Bar to close, policing blamed

Alibi bar and restaurant in the Octagon  is due to close next month. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Alibi bar and restaurant in the Octagon is due to close next month. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
An Octagon bar owner says Dunedin’s overzealous policing of alcohol rules has forced him to close with the loss of 18 jobs.

Cook Brothers Bars chief executive James Arnott said Alibi was closing on April 9 because of a crackdown on the appointment of temporary duty managers.

The crackdown, a high staff turnover and a shortage of duty managers, meant it had been forced to fly in a duty manager from Christchurch so its staff could work out their notice period, Mr Arnott said.

He operated bars around the country and believed no other authority interpreted the rules over temporary managers as harshly as in Dunedin.

Dunedin City Council licensing inspector Tony Mole said there had been no change in the rules.

"It comes down to having suitably experienced and qualified staff working in a high risk premises in the Octagon.

"Mr Arnott has been unable to have continuity of staff to be able to provide experienced people at high-risk times of the day," Mr Mole said.

Bar owners were still able to apply for temporary managers to fill in for duty managers.

It had only opposed two of about 20 temporary manager appointments applied for in the past month.

It was not appropriate for people who had only been working in a bar for a "matter of weeks" to be appointed temporary managers during high-risk times in a high-risk area.

The bar closing was an unfortunate outcome, but there were no other premises in town that the authority had been as "hard-nosed" on about temporary appointments, Mr Mole said.

Police and the District Licensing Committee had agreed with its position.

Asked if the law was interpreted in a harsher way in Dunedin, he said: "We have high standards."

Mr Arnott said it had been advertising for duty managers since January, but  no applicants with a duty manager certificate had come forward.

Previously, the council had allowed it to appoint temporary managers, but  had just changed the rules so the company could not appoint them until they had six months’ experience.

Given it was already a "tough market" in Dunedin, the crackdown was the final straw.

"It’s  hard work and the council are making it harder."

It was investigating selling Alibi or opening it in another location, but in the present format it was not sustainable.

He believed there were some good alcohol initiatives in Dunedin, but being too hard on bar owners would  result in students buying alcohol at supermarkets and drinking  at home.

There had also been a lack of communication over the change in stance, which meant it was difficult  to plan.

The Terrace Bar owner John MacDonald agreed that finding duty managers was a "major problem". 

He had been advertising for three weeks and  received applications only from people overseas.

"I do know there are a number of businesses right across the spectrum of hospitality that are really struggling to find qualified staff," Mr MacDonald said.

He believed the issue could be serious enough that other bars in Dunedin could be forced to restrict opening hours or close entirely.

He had heard of a  duty manager in Dunedin  working seven days a week and 80 hours because of the shortage of staff.

This week, Commercial Tavern owner Richard Michael told an Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority hearing that finding people to work as duty managers was a "serious issue" in the industry.

The role came with a lot of responsibility for "not enough money" because struggling bar owners were unable to pay very much.


Just another small victory for this bunch of wowsers, creating new interpretations of the law seemingly every day.
Oh no, Mr Mole and the zealots of the DCC aren't over the top. Funny how no other police in NZ have a problem with RSL memberships, but Mr Mole does. Off to court we go, no matter what the cost in $ or time. Just another 18 jobs gone, take a bow Mr Mole and your DCC mates.

There is a problem with Alcohol in Dunedin, and it is in the way DCC & police are trying to close down every venue and outlet they can.

Worked for James in Auckland. This bar hasn't been making money for a long long time and now he's blaming it on the council/ police. Typical! He's blames everyone else for his lack of business. [Abridged}

Dunedin could be forced to restrict opening hours. How terrible. So no bottles being thrown around at 2am & less violence. Bars more conducive to locals and visitors to have a quiet drink instead of a drunken brawls. Lock all the drunks in one spot near Clyde St and let us have a night out in our Octagon.