JERSEY’S strict regulations on alcohol promotions are ‘holding back’ the hospitality industry, according to local pub and nightclub owners, with some saying that they fear for the sector’s future if they are not scrapped in an upcoming Licensing Law review.
The Jersey Competition and Regulatory Authority, which has been investigating the impact of allowing businesses more leeway in running happy hours and two-for-one offers, said that the Island’s ‘unique regulations’ were having ‘unintended consequences’ for the hospitality industry.
JCRA senior economic case officer Peter Hetherington said: ‘A blanket ban doesn’t feel right and distorts competition and results in upward pressure on pricing.’
He added: ‘The benefit of an overhaul is choice. It doesn’t mean that every place will have a happy hour, but it gives venues the opportunity to offer some of those promotions and broaden what’s available. This presents advantages for consumers and providers alike.’
‘You would see more activity during the week when it’s quiet. That’s where other jurisdictions use those promotions to compensate for the drop in business from the weekend. Anything you could do to encourage a healthy nightlife,’ said Mr Hetherington.
In a recent update on the Licensing Law for a Scrutiny panel, Economic Development Minister Kirsten Morel said he was ‘generally supportive’ of the JCRA’s recommendations that pricing restrictions be removed and would work with the sector.
But some stakeholders consider scrapping the regulations essential if the industry is to survive.
Chris Tanguy, the owner of Tanguy’s Bar, said: ‘The blanket ban was radical and unfair at the time [the 1970s], and it has not been reviewed since. I fear for the future of the hospitality industry if these regulations are not changed.
‘The fundamental problem is our archaic licensing law, and to not allow drinks promotions at a time when we are really under the cosh is terrifying.’
He also added that Deputy Morel’s Licensing Law review, which is due to take place later this year, with changes in legislation not happening until next year, was ‘too slow’.
He proposed ‘a relaxation of the laws’ and said that it should be down to the manager to decide their own promotions, regulations and prices.
‘If there are continuing problems with one particular venue, then their licence is revoked for a week or two weeks as punishment,’ he said.
Mark Taft, the owner of La Bastille and the Channel Islands Liquor Company, said he had tried to put on a ticketed music event where alcohol was served, but had to seek permission from the Bailiff to do so.
‘Everything we do in hospitality is met with brick walls and hurdles, and they make nothing easy for you,’ he said.
He added that the regulations were ‘putting an anchor chain around productivity’ and that a happy hour would help with the mid-week lull in business.
‘Quite frankly, hospitality is dead, and these draconian measures are hampering opportunities for licensed premises to make good profits,’ he said.
‘The only thing that’s keeping hospitality alive is Fridays and Saturdays, and for the majority that’s probably not enough.’
Jonathan Rubber, the owner of St Malo’s Bistro, said the prospect of a bottomless brunch, which the current regulations do not allow, was a ‘game changer’ for him. These regulations were ‘affecting the health of our business, keeping us back, and strapping how we run our businesses’, he said.
Mr Rubber said he was under the impression that a successful proposition in the States to allow promotions meant he could start running a bottomless brunch – although this proposition was never voted through by the Licensing Assembly.
He said: ‘We developed a whole new client base with this offering. Any type of business is always looking for ways to generate new revenue streams, being able to offer flexible prices and bottomless pricing, and that was our chance.’
Mr Rubber added: ‘Town seems quieter, because it is. People now are staying at home. Whether that’s a healthy thing or not, it’s taking away business from hospitality, and businesses are struggling.’
‘In the 11 months we ran the bottomless brunch, we never had one alcohol-related issue. It was widely reported that the law had been relaxed, so we got on with it.’
However, several days before Christmas 2021, Mr Rubber said he received a call from the States police to tell him he was in breach of the regulations.
‘We had tremendous bookings, and we had to withdraw all of them. You can go anywhere in the world and get a bottomless brunch.’
But the Island’s director of public health, Peter Bradley, was supportive of a blanket ban, saying: ‘It has been proven that a general approach is much more effective than having businesses decide on their own.’
He added that the regulations did ‘need to be revisited. I can’t give an immediate solution, but consistency of pricing and that alcohol is not sold for “pocket money” prices is a really important issue. From a public health point of view, alcohol policy in Jersey is still an area where we can improve. Traditionally, our drinking levels in Jersey are high, but there has been lots of improvement over the past couple of decades.’
‘There’s clearly a balance that needs to be found between economic activity and health, and we are planning to look at that.’
‘It is quite a challenge for us in Jersey because our drinking levels are relatively high compared to other jurisdictions. We do know that levels of drinking are very sensitive to price. Where we have consistency in price, that does protect children and younger people from excessive consumption. It is a very fine balance.’
He added: ‘A lot of the crime in Jersey is alcohol related, and there are a lot of costs we have to consider beyond the industry, which is very much a part of everyone’s day-to-day lives.’
Some businesses have also expressed concerns that scrapping the guidelines could do more harm than good, with previous chief executive of the Jersey Hospitality Association Simon Soar saying drinks promotions would erode profits while import duties are on the rise.
The consumption of alcohol has fallen significantly over time in Jersey, decreasing by 26% between 2000 and 2018. As of 2018, per capita consumption was broadly in line with that of Ireland, Scotland and Guernsey.