Is Promoting Alcohol Legal?

There is still much confusion about what type of alcohol promotion is legal and what would be deemed irresponsible; the confusion is not limited to premises licence holders, there is also a lack of clarity and consistency amongst local authorities and the police.

The law on alcohol promotion was meant to be clarified under the Licensing Act 2003 (Mandatory Licensing Conditions) Order 2010. The Mandatory Condition states that ‘The responsible person shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that staff on relevant premises do not carry out, arrange or participate in any irresponsible promotions in relation to the premises.’

Failure to adhere to a mandatory condition would be considered an Unauthorised Licensable Activity and subject to a maximum penalty of a £20,000 fine and /or 6 months imprisonment.

Home Office guidance states that an irresponsible promotion is one which is ‘carried on for the purpose of encouraging the sale or supply of alcohol for consumption on the premises in a manner which carries a significant risk of leading or contributing to crime and disorder, prejudice to public safety, public nuisance or harm to children’.

The guidance lists ‘irresponsible promotions’ as: games and other activities which require or are designed to encourage someone to drink a quantity of alcohol within a time limit; drink as much alcohol as possible promotions; provision of unlimited or unspecified quantities of alcohol for a free or fixed price; or as a prize / reward for purchase or consumption of alcohol over a period of 24 hours or less; free or discounted alcohol in relation to the outcome of a race, competition or event; or in connection to promotional materials which encourage or condone anti-social behaviour or refer to drunkenness in a favourable manner.

This list of activities though can be interpreted in many different ways and therein lies the problem for the authorities.

For example if you run a ‘buy one get one free’ promotion on bottled beer that would not necessarily lead to irresponsible alcohol consumption and thus would not been deemed irresponsible, yet do the same with a cocktail jugs and it could be misinterpreted.

Industry guidance gives us a little more clarity and can be summarised with four main rules; alcohol promotions should:

  1. Be designed to increase your customer base, rather than to get existing customers consume more alcohol.
  2. Always be designed for your target audience; Adults NOT Children.
  3. Encourage sensible and responsible consumption of alcohol.
  4. In no way link the consumption of alcohol to increased physical, sporting or sexual performance.

Therefore in reference to the buy one get one free promotions for cocktail jugs, if your marketing materials make it clear that this is targeting groups rather than individuals, (i.e. come in with a group of friends and buy a cocktail jug and we’ll give you a second one free to share), it is no longer irresponsible.

The key is always in the message you project in your marketing materials and that which your staff give your customers.

The mandatory condition does not ban alcohol marketing it seeks to reduce irresponsible elements within the trade. The best bars use alcohol promotion as a tool to showcase what they offer not as the sole driver of their business.

Source - Bar Magazine (June 2012 Issue)

Author - Peter Mayhew is the Managing Director of Beyond the Blue Training & Consultancy and a contributor to Bar Magazine’s ‘Expert Advice’ section.

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