Impact of coronavirus on licensed premises

25 Mar 2020

Licensed premises - including restaurants, bars, pubs, nightclubs and cafes - were ordered to close on 21 March under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closure) (England) Regulations 2020. Further guidance published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government on 24 March outlines all other types of non-essential premises which must remain shut during an initial three week period. This period will be reviewed, and possibly relaxed if evidence shows that it’s possible.  Of course, there is also a strong chance that it will be extended.

The other premises that will remain shut during this period include “non-essential” shops, libraries, cinemas and theatres (although live streaming of a performance by a small group might be permissible, with social distancing being observed). 

A notable exception is takeaway food and delivery facilities, which “should remain open and operational.”

People can continue to enter premises to access takeaway food and drink services, including delivery drivers.  As you would expect, however, customers cannot consume food or drink on site at restaurants, cafes or pubs, whilst waiting for takeaway food.  

The Government says that planning regulations will be changed to enable restaurants, cafes and pubs which do not currently offer delivery and hot food takeaway, to do so.  Clearly some thought has been given to relaxing planning laws; that’s not true of  licensing laws, which have not been relaxed.  Therefore those venues offering takeaway or delivery services must not include alcoholic beverages for sale unless their premises licence already permits it.  

For those operators without off-sales on their premises licence who want to sell alcohol for delivery or takeaway, a variation of premises licence application will need to be made.  Late night refreshment is a separate licensable activity so the sale of hot food and hot drink at any time between 11:00pm and 05:00am also needs authorisation on the premises licence.

A premises licence variation application takes at least 28 days (which is the public consultation period) but some preparation time is also required. We would hope that no representations (ie. objections) would be made in the current circumstances, but in the event that they are, there will still need to be a licensing committee hearing.  Some committees have postponed their immediate meetings due to social distancing concerns, although some are considering conducting meetings remotely. 

The UK is not alone in allowing the provision of takeaway food and drink.  The move reflects what other countries are doing, and it is hoped that it will provide a vital service (sustenance), taking the strain off the supermarkets.  

It is reported that some operators have now branched out into food takeaways and deliveries never having tried it before. Operators offering this service do need to strive to boost consumer confidence in these challenging times by publicising exemplary food hygiene standards; most will also provide “contactless delivery”, leaving the delivery at someone’s door.   

Of course there is currently no indication as to how long closures and restrictions might remain in force beyond the initial three week period.  As time goes on, more licensed premises operators may look to food and beverage takeaways and deliveries to generate a much needed income stream.  Any operator considering this should check their premises licence very carefully. 

The full guidance can be seen here

For advice and assistance on variation of your premises licence to add off-sales of alcohol or late night refreshment please contact Maria Guida, Senior Associate, in our Guildford office.

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