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The Ins and Outs of Serving Alcohol in Your Bridal Boutique

It’s great to offer brides celebratory drinks, but what can you legally give them? Sarah Frow of Woods Whur Solicitors investigates.

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A special moment in the wedding planning process is when a bride-to-be says yes to the dress. It is commonplace for bridal boutiques to assist in making that moment extra special by providing a glass of bubbly or other types of alcoholic drinks.

This poses the questions; should boutiques be licensed to provide such a refreshment? Do boutiques need a license if they provide alcohol to customers upon purchase of a wedding dress?

Read More: Are You Breaking the Law By Offering Brides Alcohol?

The Licensing Act 2003 sets out the various licensable activities for which some form of authorisation under the Act is required. One of the licensable activities listed within the Licensing Act is the sale by retail of alcohol.

Unhelpfully, the Act provides no definition of “sale” therefore interpretation of the word should be given its ordinary dictionary meaning which is; “exchange of a commodity for money or other consideration.” Case law has determined that there is no sale if a bona fide gift of alcohol is made to a person, therefore no licence is required as there would be no offence in connection with the sale of alcohol.

However, consideration has to be made as to whether alcohol is sold by way of retail sale, where customers can only receive a drink upon purchase of a wedding dress, i.e. a sale.

There is case law arguing this point and broadly, the courts have found that if payment is required, even when the main sale is not that of alcohol, then it is deemed a transaction and a licence will be required.

Read More: Seven Festive Drink Ideas You Can Serve In-Store

The relevant case that addresses this was Doak V Bedford in 1964. In this case, the defendant held parties at her premises where music and dancing took place and food and drinks – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic- were available for a £1 payment in advance.

The magistrates acquitted the defendant for the offence of selling intoxicating liquor under section I20 of the Licensing Act 1953. The decision was appealed and it was ultimately held that an offence had been committed. The judge in the appeal case, Justice Paull stated, “If I pay money for the right, inter alia, to pick out such goods as I desire from a shelf and make those goods mine, in my judgment when I so pick out such goods, those goods have been sold to me.”

There is another case that dates back to 1908, Horgan V Driscoll, which also supports the above appealed case of Doak. The facts of this case concern a tenant paying a boarding house-keeper a fixed sum for board and lodging.

Within the price of this lodging was included bottles of porter which could be consumed if the tenant so desired. It was held that there was a sale of the porter and the boarding-house keeper was liable for the sale of alcohol without a licence. In the case of Horgan V Driscoll, Lord O’Brien stated, “The fact that there was a mingling in the contract for the supply of porter and other things did not prevent the transaction being a sale.”

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The legislation has since changed, as we now have the Licensing Act 2003, but the legal principles of interpretation of the definition of retail sale remain. Penalties for providing alcohol by way of retail sale fall under Section I36 of the Licensing Act 2003. It is a criminal offence to sell alcohol without a licence and the potential sentence for doing so is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine set by the Magistrates’ Court – which is unlimited.

In the instances where bridal shops offer a complimentary alcoholic drink to each prospective customer, regardless of whether the customer will proceed to buy a dress, then this would be classed as a gift and therefore no requirement for a retail sale.

But of course, it’s not usually just the bride-to-be that will attend a bridal shop, they are likely to bring along a number of family and friends to share the special occasion with. So, what are the implications of bringing someone under the age of 18 with them and they are provided with a glass of bubbly on arrival?

The main offence concerning the sale of alcohol to children is contained within Section I46(I) of the Licensing Act 2003. This sets out that a person commits an offence if they sell alcohol to an individual aged under 18. The keyword here, again, is that of ‘sale.’ There has to be a sale for a person to commit an offence under this section. It is not illegal to provide alcohol to children under 18 but above the age of 5, at home or at private premises.

Although this is the law, it is not recommended that children are readily provided with free alcohol at private premises such as a bridal shop due to the obvious safeguarding and health implications.

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It is a common sight for brides-to-be to make an occasion out of wedding dress shopping and it is up to the bridal boutiques to understand the law in relation to providing alcohol. Special care should be taken by those bridal shops that may charge a fee for prospective brides to attend an appointment in exchange for a glass of fizz, as this would most definitely be classed as a retail sale of alcohol and therefore a licence would be required.

So, next time you consider cracking open the bubbly with a client, please take care and think about whether this may be classed as a retail sale of alcohol.

There are plenty of things you need to consider when it comes to your bridal business and insurance should be at the top of the list. Hine Insurance Brokers share their advice on finding the best policy for your business here.

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