Luminar boss Steve Thomas, the man who once ran notorious all-you can drink deals, is now leading the calls for a minimum price to be introduced on alcohol. He tells Ewan Turney why
It was back in November when Steve Thomas, boss of Britain's biggest nightclub operator Luminar, admitted that the Morning Advertiser had been right to give him some serious stick over the notorious all-inclusive drinks deals that had previously run at some of his venues.
At the Responsible Drinks Retailing conference, he said he had been "ashamed" of some of the deals he'd run in the past — his "dirty secrets" and called for the industry to "man up" when it came to promotions.
He even gave his backing to hardline action taken by Oldham Council against on-trade promotions, when most in the trade were against the proposed blanket conditions.
Thomas is now clear that having pricing as your sole offer must be wrong. "The focus has got to be on asking what type of town centres we want. Do we want town centres that provide entertainment or where the primary focus is to have venues providing cheap alcohol for people to get drunk on?
"My view is very much that we all need to focus on the entertainment we provide and that means taking the price of alcohol out of the equation and keeping it at a consistent level."
The biggest gripe on price has always been about the loss-leading deals in the supermarkets, with alcohol sold as low as 20p a pint, but Thomas urges the on-trade to lead the way on pricing and forget about the supermarkets.
"Everyone says supermarkets are doing this and that and the price of alcohol is definitely unacceptable, but that is down to the Government. There is nothing much we (the on-trade) can do about the supermarkets — that's the Government's job. We can't influence the off-trade but we can do something ourselves."
Thomas wants a minimum price for town centres set by local people. "It is definitely a local issue for local people to decide on. It's a local authority issue rather than a Government one."
He adds: "We have got to ask ourselves why there is deep discounting. My view is, if there is no investment in the venues and the offer, then all you are left with is price — and that is a dangerous situation because when price is your offer, how low do you go? Is it £2 a drink, £1 or 30p?
"Prices continue to fall in line with the state of the premises. But if you had a minimum price in town centres, the focus would be on providing the best night out — be it a good
meal, good show, good music or a good DJ.
"We are in the entertainment business and should be providing a good reason for people to go out. That reason shouldn't be cheap alcohol. It is not a sensible situation to be in when we are trying to reduce crime and disorder."
But do cheap drinks deals mean people behaving more irresponsibly? "I am not sure, because there are those that always drink sensibly and those that don't.
"But it's not about people, it's about premises. If alcohol is discounted then you are providing people with the opportunity to drink more and behave badly."
Thomas also believes that a return to the old licensing rules on late-night licences could help. Prior to the Licensing Act, which came into force in 2005 and relaxed opening hours, late-night venues had to hold a Public Entertainment Licence where the provision of alcohol had to be ancillary to food, music or dancing.
Thomas insists that edgy drinks deals that Luminar ran in the past have been a direct response to the pricing climate. "We have run deals in the past, but we were reacting
to competition. Simple as that — we had to. But if you factor price out, then we would have to focus on the best entertainment."
Thomas now wants an open discussion with fellow on-trade town-centre operators on the issue. "We need to discuss it more openly and talk about the issues."
But Thomas is not in favour of a blanket ban on happy hours or promotions. "I don't think a ban is a good idea. What happens if you have a new product you want to promote to customers? You should be able to do that. And if you do want to have a happy hour then you should be able to do that, but the price shouldn't be too low."