Hairdressers who offer their customers a festive glass of mulled wine at Christmas have been warned that they face six months in jail and a £20,000 fine.
Staff at the Nigel Alexandre salon in Norwich could now be fined £20,000 if they serve mulled wine to clients Photo: ADRIAN JUDD
The threat was made by council chiefs, who even announced that they will send officers into salons under cover in an effort to catch offenders. Hairdressers have criticised the move as "Scrooge-like".
Norwich City Council wrote to all hairdressing businesses in the city ordering them to get a licence if they want to serve alcoholic drinks.
Sent to 104 salons in Norwich, the letter states that the practice of serving complimentary alcoholic drinks is a breach of the law and requires various licences.
It then warns: "To address this issue enforcement action, including the use of undercover officers, may be undertaken in the near future."
The council also declares that anyone found guilty of unlawfully supplying alcohol could face a maximum of six months in jail, a maximum fine of £20,000 or both.
Nigel Matthews, owner of Nigel Alexandre salon, said: "The vast majority of salons serve tea and coffee throughout the year and in the couple of weeks before Christmas offer a glass of wine or mulled wine or sherry. It seems very Scrooge-like to send a letter out just as we are entering the festive period.
"It is traditional, the clients are rewarded and it is all part of the customer service.
"What struck me was the potential sentence – you get a lot less than that for a lot more than serving a glass of wine."
Jason Taylor, owner and director of Kinki which has two branches in the city, said: "If we were having parties and getting everyone drunk then I could understand but it is a token tipple, a stubby bottle of three per cent beer or a small glass of wine.
"And in these very tough times we need whatever help we can get."
Georgia Parry, who works in the Max Giammello salon, said it would no longer be able to offer champagne with its VIP package, which is available all year round.
She said: "Champagne and strawberries is a nice thing to have, and having to stop that brings the whole VIP package to a lower level."
A council spokesman said that under the 2003 Licensing Act "sale by retail" includes providing alcohol to customers as part of the service.
He added that a letter of complaint was received last month about salons offering drinks.
"We wanted to make sure small businesses did not unwittingly fall foul of the law while trying to spread a little Christmas cheer in the build-up to the festive season," he said.
Michael Stephenson, regulatory services manager, said: "We know that with the credit crunch all businesses need to do everything they can to encourage customers through their doors and will be offering various incentives in order to achieve that.
"We accept the letter we sent out to hairdressers in the city may not appear to be in keeping with the festive mood and are sorry if it has been misunderstood.
"However, we are a licensing authority and there is a serious message here about the enforcement of licensing laws and helping businesses make sure they do not fall foul of the law."The threat was made by council chiefs, who even announced that they will send officers into salons under cover in an effort to catch offenders. Hairdressers have criticised the move as "Scrooge-like".