I was chatting to Karen Thorne (@HoptonHouseBnB) the other day over the virtual garden fence on Twitter, and she asked if I could pass on a few tips to B&B owners thinking about selling alcohol. Over the last year I’ve had quite a few B&B and guesthouse owners on my licensing courses, as although selling alcohol is never going to be a huge money spinner for them, they’ve realised that offering wine or drinks with evening meals is another service they can offer to attract customers.
UK licensing laws and procedures changed radically a few years ago – depending which newspaper you read, this was either going to bring about a relaxed, continental style drinking culture or the end of the world as we know it. In fact, neither has happened. Yet…
If you’ve been thinking about becoming licensed, here’s what you’ll need to consider.
Contact your local authority
Local councils are now responsible for licensing matters, so your first move should be to contact your local Licensing Officer for some advice. They’ll be able to give you a copy of the council’s Licensing Policy – licensing law is the same for all of England and Wales (with equivalent laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland), but councils can put their own “spin” on policy to reflect local needs and priorities. The Licensing Officer can also provide you with the application forms you need if you decide to go ahead.
If you’re going to sell alcohol you’ll need to apply for a premises license. You’ll also need one of these, by the way, if you’re offering certain types of entertainment or selling hot food or drinks between 11.00pm and 5:00am. To apply for a premises license you’ll need to fill in a form and submit plans of your premises – these don’t need to be architect’s drawings, a basic plan is fine, but they’ll be assessed by the fire authority, planning department and health and safety officers (among others) to see whether your premises are suitable for what you’re proposing. You’ll need to advertise your application, just like a planning proposal, and if there are objections the Licensing Officer may arrange a hearing with the Licensing Committee.
All this means that it might take a month or two for your application to be dealt with, so allow yourself plenty of time!
If you’re taking over somewhere that already has a license, it’s fairly quick and easy to take over from the previous holder – your Licensing Officer will help you to do this. It’s a good idea to have a thorough look at the previous license to see if there’s anything else you’d like to change (opening times etc), as once the license is granted you’ll have to pay a fee every time you want to change anything.
You pay a one-off fee for your premises license plus an annual fee to cover inspections and enforcement, both of which are based on rateable value. This will vary a bit, but for example a small B&B might expect to pay £100-£190 initially and £70-£180 annually thereafter.
At least one person will also have to hold a personal license – this should be the person in normal day-to-day control of the business. You’ll need to fill in another application, have a basic disclosure (CRB check) done, which costs around £25, provide a couple of passport photos and pay a fee of around £37.
You’ll also need to complete a licensing qualification to show that you understand the law and your obligations as a licensee. The one-day course costs around £150 on average, and your Licensing Officer should be able to recommend local training providers. There are now some online versions available, though personally I’d always recommend a tutor-led course so that you can ask questions and network with other learners.
Again, you’ll need to consider your timing. Certificates following the course can take 4 weeks or so to arrive, and a CRB check is only valid for a limited period, typically a month, from the date of issue.
So is it worth it?
Adding it all up, it would probably cost a small B&B £320-£400 initially. You’d also need to think about the cost of buying glassware and stock, and any other equipment you might need (wine or beer fridges, ice buckets…). If you can at least cover those costs out of the extra revenue raised, then it might be right for you.
I've been working in hospitality and training one way or another for over 25 years. I love helping small hospitality businesses to develop. Follow me and my continuing training adventures here...