Restaurant and bar owners say their customers will likely take their dining dollars outside the District if a smoking ban up for a vote in the D.C. Council today is enacted.
Supporters of the bill say that patrons won’t flee and that the health of restaurant employees must be protected.
Restaurant owners point to Montgomery County, which went smoke-free in late 2003, and Howard County, which restricted smoking to separately ventilated areas in 1996.
Clyde’s, a Washington chain of 12 restaurants, saw bar business at its Chevy Chase location fall 30 percent after the ban was enacted. At its Rockville location, they saw a 20 percent drop, said Claude Anderson, corporate operations manager at Clyde’s Restaurant Group.
“We would expect the same to happen in D.C.,” Mr. Anderson said.
They saw a similar drop in its Howard County location in 1996.
“To date, we haven’t recovered yet,” he said.
But supporters of the ban point to a 2004 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that found no drop in restaurant and bar sales in the first year after a smoking ban in El Paso, Texas.
Eleven states and at least 180 localities across the country have enacted smoking bans.
But D.C. restaurant owners don’t want to take a chance.
“It will affect the bar business … the bars are very important to us in our overall business plan,” Mr. Anderson said.
Owners are concerned that if other nearby jurisdictions — all of Northern Virginia — allow smoking in restaurants, smokers’ business would simply move across the Potomac River.
“The day they go no smoking, I’ll put my [no smoking] sign up,” said Paul Cohn, senior executive officer and co-founder of Capital Restaurant Concepts, which owns restaurant-bars J. Paul’s, Paolo’s Ristorante and Old Glory in Georgetown.
“I’m not an advocate of smoking, but I have to be an advocate of fair competition,” Mr. Cohn said.
Hospitality consulting firm Concept Group USA in the District, which has worked with restaurant owners and trade groups in other cities with smoking bans, has found that small bans are more harmful to business than statewide bans.
“When in municipalities with suburbs that allow smoking, it really does negatively impact that area that bans smoking,” said managing partner Tom Kelley. “Folks can travel when they want to.”
Bars are more likely to take a hit than restaurants without bars.
“It tends to be the more alcohol sales, the bigger the impact,” he said.
And diners who would have stuck around for a couple drinks and cigarettes or cigars after a meal would likely leave, bringing the average check price down, he said.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams will not support the legislation as is, a spokesman said yesterday. He wants an exception for bars, taverns and the bar portions of restaurant-bars.
Others say patrons welcome the breath of fresh air.
“Statistics show that secondhand smoke kills,” said D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, who co-introduced the legislation.
“I expect it to pass,” he said. “It’s long overdue.”
Dino Italian restaurant in Cleveland Park has been smoke-free since it opened in July.
Owner Dean Gold said that his previous heart attack does not allow him to work in a smokey environment and that smoke disrupts the taste of his wines and cheeses.
“The number of people who comment positively to negatively is about 50 to 1,” he said. “People just stand outside and smoke. They’re used to it already.”
SmokeFree D.C., a group that supports the ban, says that the District’s neighborhoods are unique destinations and that they won’t lose customers.
“People come to Georgetown and Adams Morgan for the experience and the nightlife. I can’t see people deciding to go to Crystal City, nothing against Crystal City, rather than go to Georgetown,” said Angela Bradbery, co-founder of the group.
Mr. Fenty said he plans to propose an amendment today that businesses that lose more than 15 percent of their revenue in a year because of the ban could allow smoking.