Should soft-play centres have alcohol licences?
Following on from a Manchester soft-play business finding a stash of empty wine bottles in the lavatory last week, one brewer tells db why drinking at soft-play is “no different to parents drinking in a pub garden”.
Tumbles Play Place in Manchester went viral last week when staff took to social media to plead with customers to stop leaving empty wine bottles in the toilets at their soft-play business.
The owner wrote on Tumbles’ Facebook page:
“If you are so desperate for an alcoholic drink in the daytime, please don’t do it in our children’s play centre and leave your bottles on the toilets. We will be checking our CCTV and you will be banned from visiting again.”
The business stressed that it did does not have a license to sell alcohol, nor for visitors to drink alcohol on the premises, and pointed out that “there may be other businesses with play areas that have licences for alcohol consumption, and their risk assessments and insurance should cover this.”
The sneaking in and covert drinking of bottles, which according to soft-play centres is becoming an increasingly frequent occurrence, suggests a cross-section of parents are frustrated by the lack of licencing in place.
According to Stu McKinlay, co-founder of craft beer brand Yeastie Boys, there’s nothing wrong with parents enjoying a beer or a glass of wine while their kids play in a soft-play centre, and he would be more than open to his beers being stocked in soft-play cafés and restaurants.
“I’m totally fine with alcohol being served in places designed primarily for children, just as I’m really supportive of children being in places normally thought of as adult space like pubs and restaurants,” he told db.
“I’ve seen plenty of parents enjoying a drink and a chat in the park on a sunny afternoon while their children play nearby, so why not in a soft-play space when the weather might not be suitable for that outdoor experience?”
“I think problematic drinking, and its influence on children, is far more likely to occur in private spaces.”
Not all drinks brands, or parents, share McKinlay’s opinion.
It’s clearly a thorny subject for some, with Campo Viejo and Prosecco-giant Henkell Freixenet both declining to comment when db asked whether they would be happy for their wines to be served in a soft-play environment.
So if alcohol is the deal-breaker here then soft-play centres must surely be a shoe-in for alcohol-free beer and wine brands, and potentially an enormous untapped market for the no-and-low sector? Perhaps not…
Surprisingly, a number of alcohol-free brands approached by the drinks business for comment also declined to disclose whether they would be happy for their brands to be served in soft-play centres.
Comments on the Netmums forum demonstrate a wide range of stances on alcohol being served at soft-play.
“I have been out to a soft play centre today with a friend & our children & while we were there we noticed a couple of mums who had bottles of Smirnoff Ice on their table,” wrote one member.
“We thought they must have sneaked them in cos alcohol/glass bottles somewhere like that seemed wrong but as we were leaving we noticed that they sold them behind the counter!!! I just don’t think it’s right!!!”
Another Netmums user responded: “I personally do think that it is wrong that they sell alcohol at these places and I myself would never buy it, but it must sell otherwise they wouldn’t do it.”
However, one anonymous member wrote: “Why didn’t anyone tell me!!!! If only I had known. All those hours wasted at hellish parties and I could have been relaxing with a beer. At least that would have made the whole thing slightly more bearable.”
Still others drew parallels with a more ‘European’ approach towards drinking around families.
“Have none of you been to France or Italy, where it is the norm for adults to have one or two drinks with meals etc. as long as you’re not getting drunk?” one user asked.
“Alcohol is available in loads of places where children may be… to go out for a lunch in a pub or hotel and have a glass of wine is hardly child cruelty… getting plastered at a soft play area is not on, but to have a drink, one or two, I wouldn’t see that as anything out of order..”
Appeal to under-18s
The drinks business spoke to alcohol beverage regulatory body The Portman Group about what considerations drinks brands should bear in mind to ensure their products do not appeal to children.
“Producers should take care to ensure their products are marketed responsibly, without a particular appeal to children, and we have really comprehensive guidance on this,” a spokesperson told db.
“We’d encourage any producers who are unsure of the requirements under the Code or have any questions to make use of our free and confidential Advisory Service, which is available to producers and marketing agencies of all sizes and categories.”
Among The Portman Group’s guidance to avoid products from appealing to children are instructions to “exercise caution when using cartoon style imagery, childish fonts, bright colouring, personalities that are particularly admired by under-18s, pictures of real or fictional people known to children, or terminology popular with children” in a drinks product’s design and packaging.
The name of the product should also be considered with drinks companies advised to take care “when naming a product, or the product flavour, after well-known
sweets or confectionery.”
Emojis are a grey area, with the Advertising Standards Agency recently ruling that emojis have cross-generational appeal rather than exclusively appealing to children.
Rather than seeing the issue of drinking around children as a moral issue, Manchester soft-play centre Tumbles suggested it was concerned about potential insurance claims.
“Our insurance policy DOES NOT cover alcohol consumption within our venue, therefore any potential claims due to injury as a result of alcohol use would be void.,” continued the Facebook statement by Tumbles Play Place.