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"It Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and May Complicate Pregnancy" It can also annoy the hell out of your customers.
by Bob Bradley

When you list the serious problems facing the restaurant industry, the subject of smoking is right up there with the big ones. It's a major league headache, and such a gigantic problem that the best way to address it is to pretend it simply doesn't exist.

We just had dinner (party of four) in an excellent suburban restaurant, and while awaiting a table, we were escorted to the bar area that was crowded with people enjoying the incredibly colorful and very happening bar scene. It was so pleasant that we even talked about having dinner in this more casual environment. What was absolutely amazing was that not one person was smoking – in a bar! Being at the restaurant for the first time, I even commented that maybe this was a non-smoking establishment.

We were shortly escorted to a loft area, which was basically a small room with about six tables. The food was great – not good –great! And two women smoking (chain smoking) at a nearby table unfortunately spoiled what could have been a perfect dining experience. Now, if this was those portable vaping thing that smells kinda good vaping aromatherapy blends - it could be a different story.

I found myself more fascinated than irritated. I found it fascinating that people can be so blatantly inconsiderate as we are talking about a rather intimate dining area, and one would assume that even smokers would have more courtesy. However, I have learned that to expect common courtesy from a large segment of the American public is an exercise in total futility. This is a country where people think nothing of throwing trash out of car windows, blasting radios, and talking incessantly in movie theaters. You can grow old very quickly looking for courtesy.

I was also fascinated because I noticed that every single person in the room (with the obvious exception of the smokers) was annoyed with the situation. I only introduce this observation lest the reader think that I'm the problem - that I'm some kind of anti-smoking zealot. I can assure you that the actions of a few ruined more than one potentially great dining experience.

Now my real fascination…what is the owner thinking about? It's a busy Saturday night, and for whatever reasons, there are approximately two people smoking in his very busy restaurant. It's easy for me to say, because I don't have to pay his bills, but maybe a non-smoking policy would be appropriate. Maybe a decision to ban smoking in this particular restaurant is even a "no brainer."

Eventually the law will make this problem disappear. Like it or not, it's inevitable that smoking will be illegal in all restaurants sometime in the near future, and we can talk about what's going to happen to the hospitality business when this law takes effect. And I suspect that most owners would welcome such a law, and it's even highly possible that business will actually improve.

I hear story after story from owners who have tried a no smoking policy, only to cave-in after numerous complaints from their "smoking" customers. And in all due respect, smokers can be excellent customers, and some people find it impossible to enjoy a drink without a cigarette in their hand (and unfortunately, there are even some people who can't eat without a cigarette in their hand). And it's certainly not easy to ask a customer paying two or three hundred dollars for dinner to stand outside while enjoying a smoke.

In the meantime, we work through the problem with so-called "non-smoking areas" where somehow the smoke magically disappears and remains totally confined to that area. And we only permit smoking in the bar areas, and we prohibit pipes and cigars. And yes, we do continue to ask our patrons to walk out the front door and enjoy those 25-degree temperatures while lighting-up.

Personally, I don't need the Surgeon General to warn me about the perils of smoking, and I'm also tired of the government running so much of our lives. But I'm really looking forward to the ban on smoking in our restaurants!

Comments and feedback are welcome. Bob Bradley can be reached at

Read more opinions about the issue of smoking in restaurant in the "Great Debates"

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