Bar owners: smoking bans have downside
Delaware’s Restaurant Association says restaurant business is up 5.7 percent after its members went smoke-free Nov. 27, 2002.
Bar and restaurant owners in Fort Collins have said they are happy with that city’s smoke-free law. But tell that to Roe Schardt, the owner of the Briar Rose Restaurant in Breckenridge.
The bar that adjoins her upscale restaurant went smoke-free last month, and bar business has been off since.
“There are empty barstools,” Schardt said. “My customers do not want to stand outside in 10-degree weather and smoke.”
Instead, they’re going to Bubba’s Bones, Fatty’s Pizzeria and Salt Creek Saloon, where smoking is still allowed.
“They come in and visit us, but they’re not staying at the Briar for the two, three hours that they used to,” she said. “And if there’s a ban, where will these customers go? They told us, “You’ll be seeing less of us.’ They’re going to stay home and drink and smoke. I think that’s when Breckenridge will see the bar and restaurant tax dollars shrink.”
Eric Mamula, owner of Downstairs at Eric’s, which went smoke-free a year ago, shares the same frustration.
“It did the same to mine,” he said of his bar business after he banned smoking. “It killed my apres ski and late-night business.”
He said, however, dining room business has seen a slight increase.
Mamula adamantly opposes a smoking ban in Breckenridge, where town officials are drafting an ordinance to ban smoking in public places. Mamula opposes it because he doesn’t want government telling him how to run his business.
His father, Mayor Sam Mamula, differs. He favors a town smoking ban in public places, including bars and restaurants.
“For the business community, it is nice to have different choices for people,” Eric Mamula said. “It’s nice for customers to go where they want. There are plenty of choices in Breckenridge, and the majority of them are nonsmoking.”
Many say the self-imposed bans have hurt bartenders, as well.
Although Eric Mamula said he hasn’t heard complaints from his bartenders – none of whom smoke – he knows they’re taking home less money. And they’re going home sooner: the restaurant closes at midnight, not 2 a.m. But he said he thinks his employees believe the tradeoff is worth it.
But Schardt isn’t so sure.
“I feel for our bartender; I see it in his face,” Schardt said. “The volume is not there. I know the money he expected to make wasn’t there in January. I know his tips have gone down.”
Mamula isn’t sure if the ban will benefit him in the end.
“To a certain degree, I don’t want to know I’m off “x’ amount of dollars and even have any doubt creep into my mind,” he said. “It’s strengthened our position as family place, which is where I want to go anyway. I made the right decision for my business. If I’d have done anything different, I would have made that decision earlier.”
Others, including Pug Ryan’s and Maxwell St. Grill in Dillon and the Blue Spruce in Frisco, have seen no change since they went smoke- free.
“I don’t think anyone misses it except the hard-core smokers, and yeah, they’ve gone other places,” said Dave Simmons, brewer at Pug Ryan’s. “But it’s been fine. Maybe (businesses suffering a loss) need to look at other things. Maybe there’s more than one reason.”
Steven Rockne and his staff at the Dredge Restaurant in Breckenridge can’t wait for a ban to be implemented.
“We don’t think they’ll lose money,” he said of his bar staff. “They might make more money. It might bring more people out.”
Schardt wonders where those people are – particularly the nonsmokers.
“They all said they would come,” she said. “My doors are open to the nonsmokers – where are they?”