There are many who, after a night out on the town, may find it difficult to resist the siren’s call of the nearest fast-food establishment. However, licensing rules in England and Wales often prevent certain hospitality businesses from opening late at night. Such a situation recently arose in a dispute between the high-street bakery chain, Greggs, and Westminster Council over the past year. However, in the lead up to an appeal hearing, the two parties finally came to a license agreement earlier this week.
But what was this dispute about and why are Greggs unable to sell ‘hot food’ from their flagship Leicester Square store?
Keep reading to find out.
Prior to opening its flagship Leicester Square store last year, Greggs applied for a license under the Licensing Act 2003 to sell hot food between the hours of 11am and 5am. This formed part of their plans to operate the store 24 hours a day, however this was quickly quashed by the council’s decision to reject the application. This decision was informed by claims by the police that a successful application could lead to a wave of “crime and disorder” through “late-night disturbances and antisocial behaviour” in the area. This is despite the fact that a nearby McDonald’s is allowed to open late into the night.
The situation is slightly complicated by the fact that Greggs doesn’t need a license to sell products such as sausage rolls and other bakes as they are made elsewhere and kept at an ‘ambient temperature’ in the store.
Greggs does however need permission to sell hot food and drinks, including bacon baps, sausage breakfast rolls, chicken goujons, as well as tea and coffee between 11pm and 5am. Schedule 2 to the Licensing Act 2003 specifically refers to ‘hot food and drink’ between the hours of 11pm and 5am. Food is only considered to be hot if, prior to being supplied to the consumer, it has been heated for the purposes of being consumed above the ambient air temperature. The point of supply is defined as being when a meal is served at a table or when a takeaway is handed to the customer.
This only applies to premises such as takeaway food outlets and night cafes, with shops, stores and supermarkets selling cold food and cold drink from 11pm not licensable as providing late night refreshment.
Greggs announced its intention to appeal the ban in April 2023, with the three-day appeal hearing scheduled for 16th May at Westminster magistrates court.
Greggs and Westminster reach agreement
Despite the scheduled court hearing, the two parties reached an agreement in the last few days to trade into the early hours at its Leicester Square store. The agreement will allow Greggs to open the flagship store until 2am from Thursday to Saturday, and until midnight from Sunday to Wednesday.
Despite this, the bakery chain will continue to be unable to sell hot food after 11pm. This means no chicken goujons and potato wedges for customers, but hot drinks will be permitted.
Further conditions will also be applied to Greggs, including the installation of CCTV, use of door supervisors, as well as the requirement to clear litter outside the premises. Greggs have argued that the overnight hours would mainly attract shift workers and emergency service workers, rather than groups of antisocial people.
The continued restrictions on Greggs being able to sell hot food late at night seems fairly arbitrary considering that the nearby McDonald’s is able to do so. Westminster Council stated that Greggs would “need to try to convince the court that their evidence provides exceptional reasons for allowing the premises to operate until 5am”, which clearly it failed to do.
The official guidance on the licensing of late night refreshment states that the reason for the regulations is because of alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder in the night-time economy, particularly if they are near pubs and nightclubs. Clearly, this disproportionately affects a capital city like London, which has continued to seen a decline since Covid. This is exemplified by the fact that there has been a 27% fall in the number of hospitality employees working between 6pm and 6am since 2018.
Fundamentally, it is important to ensure that you and your business understand the rules regarding the licensing of late night food and drink. This also applies to the sale of alcohol, which can itself carry a punishment without the appropriate license.
As a law firm which specialises in commercial law, if you have any doubts regarding whether your business requires a license, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today!
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