Do competitive socialising operators have the upper hand in premises licence applications?

By David Inzani

- Last updated on GMT

Premises licence applications for competitive socialising concepts

Related tags Poppleston allen David Inzani Competitive socialising Licensing Legal Property

David Inzani of solicitor Poppleton Allen examines the rise of the UK's competitive socialising space.

It is widely reported that younger generations are seeking experiences rather than just ‘vertical drinking’ on their nights out. This social change has fuelled the recent growth of competitive socialising operators, such as Ghetto Golf, Whistle Punks Urban Axe Throwing and Flight Club, the social darts concept.

Many of these operators offer high quality casual dining style food and premium drinks, showing that people are happy to pay more for premiumisation and something a little different. Plus, many are housed in beautiful surroundings, offering plenty of photo opportunities for social media savvy consumers.

And with recent research suggesting that the restaurant sector is set to recover to 94% of its 2009 value by the end of 2022 (which hopefully will not be scuppered by the growing and significant current economic challenges) there will undoubtedly be growth in this exciting section of the market.

A rare post-Covid benefit

As pretty much everybody knows, the Covid pandemic ravaged the hospitality sector. But one of the very few positives to come out of this horror show, albeit at the pain of others, were the number of vacant units available in desirable locations.

What’s more, these units have been offered to operators with more favourable leases than we have seen in recent years. And as hospitality is a sector that has always shown great resilience and sky-high creativity, there is no shortage of motivated food and beverage entrepreneurs, talented chefs and international investors/brands keen to fill the gaps.

Cumulative impact zones: a longstanding barrier to growth

While this growth is exciting news, there are potential hurdles for operators and a multitude of legal boxes that need to be ticked off. And one of the most important is the need for a premises licence​that is fit for purpose - one that allows the sale of alcohol, late night refreshment, and regulated entertainment for the hours necessary to make a business viable.

One of the biggest challenges to obtaining the ‘right’ premises licence is the long bemoaned cumulative impact policy. These council managed policies, which now number more than 200 across England and Wales, cover specific geographical areas deemed to have unacceptable levels of crime, disorder or public nuisance. As such there is a presumption that no new premises licences or licence variations (such as longer trading hours) should be granted unless exceptional circumstances can be proven.

These policies can result in a lack of diversity of premises and act as a barrier for new operators from entering prime locations. Should a premises licence or variation be granted in a cumulative impact area, they often come with restrictive and sometimes costly conditions even if an operator has exceptionally high standards.

Examples of these restrictions include:

  • The need for onerous numbers of door staff
  • A requirement to only serve alcohol in plastic (polycarbonate glasses)
  • Only selling alcohol as part of a substantial meal; and
  • Not being able to use outside spaces

If you want to discover if an address or property is located in a cumulative impact zone, this free Google Maps based tool​ will show you within a matter of seconds. 

Three-competitive-socialising-venues-to-open-in-quick-succession-in-the-sector-Birdies-Golf-Fang-Oche

Fore! Crazy golf concept Golf Fang is scaling up rapidly

Can competitive socialising jump the cumulative impact barrier?

As mentioned already competitive socialising is a growth market. Research shows that today's consumers value experiences over ownership. And with the explosion in the use of experience sharing apps, and operators designing their venues to be Instagrammable/TickTockable, there are no signs of this trend slowing.

Being able to demonstrate in a premises licence application that a concept offers a much broader experience than filling a space with people consuming alcohol can really help to convince licensing committees to grant new premises licences and licence variations in cumulative impact areas where objections are received.

There are certain items that need to be considered with some competitive socialising concepts. For instance, if the concept involves something like throwing axes there might be a condition added to the premises licence that only allows those participating to drink alcohol after the game has finished, which seems sensible.

Similarly, over the past decade the UK has seen a fall in number of grassroots live music venues, which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. New premises bringing new experiences, food or reviving live music are not only important for the cultural diversity that makes our hospitality industry one of the best in the world, but they are also a valuable tool in the arguments that are often had when applying for premises licences.

So, if you’re thinking of launching something a little different, such as a competitive socialising operation or music venue, you might be able to hurdle the barrier of a cumulative impact policy if you get your premises licence application right.

David Inzani is a specialist alcohol and gambling licensing solicitor at Poppleton Allen solicitors.

Related topics Trends & Reports Casual Dining

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