The "endemic" of lock-ins: Good or bad for pubs?

By Oli Gross

- Last updated on GMT

The "endemic" of lock-ins: Good or bad for pubs?

Related tags License

For decades pubs have extended their trading hours by locking the doors to turn the public house into a private party, typically for the venue’s locals. But licensees are split on whether lock-ins are good or bad for trade.

Licensed trade consultant in Bristol and former publican Russ Wragg argues the devil is in the detail when making a lock-in a success.

“Many publicans think that holding a lock-in is a simple way to extend trading hours - it isn't,” he said.

'A privilege, not a right'

“When I had my pub I held occasional lock-ins but they were seen as a privilege, not a right, and were only offered to trustworthy customers who wouldn't cause trouble. It's important to ensure that license conditions are adhered to and any drinks consumed after-hours are offered complimentary or were pre-paid during licensed hours.”

Since the 2003 Licensing Act came into force, there has been less need for lock-ins as many pubs have 24-hour drinking licenses. But it’s still essential to stick to each pub’s individual licensing conditions.

“Effectively you are inviting staff or customers to stay for a drink in your own house after-hours, so the best way to 'police' this is to ensure everybody leaves when the pub closes then invite selected guests to return through a private entrance,” Wragg advised.

“Landlords should also ensure that all trading cash is locked away and the till is closed down. Just locking the doors on a pub full of people and continuing to trade as normal is not a lock-in, it's a breach of licensing conditions and a potential safety risk.”

Successful lock-ins

Licensee Peter McCann has 24-hour licensing at his pubs in his pubs in Ramsey on the Isle of Man.

The pub closes at 11pm on weekdays, midnight on Fridays and 12:30am on Saturdays, but he’s held lock-ins for years.

McCann advertises normal closing times, and informs police if he’s planning to invite customers to stay later.

“Lock ins are not an issue. I don’t know of anyone having any problems,” he said.

“We obviously know who the troublemakers are, and as we have a very active Pubwatch, they don’t have access to licensed premises.”


Walter Cook has worked in pubs since 1968, including in Darlington and Stockport, and said lock-ins are ‘endemic’ in the trade.

“Most rural pubs have a saying: ‘you never go to bed on the same day you get up’ - which is quite right.

“Farmers and the like work 'till late into the evening whilst harvesting. They don't usually go into the pub 'till closing time."

Cook now runs 16 sites in rural areas and town centres, and has regularly held lock-ins with permission from the police.

“The town centre ones usually have late licences, but the ones that don't close their doors, pull the blinds down and serve the locals,” he added.


But Colin James, licensee of the Foresters Arms, Horsham, said he feels lock-ins are ‘detrimental’ to trade.

“No lock-ins here. We once had a competitor who regularly held lock-ins well into the small hours, which meant that customers were not going out until just before ‘closing’,” he said 

“The pub has closed now and has been sold for residential use.”

And Stephen Irish never held a lock-in across 30 years as a licensee.

“The first pub we had , the previous licensee held lock ins. But the people that were staying on would not arrive at the pub until half an hour before stop tap, after having been to other pubs in the area,” he explained.

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