Restaurant owner offers free booze during licence wait

IT SOUNDS like the offer to end all offers.

A newly-opened Chinese restaurant that does not yet have a licence to sell alcohol is instead offering customers booze from the menu for free.

Roy King, who owns Chop Chop, in Leith, said that while the restaurant waited for its licence he was happy to offer visitors wine, beer and spirits at no extra cost - but he said donations were welcome.

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The businessman, who opened the Shore-based restaurant following the success of his other Chop Chop restaurant, on Morrison Street, said customers were welcome to leave a bit of extra cash as part of their tip, but he stressed there was no obligation.

Mr King said the system - which he compared to an honesty box - had been working well since Chop Chop opened on 14 June and that few had abused his generosity.

Mr King said: "We're only losing a couple of hundred pounds a night, which is not a huge problem. Most people leave a bit of extra cash with their tip, and a lot of customers are bringing their own booze anyway.

"We see it as a way to encourage people to give the new restaurant a try.

"Although customers have been enjoying a glass of beer or wine for free, we are finding that they tip much higher than they usually would. It's not like anybody is being cheeky and ordering ten bottles of beer at a time, but if they did we would be OK with it.

"I think it's a fine marketing strategy. After the success of our other Chop Chop restaurant, we think this is a nice thing to do."

He added: "We're waiting for an inspection from environmental health and for some final paperwork to come through. We expect to have our licence by 20 July."

Licensing laws dictate that premises selling alcohol are not allowed to ask for mandatory donations for alcohol and they must not increase the cost of food to include drinks prices, but there is no legal restriction on giving booze away for free.

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Mr King, who opened the restaurant with his wife Jian Wang, said customers had responded well to the quirky offer and he believed many would come back even when his prices came into force.

He said: "The food has gone down very well and we've had some great reviews. We think people see a free drink as a bit of a treat. It's a perfectly legal way of drawing customers in. We certainly don't want to get into trouble.

"Of course, if people were abusing the system we'd have to think of stopping it, but so far it's going well.

One of our customers said to us 'This beer is very good, and it tastes even better because it's free'."

A council spokesman said Mr King's novel way of circumventing licensing laws was not something the board had experienced before, but she stressed that a mandatory donation would not be allowed.

She said: "Under the new Licensing Act, restaurants must be licensed to sell alcohol. There is no legal impediment to giving alcohol away, however it would not be legitimate to accept or request a donation."