News Self Service Taps…Possible pitfalls of ‘tapping’ into DIY

Key points to consider if want to install self-service taps?

  • Date: 14 January 2016
  • Author/Solicitor: Carl Weston

Now Christmas is over and the dust has settled on the busiest time of the year for the trade, you might be mulling over what you can do in the next 12 months to give your business the edge.

Of course, you might not need to do anything. You might have had your most profitable year ever; with this year seeing you providing more of the same.  

But if you are thinking of changing – and the licensed sector has a great history of reinventing itself to meet the changing habits of the customers – have you ever considered installing self-service taps?

Is DIY for you?

You might have seen these futuristic looking gadgets yourself. If not, they often come in the form of a wall of beer taps. Your customers pay for their drinks at the bar by ‘topping up’ money on a credit card. Then when they want a drink they simply go to the wall of taps, insert their card and take the drink in the measure they want.

Such DIY devices also come in the form of a tap sat on top of a table, usually accompanied by an iPad style device that takes the orders and payment.

Whether such gadgets are a short-term fad – or a genuine future staple of licensed premises – only time, and more accurately customers - will tell.

But if you are considering using self-service devices in your premises to stand out from the crowd, there are two licensing laws that you would need to police carefully.

Serving someone who is drunk

Section 141 of the Licensing Act 2003 makes it an offence for you to knowingly sell or attempt to sell alcohol to a person who is drunk, or to knowingly allow alcohol to be sold to such a person on your licensed premises.

With that in mind, how would you stop a drunk person using their credit card to buy alcohol directly from a self-service beer tap? Whilst it would be fairly easy for you and your teams to spot potential drunk customers at quiet times, it might be much harder to stop during your busy times.

Selling to someone who is under 18

Self-service taps throw up similar problems with age. As I’m sure you know, there are several laws involving the sale of alcohol to children. And under section 147 it is an offence to knowingly allow the sale of alcohol, on relevant premises, to a child under 18.

This is also one of the four Licensing Objectives that you must adhere to, specifically ‘Protecting Children from Harm.’

This offence is a key focus of many licensing authorities. And for multiple offenders it can carry an unlimited fine, licence suspension and the possibility of a premises licence review; which might result in your operating hours being cut, conditions being added to the premises licence, the removal of your DPS or – in worst case situations – the revocation of your licence.

How you could minimise your risk.

I am not suggesting that a self-service beer option is the wrong choice for you but you should be mindful of the best ways to avoid the obvious pitfalls.

For instance, it would be wise to ask your team to be more vigilant around the self-service areas; keeping an eye out for people who look and act drunk or underage.

You might want to keep your teams updated on the signs of drunkenness. This is a slightly grey area as there is no precise legal definition of drunk. But in one legal case – which is a good yardstick – the court said that the meaning of the word drunk is the same as the dictionary definition, which is: ‘having drunk intoxicating liquor to an extent which affects steady self-control’.

It might even be wise to have a designated ‘Marshall’ to manage the area at busy times and be on the lookout for obvious sign of drunkenness.

And you simply can’t be too careful with age.

It will be a mandatory condition of your premises licence that you  adopt an age verification policy and it would be wise to communicate this to your customers with notices. Erring on the side of caution is always the way to go because it can be difficult to guess someone’s age; particularly for your young or inexperienced staff. Put simply, if members of your staff are in any doubt of someone’s age, they should ask for ID as proof. The mandatory condition details the type of ID that you can accept and your premises licence may have further conditions regarding age verification which must be adhered to.

A last resort:

Some self-service machines allow you to turn them off from behind the bar should you have suspicions of drunkenness or underage drinking. Innovative and futuristic they might be - but they come with risks too.