Whisky or Apple Juice?

Frankie & Benny’s in Swansea made a potentially fatal mistake when a toddler was served with whiskey instead of the apple juice he had ordered. It was only the awareness of the toddler’s parents which stopped a bad situation, becoming a potentially very serious one.

I’m sure this was an accident rather than anything intentional, but the consequences of this mistake have led to a young child requiring hospital treatment.

Now I am the first to admit no one gets it 100% right 100% of the time and mistakes will be made, but some mistakes should never happen and are difficult to excuse.

Frankie and Benny’s is a family orientated restaurant chain, they go out of their way to market themselves to families. They should have sufficient training and effective systems in place to stop this kind of potentially very serious mistake from happening.

At first glance and apple juice and mixed whiskey drink look very similar, so where does this type of mistake actually happen?

Is it the waiter or waitress who should know what they are serving? Is it the person making the drinks behind the bar who should better identify the drinks once poured?

The answer surely is both and that is why licensing law focusses so much on due diligence. It is about putting all reasonable measures into place, at every step of the process.

Due Diligence

There is a question I get asked a lot. If you employ door supervisors and they are meant to check ID on the door to make sure everyone is 18 years old, do the staff behind the bar need to check id if they suspect someone to be under 18?

The answer for me is yes, because if someone behind a bar serves to someone who is under 18 on the basis of the assumption that they have been checked on the door, they would have to be able to demonstrate that the procedures in place are rigorous enough and that the people checking ID have been suitably trained. Can you guarantee that they will never let anyone pass through who is under the age of 18?

The defence of due diligence we would employ in this case would be that ‘we were relying on the actions of another person’; this would require us to provide evidence of the experience, suitability and training of that door supervisor.

If they are employed in-house, that may be possible, if they are contracted in then you may be relying on the fact that they have a Security Industry Authority (SIA) licence; the SIA licence is not evidence of suitable training having been provided and the SIA themselves recommend that all employees receive additional training specific to their working environment; in the case of contracted-in staff they are counted as employees when they are working for you.

So the individual employee who fails to check ID and serves alcohol to someone under the age of 18 could be liable; the premises licence holder would also be liable and their fine could be as high as £5000 or they could face a review of their premises licence.

Premises Permitting Children

With a restaurant, where families are a mainstay of their business but which also sell alcohol, they would be required to have much more robust systems in place to avoid underage children being served alcohol, then in other licenced premises.

Their risk is so much higher and therefore their risk assessment in respect of the licensing objective of ‘protecting children from harm’ should reflect this.

One would presume that a large company like Frankie and Benny’s have subsequently carried out their own investigation into what went wrong that day and as a result should have put a more robust system into place as well as reviewing whatever training they provide their employees.

Corrective Training and Operational Systems

Once an incident such as this has occurred, premises licence holders have to go much further than might seem sensible on the face of it. They need to prove to the responsible authorities and their team, that they accept the seriousness of the incident and the gravity of the potential consequences.

In this case they were very lucky that nothing more serious seems to have happened to the child as a result of their mistake, they need to prevent it happening in future.

They could for example consider moving to branded glassware, so that there is a clear distinction between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. They could consider using Frankie and Benny’s branded glassware where one type had a red rim and one didn’t; that would allow the alcoholic drink to be easily identified by all staff whether they pour, serve or work in the front of house.

Whatever system they decide upon, it needs to be robust and demonstrate that they have thought through their operational systems, found the fault and rectified it across their estate.

What everyone else can do is learn from their mistake and put proactive measures into place to ensure that nothing similar can ever occur in their premises. Don’t assume ‘it could never happen to us’.

Effective management of licensed premises comes down to having effective proactive measures in place to ensure that all the licensing objectives are upheld and promoted by every member of your team and at all times.


Author - Peter Mayhew is the Managing Director of Beyond the Blue Training & Consultancy. He delivers training courses and provides expert opinion on alcohol & entertainment licensing for individuals, organisations and public bodies. Peter is a frequent contributor to industry publications.

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