 makes it an offence to sell or attempt to sell alcohol to a person who is drunk or allow alcohol to be sold to such a person on your premises.  Under section 142 of the Act a person commits an offence if, on relevant premises, they knowingly obtain or attempt to obtain alcohol for consumption on those premises by a person who is drunk.

Unfortunately, although there is no legal definition of drunkenness, I always suggest using the one which can be found in most dictionaries “having drunk intoxicating liquor to an extent that affects steady self-control”.

As with underage sales there are also big penalties when it comes to those individuals or outlets who don’t adhere to the above legislation.  For example, there is a fine for any individual committing these offences of up to £1,000, as well as the risk that an outlet may lose its licence if the premise is taken to a review based on this issue.  So, it is something your teams need to be aware of.

As with many things within the hospitality sector the key here is training and being constantly aware of what is going on around you.  By no means an exhaustive list but here are just a few things which are worth considering when it comes to dealing with customers who maybe drunk.

The first of these is mainly, although not exclusively, for pubs and bars.  Ensure that your staff (including door staff) are trained to look for the signs of intoxication or evidence of pre-loading.  If in doubt, refuse entry to anyone who is or appears to be drunk.  Remember it can often be more difficult and disruptive to deal with a drunk customer once they are inside your venue.  In the event that you have to deal with a drunken customer, either inside or outside of your venue, avoid confrontation at all times.  Always try and give good reasons for your actions and remember to make it clear it’s the law.  Although often more difficult, it is also important to make sure your teams are alert to situations where customers are buying on behalf of individuals who are already worse for wear.

If you or your teams are in any doubt about whether a customer is drunk or not, it’s always best to refuse to serve them, all things considered it will be in both their and your best interests.