Are you inadvertently breaking the law by offering brides a glass of bubbly? We looked into the alcohol licensing laws to investigate.
After Helen from Willow Bridal got in touch with us to tell us about her visit from a licensing officer, it came to our attention that bridalwear boutiques across the UK could be breaking the law by offering alcohol to brides.
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It’s commonly suggested – and is common practise – that boutiques offer brides and their guests glasses of champagne, prosecco or sparkling wine to add to their shopping experience. However, if you don’t have an alcohol licence and you do this, 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.
Helen, from Willow Bridal explained her experience: “We wanted to offer VIP sessions in store at our Manchester shop where brides received a glass of champagne, so I contacted our local authority to see if I needed a licence for this and was told I absolutely would.
“I’ve since opened Willow Bridal in Cheshire which has been open for about a year, and 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.
“I didn’t have any and am in the process of applying for my licences so I can offer alcohol to brides who visit my shop, fully above board. They explained that unless we had an open door with alcohol on the side for anyone to help themselves to we would need a licence.
“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 be licenced. I’m concerned that many shops don’t know this and are encouraged to offer alcohol to brides without a licence, which could potentially land them in hot water.”
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When the bride pays for her items, it is considered that they have essentially paid for the alcohol provided too – as a ‘consideration’ for your service, it means 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 – prices vary depending on your local authority.
If you are giving alcohol to customers coming into your shop, it will be perceived that you are only supplying it to people who intend to pay you – 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 (for example a wedding dress) and that sale in any way then includes a customer-perceived ‘free’ alcoholic drink, that alcohol is not deemed to be free; it would be deemed to be an indirect or de facto sale of alcohol.
“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 for example apply to a wedding planner whose advisory/consultancy services are paid for, 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. It is also important to be aware that the laws differ in Northern Ireland and Scotland - this advice is based on laws in England and Wales.
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*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.