It’s common practise to serve alcohol to brides who visit your shop - but are you breaking the law to do it without a licence?
Bridal boutiques are not like any other store, they need to provide the ultimate service and treat their brides like the VIPs they are in order to secure sales. Buying THE dress is one of the most important moments in a person’s life and retailers are not just selling dresses but providing an experience like no other. It is common practise that a part of this experience is to serve alcohol. However, if you don’t possess an alcohol licence, you could be breaking the law.
According to the Licensing Act 2003, you need a licence to sell alcohol and this includes giving away free alcohol as it is considered an incentive to purchase or that it is included in your pricing structure. This is something to think about as you could receive a visit from a licensing officer. This happened to Helen, from Willow Bridal in 2017. She explained that they wanted to offer VIP sessions in store at their Manchester shop where brides would be offered a glass of champagne. She did the right thing and contacted her local authority to see if she needed a licence for this and was told that she absolutely would. “We had a visit from a local licensing officer who came to check if there was any alcohol on the premises – this happened to a few stores in the area. Luckily, I didn’t have any as I was in the process of applying for my licences." The licencing authority explained that unless Willow Bridal had an open door where alcohol was available for anyone to walk in and help themselves for free, they would need a licence.
Many shops maybe unaware but even if you give a bride a bottle of champagne to take away with her after she buys her dress, alcohol is considered to be part of the sale so you would need to possess a licence.
When a bride pays for her items, it is considered that not only is she paying for her dress but she is paying for the alcohol provided too - as a ‘consideration’ for your service. It means even though the alcohol is complimentary it is not free. The Licensing Act 2003 stipulates that you need two licences to serve alcohol, a personal licence for the person selling the alcohol, and a premises licence for your site. Both of these come at a cost, but it is cheaper than being fined for not having a licence. You can apply for these through your local authority and prices vary depending on your local authority. If you decide to provide alcohol to your customers, it will be perceived that you are only supplying it to people who intend to purchase from you. Therefore, if there is any evidence to suggest that the alcohol is linked to a sale, you are susceptible to a fine. For a one-off occasion, such as an opening party or an in-store celebration where no money is changing hands, you don’t need to have a licence. However, you may need to apply for a temporary events notice. To determine whether you need one of these, contact your local authority.
We asked Peter Mayhew, Director of Beyond the Blue Ltd*, to explain further.
“Wherever there is any commercial income generated from a sale, such as an entry fee/ticket or the sale of any product (in this case; a wedding dress), and that sale in any way includes a customer-perceived ‘free’ alcoholic drink, that the alcohol is not deemed to be free, it would be deemed to be an indirect or de facto sale of alcohol by the licensing authority. That is to say, the price of the ‘free’ alcohol, is in effect included in the price of the products sold, the ticket price or the paid-for service provided, and therefore requires a licence for its ‘sale’. This would also apply, for example, to a wedding planner whose advisory/consultancy services are paid for, by offering alcohol during those paid for services. However, if there is no obligation to buy and no transaction takes place for entry, but a free glass of alcohol (such as champagne or similar) is offered, then as no sale of alcohol takes place, no licence would be required.”
For more information, get in touch with your local authority or read up on the licensing guidelines on the government’s website.
This advice is based on laws in England and Wales, please note that laws differ in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
*Beyond the Blue Limited is a leading training and consultancy company specialising in Licensing Law for the Licensed Hospitality and Licensed Retail sectors. They deliver statutory training including the prescribed qualifications required to obtain a Personal Licence. They also provide consultancy services to organisations of all sizes from independent retailers to multinational companies on their obligations under the Licensing Act 2003 and associated legislation. These services include undertaking applications on behalf of clients for Premises Licences and Temporary Events Notices, as well as representing clients at Local Authority hearings when applications are objected to or where clients encounter issues as a result of their practices.