The first relates to the “beer wall” which has been installed as part of the offer in one of the licensed premises operated by the University of Reading.Essentially, customers are able to serve themselves with drinks from a series of beer taps rather than having to queue at the bar in the normal way.
The second comes in the form of JD Wetherspoon’s app, which allows customers to order drinks from their table rather than having to approach the bar in the traditional manner.
Both seem to be excellent entrepreneurial advances, both from the perspective of the operator and the customer. Each should require a reduced number of actual bar staff, reducing overheads following the initial investment.
From customers’ perspective, they no longer need to spend time queuing at the bar, risk losing their table if they are on their own, or leave children unattended.
There are, however, risks associated with the removal of the face-to-face contact which normally takes place at the bar.
Those relate to the offences of selling alcohol to under-18s and also of selling alcohol to those who have already consumed too much alcohol.Such risks are normally minimised by face-to-face contact between bar staff and customers wishing to purchase drinks.
The staff member has the opportunity to take the time to conduct an assessment of the person’s age or indeed sobriety.
With challenge policies required to be implemented both by mandatory conditions and others, there is also the opportunity to check for relevant identification. Both offences can lead to criminal convictions and unlimited fines in the magistrates’ court, with the associated risk of a review of the premises licence and the ultimate sanction of revocation.
In relation to underage sales there is the specific offence of persistently selling alcohol to children, which only takes two such sales in a three-month period to incur.
This can lead to suspension of the premises licence, an unlimited fine or potential closure for up to two weeks as a direct alternative.From an operational perspective a method must be found to mitigate those risks while enhancing the customer experience.
Any app would need to make it very clear that there is a right of refusal of service and a refund when the alcohol is delivered to the table.
Equally, with the use of a beer wall, best practice would suggest the process should be closely supervised and that face-to-face contact take place before the transaction is completed.
Such sensible operational measures should enable you to have the best of both worlds.