Consistent good weather may have made this the best year yet for alfresco drinking, but, in some areas of the country, the issue of where you put your summer tables and chairs has become a bit of a struggle. A few years back, there was something of a laissez-faire attitude taken about how pubs extended their area of operation. But recently local authorities have become much more pernickety about street space, especially when they can see a financial return to the council. Many towns and cities already have a licensing system of their own in operation, which permits tables and chairs to be placed on a designated part of the highway, as long as the site owner is prepared to pay an annual fee to the council. This does not only affect pubs; other traders providing facilities to the public may also need a licence. But there are numerous examples of traders who blithely extend their operations in complete ignorance of the fact that they may be encroaching on other people's property. There is also a widespread attitude that if you do it and don't get warned by an official, then it must be all right. But, there may be an added problem now. What happens if your pub is in an area where there is a street-drinking ban? For some city-centre licensees, the introduction of a council bylaw prohibiting street drinking in certain areas will need some careful study. In the same act that introduced the police powers of on-the-spot closure two years ago, the power to make street-drinking orders was made simpler for councils to impose. But they need to consult first with any licensee who is affected by such a ban. What are the points to watch out for if you suspect that an alcohol-drinking order is in the offing? Here are my tips: l Make enquiries from your local authority or trade association to see if any designated area has already been proposed. l If you are in that area, obtain a full plan of your premises and see how far the curtilage of your building extends and where it joins the highway. This may not always be apparent. l Assess the area which will require special permission from the local authority for tables and chairs or benches. l Approach the local authority early, but don't rely on the telephone or verbal communication. Put in a written request so that your requirements are on record. l Be prepared to negotiate. As long as no major obstruction is involved, there should be no reason why the council cannot allow the tables to be positioned on part of the highway. But there has to be some give and take on both sides.