Licensed restaurants have been the target of a number of OLGR initiatives over the years, and the most recent change, effective from 1 July 2015, will see the introduction of some of the toughest rules yet. Aimed at any restaurant trading as a bar, licensees will be required to comply with principal activity requirements for each trading day.
What does this mean for restaurant licensees?
Up until the mid-1990s a restaurant, or on premises meals, liquor licence restricted the supply of liquor to in association with a meal and some operators may remember ensuring patrons were intending to dine before serving a drink. However, since then the principal activity, or what used to be the primary purpose, provision of meals prepared, and served to be eaten, on the licensed premises has been used as an assessment of compliance. In effect, if a restaurant could demonstrate it was generally maintaining its principal activity, there was no limit on the amount of liquor that could be sold not in association with a meal.
The upcoming changes, part of the Safe Night Out Legislation Amendment Bill 2014, will tighten things up by requiring restaurant licensees to comply with principal activity requirements on the basis of each trading day. In other words, if a number of patrons attend for a drink and not a meal, there must have been enough dining patrons throughout that one day to ensure that most patrons consumed a meal on premises.
The concerns about these changes are obvious according to Liquor & Gaming Specialists Director Matthew Jones. Licensees will be expected to monitor the number of patrons consuming meals and the number not doing so. How will a busy restaurant owner, who sells numerous coffees and other beverages, ensure that these patrons do not outnumber, or even equate to, the number of patrons consuming meals?
Other changes, which will perhaps affect fewer restaurants, include the winding back of extended trading hours. From July 1, all existing and new restaurants will be limited to 1 am trading, regardless of any current approval. There are whispers that this reduction in available hours will include a reduction in the annual licence fee uplift, but this is yet to be confirmed.
For the more seriously impacted licensees, strategies to mitigate the effects include changing licence types: bar, caf and commercial hotel licences are the likely alternatives. For the rest, it looks like yet another compliance headache.