Alcohol sales in restaurants and pubs are subject to weights and measurements, fair trading, licensing, and other underage sales legislation.
The licensing requirements of the licensed trade include the measurement and description of alcoholic beverages, as well as the information about prices and the costs to customers. Also, there are mandatory licensing conditions that require minimum quantities and prohibitive price promotions. To purchase alcohol from licensed premises, customers must be at least 18 years old.
Requirements for weights and measurements
Specific alcoholic beverages must be sold in certain quantities. There are strict legal requirements. These laws apply to beer, cider, lager and vodka as well as wine, whisky and fortified wines such port and sherry.
There are no restrictions on the quantity of any other beverages that must be served. If a customer is given a quantity on a price list or menu, they should follow the details below.
Beer, Lager, and Cider
You must draught beer, lager, and cider in one of these quantities
- 1/3 pint
- 1/2 pint
- 2/3 pint
- Multiples of 1/2 pint
These rules do not apply to beer, cider, or lager that is mixed with any other beverages. If you are selling a customer a specific amount of beer, lager, or cider, the following requirements regarding the measurement of the drink should still be observed.
You should measure draught beer, cider, and lager using an automated metering system or glasses with a relevant volume. All such equipment and glasses must be ‘Government stamped’. This guarantees the accuracy of the served quantity.
For measuring and serving draught beer bottle cooler and cider, stamp glasses can be either brim (where they must be filled to the top) or lined (where there is enough space to hold drinks with a foamy head). Drinks should be served at the correct level. This is dependent on the type of drink. For example, stout has a large foam head, while ciders have a smaller one. Customers can request that the glass be filled up to an acceptable level if they feel the frothy head is too much.
Automatic half-pint meters use glasses that are slightly larger than the drink being served. This allows for foam to be accommodated. This could lead to customers being unsure of the exact amount they are being served. There are different limits to how accurate stamped meters and glasses can be. A metered pint may not always meet the line on a pint glass.
Sales by the pitcher or jug
Beer, cider, and lager can all be sold in pitchers or jugs for as long as:
- The customer is informed of the quantity
- The quantity is equal to a half-pint
- To determine the amount of each item, stamp equipment, glasses, or measures are used.
- A four-pint beer pitcher can be filled with eight half-pints or four-pint glasses. Lined glasses are essential for any frothy head.
Gin, rum, and vodka are all good options.
These spirit drinks must be served in one of the following quantities:
- 25 ml
- 35 ml
- Multiples of 25 ml and 35 ml
You cannot sell the same quantity in any bar within the same premises. A notice must clearly be posted informing customers of which quantity is being used.
These premises serve gin, rum, and vodka in 25 ml or multiples of 25 mg.
These rules do not apply to gin, vodka, rum, or whisky that is mixed with other drinks.
The quantity of food served must be determined by using either ‘Government stamped” automatic measuring devices, such as ‘optics, or ‘thimbles’ measures. This guarantees that the quantity will be exact.
If you use ‘optic’ devices on bottles, make sure that the measuring chamber does not get obscured by price stickers or other markings. This will allow the chamber to be clearly seen before being used. Before another measure can be taken, the measuring chamber must be allowed to refill completely.
Even if the bottles are marked with a quantity indication, bottle-top pouring devices attached on spirit bottles shouldn’t be used to measure gin, vodka, rum or whisky. These devices are not legal accurate and are meant for cocktails. A stamped ‘thimble,’ which is a bottle-top pourer, should be used to serve gin, whisky, vodka, and rum neat or with one mixer.
It is a good idea to place the ‘thimble over the glass to which the drink will be served when filling them to the brim. This will prevent any spillage from happening and ensure that the customer is served properly.
The following quantities must be sold with wine by the glass:
- 125 ml
- 175 ml
- Multiples of 125ml or 175ml
On menus, price lists and on a posted notice, customers must clearly indicate the amount of wine per glass they are receiving.
These premises serve wine by the glass in 125 ml or 175 ml sizes, or multiples thereof.
These requirements do not apply to wine sold in quantities less than 75ml, or when it is mixed with other beverages.
