In this article for The Brewers Journal, we answer the question: ‘How do you balance the need to convince councils and residents you are a good operator without restricting your business in the process?’
This may sound like some kind of zen mantra, but if you don’t have a clear idea of how your business will look, feel and operate, the chances are you will struggle to convince residents, officers and ultimately licensing committees of what you are doing. You wouldn’t approach a bank for a loan without a good business plan. The same applies to applying for a premises licence.
If you want to run a retail space, bar, restaurant and comedy club out of a brewery, fantastic. However, if the reality is you will struggle to fit in sufficient toilets, a professional kitchen and enough parking, then think about the practicalities and dial back if needed. Customers will expose poorly thought out ideas in the global public forum of Twitter before you have got through day one. Less done better is not a bad mantra for any business.
Do residents live opposite your main entrance or behind where you want to put a large beer garden? Identify and engage early with people likely to be affected. Remember they get a chance to object to any application you make, so you are not telling them anything they are unlikely to know anyway. Plus, your engagement may help you win new customers.
When applying for a premises licence, it is important to have a handle on what your council expects of applicants. Council statements of licensing policy set out factors that both guide, but can also restrict what you want to do. Even if you choose not to follow the policy, you will at least be able to explain that you have a considered reason for not doing so. A licensing committee hates nothing more than an applicant who is ignorant of the hard work they have put into their policy.
Licensing a premises does not have to be a solo task. Council licensing and other enforcement officers will often be prepared to give you the benefit of their experience in terms of likely obstacles to grant of a licence. They also often have a set of conditions that they will want to see in your application which will save time and effort later down the line. This can be the difference between a painless grant and an extended negotiation. Finally, like all processes, applying for a licence requires hoops to be jumped through. Failure to do so can lead to refusal of your application. Expert help in crafting and submitting an application can avoid any number of pitfalls and delays.
Licence applications must be accompanied by a suite of conditions that demonstrate how you intend to operate. Common conditions such as a ‘challenge 21/25’ policy, use of CCTV and staff training are likely expected. Further conditions bespoke to your proposal demonstrate that next level of understanding of both your business (see step one) and licensing best practice.
It is often the case that growth of the business is done in stages: first, online sales, next a bottle shop, then the tap room… then the pop-up burrito truck and summer beach party. All need thinking about in terms of the licence you apply for. The more you plan for each stage, the more you can include these activities in the one application. However, applying for the beach party from the outset could be a step too far for council officers and residents until you have a proven track record of good operation. This is why step five is so crucial. Remember: temporary event notices allow for testing ‘problematic’ concepts without having to apply for a full premises licence.
Imagine you have just opened your bottle shop and tap room. Now imagine the manager you hired at great expense walks out because they have been poached to run a bar on Copacabana beach. Unless you have policies in place to ensure that the great service levels, happy customers and content neighbours can be maintained by their replacement, your standards will quickly slide. Policies dealing with dispersal, preventing sales to intoxicated persons, management of external spaces – whatever is appropriate – is an investment that will repay you time and again.
A premises licence can be reviewed and restricted at any time. The key to preventing this from happening is to ensure there is a constant watch on external relationships. Small niggles grow into large problems if not resolved quickly.
Once you have your licence, take care of it. Nurture it and make it front and centre when you use it. Too many businesses find themselves in trouble because they forget about their licence. Anything from appointing a new manager to trying out a new activity is likely to have a knock on effect. In the worst case scenario, businesses have lost licences due to tinkering with their business and forgetting about the effect it may have on their licence. Be warned: before you make any changes, think – what do I need to do to protect my licence? If in doubt, ask.This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at November 2020. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.
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