By Piers Warne, legal director at UK law firm TLT
In fast moving situations such as with COVID-19, it is important to take stock of potential future issues that may affect your ongoing ability to trade.
Staffing, supply chains and potential closures may need more immediate action, but do not forget to consider restrictions on your premises licence that might be problematic.
Many licences, particularly in urban areas, require deliveries of food and drink to the premises to be received only within certain times.
There’s a good chance that suppliers will be facing their own staffing issues and needing to be more flexible with their shift patterns and business operations. This could mean they struggle to make deliveries at the normal agreed times and can only do so in restricted periods, such as overnight.
We suggest that there must be a modicum of pragmatism taken by regulatory authorities at such times. Unless there is any advice to the contrary from the government, licence holders struggling to keep to such conditions should keep an email or text message trail to evidence that any abnormal delivery times are outside of their control.
The home delivery market is booming and is likely to see an increase in demand as people are told to self-isolate. However, there may also be a lack of delivery drivers available to make those deliveries. This could mean deliveries being needed outside of normal trading times – potentially later at night when a licence for late night refreshment might be required.
Also, conditions on off-licences and for restaurants that deliver to customers (whether through a delivery company or directly) can make reference to the checks that need to be undertaken to ensure that deliveries comply with under-age policies.
Operators need to consider any restrictions on what hours deliveries can be made and how to ensure that deliveries that include alcohol comply with training requirements.
For restaurants that do not have off-sales for alcohol but are considering delivering directly to customers, food deliveries are usually not prohibited by a premises licence. However, it is worth checking the conditions and making a minor variation if needed to permit such deliveries. In order to deliver alcohol with food, a licence needs to permit off-sales. Likewise, delivering after 11pm needs a licence to provide late night refreshment.
Many businesses will be affected by staffing levels as more people contract coronavirus and are told to self-isolate. For some premises, there will be specific requirements for door staff or personal licence holders, which is something that regulators typically take very seriously.
Should there be a significant issue with finding the required numbers of staff, early engagement with the authorities and a degree of pragmatism on the part of all parties should hopefully mean that realistic solutions can be agreed for the duration of the emergency. National guidance may also be released on this issue, but working with your local council, and making them aware that this could be an issue should hopefully lead to a sensible agreement.
As well as reviewing licence conditions, there are various precautions that catering and hospitality businesses can take to protect their customers, staff and business.
Operators may want to look at shift patterns to try to ensure that if a member of staff is affected, it does not require the whole workforce to self-isolate for two weeks.
A key factor in the spread of the virus is direct contact. As such, accepting cash, loyalty cards or other physical contact between staff and customers should be treated with care. Likewise, surfaces that are touched by customers and staff on a regular basis will need to be cleaned more regularly.
Customers will also expect additional measures and information to be provided at premises, including hand sanitizers and staff frequently washing hands.
With a fast moving situation such as this, businesses need to keep up to date with national and local announcements on recommended best practice and communicate clearly with their staff and clientele.