Open carafes are best for wine served in these quantities:
- 250 ml
- 500 ml
- 750 ml
- 1 l
Fortified wine, such as port or sherry, must be sold in 50 ml, 70 ml, or multiples thereof. The customer must also be advised which quantities are being used.
You can determine the amount of wine per glass by using either a ‘optic’ bottle-top measuring device, ‘thimble’ measures, or lined glasses. Every equipment, measure, carafe, or glass used to determine the wine quantity must be ‘Government stamped. This guarantees that the wine will be served accurately.
Glasses and measuring equipment stamped with a stamp
All measuring equipment, measurements, glasses, etc. used to determine the alcohol sales should be ‘Government stamp’. This stamp ensures that equipment, measures and glasses are accurate and conforms to legal requirements.
For many years, the traditional stamp was a crown-and-inspector’s number. It can still be found on some automatic meters and ‘thimbles,’ as well as glasses that are in use.
Equipment such as beer meters, thimbles, optics, and glasses that are used to measure alcoholic beverages should all be checked for a stamp. This may be only visible on the inside or base of newer equipment.
To avoid confusion among customers and potential complaints about a lack of quantity, bottled drinks and non-required drinks should be served in unstamped glasses.
To be provided with information
Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (2008) requires that consumers are fully informed about goods or services. This includes information on alcoholic beverages and prices in licensed premises. More information on this general legislation can be found in ‘Consumer protection from unfair trading’.
The best way to make sure customers have the right information is through detailed menus and clearly displayed price lists.
- Correct product descriptions including alcohol strengths, where applicable
- The price includes VAT
- The amount of drinks served, if appropriate
- Any additional service fee that is mandatory
- Any mandatory minimum charge per customer
Customers may refuse to pay for drinks if they are not informed of the prices before placing an order.
Names used for describing drinks on price lists, menus, and other materials should be accurate. When other brands of white liquor and cola are available, it is a good idea to avoid using brand names like ‘Bacardi and ‘Coke.
Signage attached to beer pumps or ‘optic’ stands should accurately identify the brand of drink being served. They also need to be regularly checked, especially if guest beers, brands, etc. have changed.
If you don’t stock certain brands of drinks, do not list them on your price lists or menus. Generic descriptions like ‘white Rum’, “whisky” and “vodka” can be used to describe all brands of the same type or quality of drink.
You may be charged with unfair trading practices if you fail to provide all or part of the required information to the customer or if you give misleading information.
Licensing Act requirements
These are the conditions that must be met by licensed premises that sell alcohol:
Customers who don’t want a certain amount of a drink must be told that they can choose from the following minimum quantities:
- 1/2 pints of beer, lager, and cider
- 25 ml and 35 ml of Gin, Rum, Vodka, Whisky, or both
- Wine glasses in 125 ml
This is done to encourage responsible drinking and prevent a larger default serving. These quantities must be displayed on menus, price lists, and verbally to customers when they ask for a glass of wine, beer, or whisky.
You should not use irresponsible price promotion, such as:
- Buy one, Get One Free
- All you can drink to support PS10
- Customers must have access to free drinking water upon request.
These conditions can be violated repeatedly and could lead to suspension or removal of your license.
Customers 18 years or older cannot buy, purchase, or consume alcohol on licensed premises. It is a crime to supply alcohol to customers under 18. Repeated violations by licensed-premises operators could result in the suspension or revocation of a license to sell alcohol. If they’re eating in a restaurant or hotel that is designated for eating, 16- and 17-year olds may drink beer, wine, cider, or any other alcohol purchased for them by an adult.
It is important that alcohol sales are restricted to those who are at least 18 years old. It is important to have an age verification policy in place to verify the age of young customers. A lot of times, an age-verification policy will be required when a license to sell alcohol has been granted.
For guidance on alcohol labeling and composition, including low-alcohol products, see ‘Alcoholic beverages, spirits and food’.
Standards for trading
For more information on the work of trading standards services – and the possible consequences of not abiding by the law – please see ‘Trading standards: powers, enforcement and penalties’.
There are many options available to licensees who have broken the Licensing Act requirements. These include temporary suspension or revocation of sales licenses and additional licensing conditions.