Smoking ban may aid local businesses

Restaurant owners and managers welcome New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act that will take effect April 15.

By: Joseph Harvie
   Local restaurant managers and owners say a ban on public smoking that includes restaurants and bars will have little effect on their business, and may even be a good thing.
   They say the ban may increase business because their establishments will be healthier environments. Others said the ban will not affect them because smokers already go outside.
   The bill, known as the New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act, was passed by the state Senate on Dec. 15 by a vote of 29-7. It passed in the Assembly Jan. 9 with a vote of 64-12 with two members not voting. Former Gov. Richard Cody signed the bill into law on Jan. 15 and it will go into effect April 15.
   The law prohibits smoking in all restaurants, bars, bowling alleys and other indoor facilities where smoking does not account for 15 percent of the businesses annual income, according to the bill. However the law does allow smoking to continue in casinos and cigar bars.
   Sal Scotto, banquet manager at the catering establishment Villa Liberty on Georges Road, said the ban affects bars more than businesses like his. He said most people who attend events such at weddings at his establishment go outside to have a cigarette.
   "At weddings and parties, out of 100 people there are usually 10 that smoke," Mr. Scotto said. "There are not a lot of smokers. A lot of people tend to go outside because they are often put together with other people at their table who don’t smoke. They’ll go outside and probably walk around in the gardens."
   He said the one problem that concerns him is that there will be more cigarette butts thrown on the outside grounds.
   Joe Pettignano, general manager of Banditos Margarita Factory on Route 1, said the ban will improve the atmosphere of his restaurant.
   "To be honest, I see it helping the business," Mr. Pettignano said. "I have tables that come in and ask for the nonsmoking section, the very center of the restaurant is a bar. We have an all open floor plan and if you can smoke in the bar area, smoke may drift over to the nonsmoking area anyway."
   He said when New York started its smoking ban the city night life lost some of its business to its New Jersey suburbs, but the restaurants did not lose much.
   "When New York did the ban, New York lost a little bit of business to the Hoboken area, but that was only the night life, the bar business," Mr. Pettignano said. "It didn’t affect the restaurant business. Most smokers don’t like smoke being blown in their face when they are eating."
   Rob Ruggiero, owner of Big Ed’s BBQ on Route 130 in Dayton, also said a nonsmoking environment would bring more business to his bar and restaurant.
   "A lot of people might be at the bar, which is right in the middle of dining rooms, which are on each side of the bar," Mr. Ruggiero, said. "Some people come to eat and they want to get as far from the smoke as possible. When it is a smoke-free environment more people will come and eat."
   He said smokers will now have to go outside to smoke and bar patrons won’t stop going to the bar because smoking is not why they go out.
   "They’ll go outside to smoke," Mr. Ruggiero said. "Why do they come to the bar, to drink and eat, not to smoke."
   Jim Allegro, an owner of Chauncey’s on Route 27 in Franklin Park, said he considered banning smoking in his restaurant a few years ago. He said that if he had known it would have been state mandated he would have gone ahead with the self-imposed ban.
   "It would have been better to have banned smoking a couple of years ago," Mr. Allegro said. "That way they are used to it."
   He said he does feel for the smokers, who are not allowed to smoke anywhere in public.
   "I think people make up their own minds," Mr. Allegro said. "It is a health issue and I think they will eventually get around to banning cigarettes."
   Mr. Allegro said that he is not advocating that cigarettes be banned, but said that he thinks it may come to that one day.
   Laurie Piro, director of marketing for Charlie Brown’s on Route 27 in Kingston, said the company expects waiting times to decrease at their restaurants because there are more nonsmokers than smokers.
   "Our lounges do have a lot of tables to dine at and we get backed up because there are more nonsmokers than smokers," Ms. Piro said. "It should decrease the wait time because we don’t have to sit only smokers at the bar."
   Ms. Piro said people will eventually get used to the changes.
   "Once it becomes a way of life and part of their routine, people will get used to smoking outside," Ms. Piro said. "They will still come in for a drink or two."
   Yanni Bardis, owner of Cranbury Station on Route 130, said that he does not expect the ban to affect the restaurant portion of his business. He said he expects a drop at the bar for about 30 to 60 days after the ban is implemented. He said he has taken surveys at the bar and he doesn’t expect people to stop coming to the bar.
   "I keep taking surveys with my customers and everyone said ‘we will go outside to smoke,’" Mr. Bardis said.
   Stu Whitefield, banquet manager at Pierre’s of South Brunswick on Georges Road, said the ban will not have an effect on Pierre’s because it has been a nonsmoking establishment for the past six months. He said that the bar was moved into the dining room, which was already nonsmoking, to make room for more banquet space.