Good practice guide for licensees

Steps that can be taken to ensure compliance with the law in relation to selling spirits

This advice is designed to provide basic guidance to traders. It is not a complete or authoritative statement of the law. Please note that some of the advice we provide to businesses is chargeable.

Descriptions of food and drink are controlled by The Food Safety Act 1990 and associated legislation. Any information supplied must not falsely describe the food or drink or be likely to mislead as to the nature, substance or quality of the food being served. This applies whether the description is applied to a menu, chalkboard, label, any other advertising material or where it is spoken

Your supplier

Be aware that counterfeit spirits (copies of original brands) may make their way on to the market. To avoid being caught with these you should always purchase your spirits from reputable suppliers, who can supply you with the appropriate documentation and traceability.

Price lists

If you cannot guarantee that you will always stock the same branded spirit, you may wish to describe the item as gin/rum/vodka/whisky without the specific brand name. If you supply a different branded spirit to that advertised you may commit an offence.

Storage of spirits

If you have not done so already, it may be advisable for you to consider storing your unused, sealed spirits in a lockable room or cupboard, making a note of the staff who have access to the area. Ensure that staff avoid the practice of ‘topping up’ bottles, even with the correct branded spirit in order to prevent mistakes occurring and subsequent offences being committed.

Ensure that any spirits not stored on optic are capped to avoid alcohol evaporation. It is also recommended that spirits stored on open pourers are re-capped at the end of trade to prevent evaporative loss. Heat can also accelerate loss of alcohol content, therefore it is recommended that bottles are stored away from heat and light sources. If you have specific concerns you may wish to invest in a hydrometer which is a device used to measure the alcohol content of spirits.

Be aware of brand advertising material on your premises. If you have clip-on optic advertisements, you must ensure that the product you are storing on that particular optic contains that particular brand of spirit. If you no longer stock the advertised brand of spirit, reference to the brand must be removed or fully obscured.

Weights and measures

Gin, rum, vodka and whisky may only be sold in quantities of 25ml or 35ml, or multiples of these quantities and the same quantity must apply in all the bars in your establishment. You must make customers aware of the quantity you sell them in and display this information in a visible location eg 'Gin, rum, vodka and whisky is sold on these premises in quantities of 25ml or multiples thereof'

You must ensure that whatever you use to measure your spirits (thimble measures, optics or bottle top pourers) are legally stamped or marked to ensure you are selling the quantity you are declaring.

Bottle top pourers tend not to be stamped or marked therefore they should only be used by pouring the spirit into a stamped or marked thimble prior to serving.

Staff training

Make sure that your staff are fully trained in the correct use of the measuring equipment and are aware of their responsibilities. Carry out appropriate staff training and create a staff training record which you and your staff can sign.

Taking over a business

Be very careful if you are not buying in brand new sealed stock. Remember you have had no control over how the spirits have been treated if you ‘inherit’ stock from the previous owners. You will ultimately be responsible if anything is wrong.

Trading Standards

Hampshire County Council Trading Standards Service routinely inspect licensed premises in Hampshire. In addition to advising on various aspects of the law applying to the licensed trade, Trading Standards Officers conduct screening tests on the spirits in your possession and take samples where appropriate. If a problem is found then you need to be able to show that you took reasonable precautions to prevent the offence.