Maeve Fisher from our Licensing Team produced ‘Top Tips for the Trade’ in conjunction with the IFEX Food, Drink, Retail and Hospitality Conference which took place at The Titanic Exhibition Centre from 8-10 March 2016. Given that 2016 is the Year of Food and Drink, the Conference was bigger and better than ever and again highlighted the strength of this industry in Northern Ireland. Maeve’s article focuses on liquor licensing issues for hotels and restaurants and can be viewed below:
Top Tips for the Trade – Common Pitfalls in Liquor Licensing for Hotels and Restaurants and how to avoid them
In Northern Ireland liquor licensing is governed by legislation and the Courts (rather than local councils as in other parts of the UK). As a result, it is increasingly important to obtain expert and timely advice in an attempt to avoid some of the most common pitfalls. Here are some examples and points to consider:
- Not leaving enough time for procedure before opening
Given the busy Court system, in terms of new licence applications, there is generally only one hearing date per month (in some divisions only one date every two months). As the application for a new licence requires service on statutory bodies, display and advertisement in newspapers within specified time periods (as prescribed under legislation), it is vital that you forward plan and consult your advisors with as much notice as possible. Failure to follow the correct procedure is one of the grounds of objection and can lead to an unsuccessful application. As well as an experienced licensing solicitor, you will also need an architect who can produce the appropriate plans for Court and comment on the suitability of your premises. It is often advisable to make a provisional grant application (to initially approve your plans) in advance to ensure Court approval before substantial money is spent on construction/renovation works. A final approval can then be requested from the Court when the premises are ready to open and trade.
- Plans which do not reflect your premises
It is essential that the licensing drawings held by the Court for your premises are accurate. Any amendments to your premises should be done in consultation with an experienced licensing solicitor in advance as Court permission may be required before works are completed. The type of application depends on the level of change to your premises. A significant increase in licensed area or a change to your curtilage may require a new licence application and therefore careful attention needs to be paid to any potential amendments.
- Forgetting to renew
All liquor licences in Northern Ireland must be renewed by the appropriate Court division every five years. The last renewal date was September 2012 meaning the next process must be completed for September 2017. Failure to renew can invalidate your licence and therefore jeopardise your business. Renewing out of time can be a very costly process and given that renewal is usually a straightforward application, consulting a solicitor in advance could save you a lot of money and hassle!
- Not providing adequately for children on your premises
Licence holders must take care in dealing with “under 18s” on their premises. A Court application is necessary to obtain a Children’s Certificate. A notice must then be displayed on your premises detailing the existence of the Children’s Certificate and its effects. Anyone below the age of 18 should not be at an open bar so advice should be taken in the design of the area to ensure suitability of the premises and protection for minors. Steps can easily be taken to accommodate children and promote a family friendly business!