Some restaurants banning smoking in anticipation of ordinance

Published 1:06 am Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Even though the city’s smoking ordinance still has not gone into effect, many establishments have begun making the move — to mixed reviews.

After some restaurants made the transition to non smoking, most report little to no change. However, customers who have found the last of the smoking establishments say they will stop patronizing those places if they become non-smoking.

Most establishments in Picayune that formerly allowed smoking have now banned it, even though the ordinance is not officially in effect. Establishments that plan to make the move expect to lose business, however some who have made the move have noticed little to no loss in business. Some have noticed an increase in business.

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Jose Gutierrez, owner of three of the Mexican restaurants in Pearl River County, two in Picayune and one in Poplarville, said he made the change at all of his establishments on Dec. 1. A month later he said he has noticed no change in the amount of business.

“I haven’t noticed it yet, put it that way,” Gutierrez said.

Shoney’s went non-smoking about two weeks ago, and they report an increase in business ever since, even during the slow season.

“Our guests like it a lot better without smoking in here,” said Picayune Shoney’s General Manager Beth Pelotte. “Our guests that like to smoke just get up and go outside to smoke.”

Dockside Seafood in Picayune has been smoke free for only three days. A dry erase board at the front of the store announces the change. Co-owner Angelle Carbone said she has not had complaints written on the board yet.

While it has only been days since Carbone implemented the change, she said she has not noticed a change.

Waffle House and the Dounut Hole appear to be two of the last dining establishments that allow smoking. Picayune Waffle House manager Adil Elbashab said when the change does take effect in his restaurant, he expects to lose a large portion of his business, especially since most of his regular customers have told him they would not come back.

“If the restaurant goes non-smoking we won’t be in here,” said Waffle House customer Dave Tate. “Coffee don’t taste right if it don’t got a cigarette with it.”

Donut Hole in Picayune also is one of the few remaining places where a person can get a cup of coffee and smoke a cigarette, said customer William Dell. He expects the establishment to lose a lot of business when the change takes place since most of the customers who come in there do so to have a cup of coffee and smoke. While Dell said that if he was asked not to smoke, he wouldn’t, he said the reason he goes to the Donut Hole is to sit down with other seniors and have a conversation.

“It’s one of the last places we can go to sit down and communicate with each other,” Dell said.

So far complaints have been minimal. There have been a couple of complaints in Gutierrez restaurants, but for the most part he said people just step outside if they feel they need a cigarette. Only two of Shoney’s regular customers have moved over to the Waffle House, Pelotte said. She said they only became Shoney’s customers after another restaurant went non-smoking before Shoney’s made the move.

Right now, there appear to be two types of customers: Those that want to be able to smoke in public and non-smokers who patronize non-smoking establishments. Susan Beacht said she has asthma and when people smoke around her, it bothers her condition. Even the smell of smoke on a person’s clothes can irritate her, she said.

Randy Lee, a regular to the Waffle House, said even though he does not smoke he still comes to the restaurant to sit in the smoking section and have a cup of coffee. He said the decision to allow smoking should be up to the business, not the city.

Others don’t mind that there are smokers in the world but they would appreciate a little fresh air in enclosed areas.

“I don’t mind smoking, but don’t do it around me,” Robin Keim said.

Keim did say she has been known to have lunch with friends who smoke, but they will sit out on the patio, which does not bother her.

Customers will not be the only ones affected by the change. Wait staff at the Waffle House expect to lose out on their main income, tips, when the change takes effect. Waffle House employee Cynthia Giglio said she expects she will lose about 45 percent of her regular business, and her tips, when smoking is banned in the Waffle House. Most of those regular customers come in to drink a cup of coffee and have a cigarette.

“I’m worried about my customers. A lot of them want to smoke and I would let them smoke if the city allowed it,” Elbashab said.

Waffle House customer Tim Keen said he stopped patronizing a local seafood restaurant when they went non smoking.

The impending change in the city’s smoking policy in public places may signal a change in more than just the air people breathe, Carbone said. The change was not made to offend but to enhance the living environment for everyone.

“We were a retirement town with coffee and cigarettes and this is now a family town and the health of our children has become more important than ourselves and even our vices,” Carbone said.

Even though the order for the ordinance was approved by the council in late October it won’t become effective until 30 days after its published in the local paper. However, the city has yet to publish the ordinance.

For comparison, the same day the smoking ordinance was approved by the council the now effective noise ordinance also was approved. City Attorney Nathan Farmer said in a previous interview weeks ago that he was waiting for his assistant to draw up a summary of the nearly 30-page smoking ordinance. Using a summary would make it easier to publish, he said. The holdup was caused by his assistant falling ill and that is what was holding up the process, said Farmer weeks ago.

Recent attempts to contact Farmer for an update on the progress of publishing the ordinance have been unsuccessful.