By Niall McCann, Keystone Law (www.keystonelaw.com)
At the beginning of 2020, no one could foresee the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.The hospitality industry was one of the hardest hit with the effects of the restrictions, many venues being completely closed for months on end, with thousands of business closures and eventually staff shortages. All businesses in the sector felt the consequences one way or another and it continued in 2021.
What will 2022 hold for licensed businesses? It could be argued that predictions are no more than educated guesses and this has certainly only been heightened in that current press reports are swinging wildly from declaring the Omicron variation as a disaster, to it not being as bad as initially expected.
That being said, there are some trends that began to develop in 2021 which are likely to be carried into the new year. In this article, Keystone Law Licensing partner Niall McCann predicts which trends are likely to continue into 2022.
We are now coming up to two years of being affected by COVID-19. Birthdays have come and gone, parties missed, and celebrations cancelled.There is therefore considerable pent-up demand, with many police officers reporting a sharp rise in alcohol-induced crime and disorder and public nuisance as a result.
Some councils have already instituted a de facto ban on using temporary event notices to extend licensing hours, and applications for bar and pub-style premises licences are becoming ever more difficult to secure. With foreign holidays remaining uncertain, such demand could continue well into 2022.
Adapting to normality
This pent-up demand is not only affecting the police; many residents living near licensed premises suddenly realised during the lockdowns that they slept considerably better without the noise and disturbance of deliveries, crashing glasses, smoke wafting through their windows and the chatter of outside patrons. Having got accustomed to a new equilibrium, the reopening of premises has, in many cases, been a shock to the system. As a result, licensing practitioners have already started to see residents reviewing premises licences and asking for draconian restrictions such as cutting hours or banning the use of outside areas altogether.This trend is likely to continue.
SIA door supervisors
At the moment, there are significant numbers of unfilled SIA door supervisor roles. As many venues require them as a condition of their premises licence, many operators are seeking to vary their premises licences to either reduce the time door supervisors must be employed or to move to a risk-assessed approach.With the start of 2022 around the corner, the jobs shortage in the hospitality sector seems no less likely to ease.
Before March 2020, hearings were all conducted in person. Now, with the use of Zoom and Teams, these platforms are used across the licensing sector every day, and licensing authorities are no different. Online hearings were essential in ensuring that justice continued whilst not endangering lives.
However, some authorities are showing no inclination to revert to physical hearings regardless of the state of the pandemic.
Whilst it is easy to understand why they wish to continue this way — councillors are busy people and they often have another job, juggling numerous concerns at any one time — they are not the same as having physical meetings.There are no pre-hearing negotiations outside of the committee room, no scribbled notes handed from client to advocate, no hint to change tack from subtle changes to body language.
It is hoped in 2022 there will be a better balance of remote and physical hearings.
The end to automatic off-sales
The Business and Planning Act 2020 allowed, admittedly with some exceptions, premises licence holders to have off-sales when not previously permitted to do so.
As a result, some pubs saw record weeks during the lockdown as thousands sat out drinking in parks and green spaces when most other businesses had to remain closed.This temporary relaxation comes to an end on 30 September 2022.Will it be extended? It is difficult to say but, unless the pandemic continues well into next year, it seems unlikely.
Costly outside tables and chairs
With the ability to have off-sales, the process of having tables and chairs on council property was also deregulated, with application fees cut enormously. Unless the scheme is extended, operators will have to pay hundreds (and in many cases, thousands of pounds) a year to have outside furniture from October 2022 – an additional financial headache.
The continued rise of deliveries
A licensed premises with no customers on site can still cause a nuisance.The number of dark kitchens continues to grow, and licensing sub-committees are becoming increasingly aware of the problems they can cause. Noisy mopeds going backwards and forwards, chatty drivers, fumes from exhausts and cigarettes, and a lack of toilet facilities can all disturb local residents.The pushback has already begun with Westminster City Council introducing a ‘Delivery Centre Policy’. Other councils will no doubt follow, which will better regulate this new style of operation.
A market shake-up
Local councils are seeing unprecedented numbers of applications for new premises licences as the industry continues to be rocked by the pandemic. However, this is probably just the start.When commercial evictions are again permitted in March 2022,‘zombie companies’ will no longer be able to remain in situ knowing that there is little a landlord can do.The site churn will continue, and we should see more new entrants to the market.
Hopefully 2022 will represent a better year for hospitality than 2021, but there will no doubt be surprises ahead.The sector has weathered the storm and has continued to succeed despite all the factors against it.This in itself will be the trend of 2022.
Niall McCann is a licensing and regulatory specialist at Keystone Law, who advises on applications pursuant to the Licensing Act 2003 and all associated compliance and regulatory matters. He regularly appears before the courts and sub-committees throughout England and Wales as an advocate for his clients, which include pub companies, restaurants, bars, hotels, nightclubs, off-licences and events spaces.