Sales have slowed since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said Mr. Fly, who bought his restaurants in 2000. Trying to attract more families, he decided last year to test the smoking ban in a state where 23 percent of adults smoke, two percentage points higher than the U.S. average.
North Carolina farmers produce more tobacco than any other U.S. state.
“It’s courageous for Waffle House,” said J. Nelson-Weaver, director of the Infant Mortality Reduction Coalition in Forsyth County, where Winston-Salem is located. She said she will add it to her group’s online list of smoke-free restaurants.
Mr. Fly is trying to minimize the loss of smokers by going smoke-free in restaurants within a few miles of other Waffle Houses where smoking is allowed.
“We lost some business, but we will get families and people who don’t smoke as new customers,” he said.
The smoking ban applies to employees, said district manager Tangela Lovelace, a smoker. She estimates 20 of the restaurant’s 25 workers smoke, meaning they must go outside to light up.
“They’ve been forewarned that if I catch them smoking they’ll be fired,” said Ms. Lovelace, 31. “We can’t let employees do what our customers can’t.”