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Do I Need a License to Serve Alcohol? Maybe...
Let's start with the simplest scenario which is that you have a catering company supplying and serving the food and drink at your event. It's likely that any professional catering company would have the required licenses in place for the type of events they cover. At the very least they should be able to advise you.
We have a list of local event suppliers including caterers on our Event Suppliers map.
Broadly speaking, if you are providing the food drink and alcohol yourself at your own private party, wedding or celebration, that is free for your invited guests to attend and any alcohol supplied is also provided free, then a license is not required.
Below we have set out some situations that will hopefully answer the following question:
Do I need a licence to serve alcohol to my guests?
If your wedding or event does require a license then the Licensing Act 2003 covers and allows for Temporary Event Notices.
When no license is required
Situation 1: You provide wine and food for free.
If you supply alcohol to your guests, footing the bill yourself, then there is no retail sale of alcohol. This is because you are not selling to the end consumer of the alcohol in any way, making it a freebie with no profit being made so no licence is required.
Situation 2: Your caterer provides alcohol as part of a wedding catering package.
Where a wedding takes place in an unlicensed venue and the client pays for all the alcohol (i.e. there’s a free bar and wine on the tables during the meal), no alcohol licence is required. No retail sale has taken place and the alcohol is truly free to the end consumers, so therefore not licensable.
I've been told I need a licence (but I don’t think I do)
Your local authority might suggest that a licence is needed to serve alcohol in a scenario similar to those in situation 1 and 2. If you have assured them that no charge is being made to the end consumer but they still insist, then ask them to outline where they believe a retail sale may have taken place just in case you have overlooked something.
When a license is required
Situation 3: Free alcohol is linked to a purchase that needs to be made.
If you are selling tickets for guests to attend your event, which includes free alcohol or clearly linking the “free” alcohol to the ticket purchase. although not directly, the guests would be buying the alcohol. This would mean that a retail sale is taking place and as the supplier of the alcohol, you would need a personal licence. You would also need a Temporary Events Notice (TEN) in place for the provision of alcohol.
A TEN allows for the sale of alcohol at temporary events where less than 500 people are on the premises at any one time, like wedding receptions and one-off charity events.
Situation 4: You provide wine and food for a ticketed event at a village hall or venue.
If you supply alcohol as part of a ticketed event, such as a buffet, you would need a licence (rather than the village hall or event location). It makes no difference if there's a separate charge for alcohol and food, so for instance, the ticket provides the buffet at a cost of £9.99 with a complimentary glass of wine included, this situation would require the need of a personal licence because you're supplying alcohol as part of the ticket transaction.
You could get a TEN for the one-off event at that venue. In this scenario, it would be prudent to check with the venue what your responsibilities are for any alcohol supply under the terms of hire, or whether they have a premises licence for the sale of alcohol.
Licensing isn't only based on the supply of alcohol, there are also “licensable activities” which require the consideration of a license. Looking at the list below you'll see that some of these activities may well be something that would take place at a wedding, party or celebration.
- the performance of a play (this means any piece where a dramatic role is acted out)
- an exhibition of a film (this means any display of moving pictures)
- an indoor sporting event
- boxing or wrestling entertainment
- a performance of live music
- any playing of recorded music
- a performance of dance
- or entertainment of a similar description to live music, recorded music or dance
- the sale of alcohol (either at a cash bar or as part of a ticket price)
As mentioned at the beginning, your first action could be to contact the event or venue coordinator as they will probably have licensing already in place to cover these activities.
If it turns out that you do need to aquire a Temporary Events Notice (TEN) then be sure to apply well in advanced, possibly up to a month. Details can usually be found on your local council's website.