How to get your restaurant licensed

Niall McCann on the importance of getting the right licence conditions

 

Unless a new restaurant is to be bereft of alcohol, or operate a BYO policy, it will require a premises licence granted by the local authority in which it is located

 

When presenting an application for a new premises licence in front of a licensing sub- committee, the first few minutes are usually engaged in describing the premises. Rarely is it sufficient to simply say, “It will be a restaurant,” as committee members will want to see mood boards and salivate over menus. They may want to know if customers will be shown to their table, the type of crockery, the range of food to be sold, if there will be waiter/waitress service, or takeaways offered and whether the consumption of alcohol will be permitted without a substantial table meal eaten.

Such scrutiny will probably occur not merely out of curiosity, but because it is likely the committee will consider placing conditions on any premises granted a licence to ensure it operates as described. Licensing sub-committees have long since got wise to applicants promising to run a restaurant but instead opening a bar or, alternatively, food-led establishments transferring their premises licences to operators that alter the style of operation considerably.

The most effective way such occurrences can be prevented are by sub-committees placing conditions on a premises licence at grant, the most common being restrictions on alcohol being consumed unless ancillary to the provision of substantial food. Such conditions come in many different forms and can be rather detailed. For example, the City of Westminster’s principle model in respect of restaurants reads as follows:

‘The premises shall only operate as a restaurant (i) in which customers are shown to their table, (ii) where the supply of alcohol is by waiter or waitress service only, (iii)  which provide food in the form of substantial table meals that are prepared on the premises and are served and consumed at the table using non-disposable crockery, (iv)) which do not provide any take away service of food or drink for immediate consumption, (v) which do not provide any take away service of food or drink after 23.00, and (vi) where alcohol shall not be sold or supplied otherwise than for consumption by persons who are seated in the premises and bona fide taking substantial table meals there and provided always that the consumption of alcohol by such persons is ancillary to taking such meals. Notwithstanding these conditions, customers are permitted to take from the premises part-consumed and resealed bottles of wine supplied ancillary to their meal.’

It might be that a prescriptive approach does not tally with the proposed style of operation. What if there is going to be a separate bar for pre/post-dinner drinks? What if customers are not shown to tables? It could well be that certain restaurant-style conditions cannot be complied with. It is vitally important to accurately describe the operation to ensure unworkable conditions are not placed on the premises licence. Most councils will consider alternative wording and some, such as Westminster City Council, have more flexible conditions.

However, it can take a skilled advocate to suggest conditions that ensure the licensing objectives are upheld (both at the time of grant and in the future) but allow the business to flourish – especially when new ‘concepts’ are being developed and the definitions of restaurant, cafe, bar and pub become blurred. It is not acceptable to adopt conditions to ensure the grant of a premises licence and then ignore them. Carrying out activities not outside the conditions on your premises licence is a criminal offence that can attract an unlimited fine or up to six months’ imprisonment.

The more sensible route is only to proffer conditions that can be enforced. Ultimately, if the premises are located outside of a cumulative impact zone, it could be possible to have a premises licence granted without any restaurant-style conditions, allowing operational flexibility.