Aimee Dartnall in the DomPost on the need to change alcohol regulation

May 2, 2020

Coronavirus: Bars can adapt to survive, but the law needs to adapt too

OPINION: Now that we are in alert level 3 (also known as lockdown with online shopping), many businesses are welcoming the chance to get back to work with contactless trading, especially those in hospitality. 

Restaurants and cafes with strong food offerings have found ways to adapt their menus to takeaway customers. But this may not be so easy for your local pub. 

They may have great food to sell as a take-out service, but their core business relies on bums on seats. They need people onsite, watching sport and trying the latest beer on tap. These bars will have to be craftier than ever to stay open and stay profitable. 

As with a lot of industries, Covid-19 has put a spotlight on the alcohol licensing laws and highlighted the need for sweeping changes. 

This puts bars in the unenviable position of having to compete with established takeaways and restaurants without their main competitive advantage – alcohol. 

Of course, alcohol isn't the only good thing that bars have to offer. A lot of their appeal comes down to atmosphere – people getting together to watch a game or listen to a live band or generally just to have a good time. This is what drives competition between bars and separates them from restaurants. 

You can't replicate this in your own home. The closest you'll be able to get for a while is a pub meal delivered to your door,with an ice-cold can of beer. But the law needs to be changed to allow this to happen. 

The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 is focused on minimising alcohol-related harm, and there is plenty of research to show that alcohol purchased from an off-licence store and consumed at home leads to more harm than alcohol consumed at a bar. 

But what is more harmful – allowing people to buy boxes of beer from the supermarket, or allowing an on-licence to deliver one can of beer with every takeaway meal? 

In alert level 2, New Zealanders will still be encouraged to stay home, so it is going to take a long time for patron numbers to return to early 2020 numbers. Even then, bars will have to make up for lost profits from cancelled sports tournaments and the Olympics. 

The Government has supported the hospitality industry with the wage subsidy, but this alone won't be enough to ensure medium to long-term viability of the industry.  The Hospitality Association says,that unless more support is forthcoming, tens of thousands of people will lose their jobs. 

The Government needs to look at ways it can reform the alcohol licensing regime to allow for business growth and development.These restrictions are yet another example of the act's failure to look at harm practically. 

Bureaucratic hoops mean that bars need to have exemplary management practices to keep their licences, but what's the point if the rules don't allow them to adapt their businesses in a safe and responsible manner? 

Without reform, many bars that make our cities great places to live, work and visit will close their doors. A vibrant night-time economy is what attracts people to live in cities and what makes tourists want to stay an extra day. 

The loss of these businesses will limit our ability to bounce back from Covid-19. 

The world is changing; lockdown only highlighted the problem. People want to be able to access all the benefits of normal life from the comfort of their home.

This includes getting burger and fries from their favourite pub delivered to their door – along with a can of beer – so they can watch the netball in their living room.

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Interested in talking about alcohol regulation? Contact Aimee here.



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