- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2006

Restaurant owners are expecting some patrons to be smokin’ mad they can’t light up while dining, as the District’s smoking ban went into effect yesterday.

The first phase of the law snuffs out smoking in nearly all indoor workplaces, including apartment-building lobbies, offices, restaurants without bars and all restaurant dining areas. Bars, nightclubs, pubs and the bar areas of restaurants have until Jan. 1 to become smoke-free.

“I’m sure there’s going to be some complaining. There’s always some adjustment time,” said Savino Recine, owner of Primi Piatti Ristorante and Finemondo, both downtown.

“We’ll tell them kindly, nicely [not to smoke],” Mr. Recine said of patrons who light up in the former smoking section. “I don’t like to put up signs. It cheapens the place a little bit.”

D.C. restaurant owners have had three months to prepare for the smoking ban, which includes initial fines of $100 to $1,000 for smokers violating the law and $500 for the establishment that allows smoking.

“We didn’t have enough time at all,” Mr. Recine said. “We thought it would be the first of next year. Not so soon, but it is what it is.”

Establishments will be able to apply for an “economic hardship waiver” if management says the law significantly hurts business. Details of the application process are to be released in 45 to 60 days, said the D.C. Department of Health, which is responsible for enforcing the law.

The Health Department was not expected to issue fines immediately, said Denise Grant, manager of the Tobacco Control Program in the D.C. Department of Health.

The agency plans to hold round-table discussions with business owners and employees to discuss the details of the legislation. The first session is scheduled for tomorrow from 10 a.m. to noon at 605 Rhode Island Ave. NE.

Some restaurant owners said the ban will hurt sales if diners simply can cross the Potomac River and dine in Virginia restaurants, where no smoking ban is in place. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have smoking bans similar to the District’s.

“It will really hurt bar business,” said Claude Andersen, corporate operations manager at Clyde’s Restaurant Group, which owns 13 restaurants including six in the District.

The Clyde’s restaurants allow smoking only in the bar areas, meaning they can allow smoking until Jan. 1. At that point, they will have to eliminate all smoking areas, which “will probably be a disaster,” he said.

“People who hang out in bars aren’t going to do it. They’re going to buy a six-pack and go home or to somebody’s house,” Mr. Andersen said.

Clyde’s operates two restaurants in Montgomery County, where a smoking ban was enacted in October 2003. Bar business in those restaurants reported a 20 percent to 30 percent drop in sales, he said, but dining-room business remained steady.

Other restaurant owners don’t expect to take a hit when the full ban is implemented in January.

“I would love to have ways to please everybody, and, of course, it’s to our gain that we could provide an extremely memorable atmosphere for all of our diners. But the majority of them are not smokers,” said Selma Oliveira, chief operations officer at Fogo de Chao, which allows smoking at the bar.

“I don’t think this is going to matter at all,” she said. “When you have good business, in my industry, that’s not going to make the difference. ”

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