Experience suggests that there are both reactions out there, but here are some tips as to what to do if there is a noise complaint. I am looking primarily at the issue of people (as opposed to entertainment) which is harder to quantify and harder to deal with.
- The worst thing to do is to pretend it is not happening even if the complaint is unreasonable (see below if it becomes unremitting and possibly hostile).
- A prompt and polite response is important, and also make a note and keep a record. If a local resident argues that a complaint was not dealt with at all or promptly then you will be in a position to contradict that.
- Not just prompt but polite; nothing sounds worse, if the matter does proceed to a review hearing, than a resident complaining that when he or she rang the pub a member of staff said, “just get a life … you live near a pub, what do you expect?”
- Assess the complaint; was it a particularly busy evening? Was it a hot day? Was there a group of younger people say, who were particularly noisy, and can the resident be appeased if generally the noise level is acceptable?
- If the complaint continues or there are further complaints, then consider a meeting with the residents. It may be useful to contact the Council’s Licensing or EH Officer before the residents do so that you appear to be responsible, and sometimes an Officer will attend the residents’ meeting which can be beneficial.
- If (see above) the residents are unreasonable and are, frankly, complaining so regularly it is almost harassment then there must come a point where you cannot continue to respond. In these circumstances I have advised that an email is sent to the resident or residents indicating that you do not consider there to be an issue, that you have taken certain measures and done everything that you can but you are not able to respond to further emails, and send a copy to Licensing. You do not want your management team worn down and distracted by dealing with repeated, unreasonable complaints.
- If the residents do bring a review and the matter proceeds to a hearing then getting other residents to support the pub and possibly getting a noise assessment may assist.
- The use of an acoustician to prepare a noise assessment is a tricky issue, and you would not want to disclose a report if it is not particularly favourable, but supportive reports from qualified experts can constitute strong evidence. Noise in outside areas caused by people is very subjective and difficult to quantify.
- At a hearing most reasonable and well-advised Licensing Committees would be reluctant to impose an earlier garden closure time or even a maximum occupancy unless there is clear evidence of a continuing disturbance which amounts to a public nuisance rather than intermittent loud voices.