With the city’s new restaurant patio smoking ban going into effect on New Year’s Day, area restaurants are bracing for fallout from customers.
“About 50 percent of my customers are smokers,” reported Igor Nicholas, managing partner of Isla Cantina located at 8788 Sunset Blvd. at Holloway Street. “We have a very multi-culti clientele and they won’t like it.”
George Germanides, owner of Mirabelle Restaurant at 8768 Sunset Blvd., expects some frustrated customers. “They’re not going to be happy about this,” said Germanies, who estimates 20 percent of his patio customers smoke. “There are going to be a lot of complaints.”
The city is expecting there to be some resistance.
“We know there will be complaints from patrons,” said Anne McIntosh, the city’s Community Development Director. “The nature of any ordinance that affects a person’s behavior is there is initial resistance. Eventually they will understand it.”
Customers need not worry about the “smoking police” patrolling every restaurant. McIntosh says no city staff will be going out hunting for smokers violating the law.
“This will be handled through self-enforcement,” said McIntosh, explaining that it is the restaurant staff’s responsibility to inform a smoker of the new law and ask them to put out their cigarette. Similarly, patrons sitting nearby can ask a person to put out their cigarette.
Staff or customers have the option of calling the or code enforcement about the smoker, McIntosh said. But even after officials arrive, as long as the person puts out the cigarette when requested, that is the end of the matter. It is only if the person keeps smoking that he will get into legal trouble.
The smoker is the one who will be fined, not the restaurant, McIntosh said. Restaurants will only be fined if there are repeated reports of violations.
McIntosh was not sure of the exact amount of the monetary fine for violations, but said cited smokers do have the right to appeal a citation, much like a person can appeal a parking citation.
However, she emphasizes this ordinance is not about making money for the city. “We don’t want to fine people,” said McIntosh. “We want them to stop smoking.”
New Year’s Eve celebrations will not be affected since the new ordinance does not go into effect until 11 p.m. on Jan. 1, 2012. “We didn’t want to interfere with New Year’s Eve or the morning after, so we made it [take effect] at the end of the day on January 1,” McIntosh said.
Restaurants vs. nightclubs
There will likely be much confusion initially since bars and nightclubs are not affected by the law. For example, people will still be able to smoke on the patio at in Boystown, because it has a nightclub license, but not next door on the patio at , because it has a restaurant license.
Every business that is affected by the law must display a sign about the smoking ban near their entrance, McIntosh said. Code enforcement officials have been going around to businesses this past week, making sure the notices are posted.
“If people aren’t clear whether it’s a restaurant or a nightclub, look for the signs outside,” McIntosh said. “Or ask the staff if smoking is allowed.”
Losing a competitive advantage
As both Beverly Hills and Los Angeles banned smoking on restaurant patios some time ago, Weho restaurants have enjoyed increased business from smokers who want to have a cigarette with their meals. But this new law now takes away that competitive advantage from Weho restaurants.
“My customers come here knowing they can smoke,” Nicholas of Isla Cantina told Patch. “I don’t know if they will keep coming if they can no longer smoke here. Business is already down on the Strip with the economy so poor. This certainly isn’t going to help matters.”
George Mezo, general manger of Marco’s restaurant at 8200 Santa Monica Blvd. (at Havenhurst), estimates only 10 percent of the patrons in his outdoor dining area smoke, but he doesn’t want to risk losing their business.
“We should be allowed to accommodate our customers,” Mezo said. “[The ban is] taking away a right from people and from us as a restaurant.”
Nicholas reports Isla spent about $1 million renovating the building four years ago, including over $100,000 to remove the roof and install a retractable awning specifically to accommodate smoking on the patio.
“Everything was done in complete compliance as it was written at the time,” said Nicholas. “The city signed off on it and now they’re saying it’s no longer permissible. I don’t see why we should be impeded in our lawful pursuit of business.”
Separate smoking sections OK
The new law does allow restaurants, coffeeshops and hotels to set up a separate smoking area, away from the outdoor dining area.
“We recognize that people are still going to smoke, so a business can create a separate smoking area where it won’t bother nonsmokers,” McIntosh said, reporting that several dozen businesses have submitted the required “smoking operations plan” to the city and paid a $309 fee.
The main provision of the separate smoking area is that employees cannot serve food there. “The law is about protecting workers from second-hand smoke,” said McIntosh. However, customers can take their plate of food or their drinks to the smoking area if they choose, she said.
Germanides of Mirabella says he had planned to convert an area on the roof into a separate smoking section. “It is a nice area on the roof, so the smoke wouldn’t bother anyone,” said Germanides. “But code compliance says we can’t serve food up there.”
Germanides doesn’t know if it would be logistically feasible to have customers take their plates to the rooftop smoking area if they end up creating one there.
Mezo of Marco’s reports he is also investigating how to create a separate smoking section and possibly letting outdoor customers come pick up their food at the counter.
Likewise, Nicholas has also considered that option, but sums up the idea of customers picking up plates from the Isla kitchen as “cumbersome at best, chaotic at worst.”
Smoking OK on sidewalks
The new law does allow smoking on the sidewalk in front of a restaurant, provided a person is at least five feet away from the restaurant entrance or patio area.
That’s something that puzzles Mezo. “People can stand on the corner of the street and smoke, but they can’t smoke at the outdoor tables a few feet away?” Mezo said. “How is that protecting people from secondhand smoke?”
At the Daily Dose newsstand on Hancock Avenue at Santa Monica Boulevard, owners have already marked the sidewalk with chalk to indicate where patrons can smoke. That newsstand is covered by the five-feet rule of the ordinance because it has a public-eating license to sell snacks like M&Ms and potato chips.
However, smoking on the sidewalk will not be allowed when people are waiting in line at ATM machines, valet areas, to buy tickets at theaters, to get into a club, etc.
Mixed reaction from customers
As for restaurant customers, some are happy about the law.
“Finally, I’ll be able to sit outside on the patio and enjoy a meal,” said Brett Jeffries, who feels the law is long overdue. “I won’t have to worry about being downwind of a smoker.”
Others aren’t so happy about it.
“This is about punishing the restaurants and punishing the smokers,” said Shelia Lightfoot. “Things were working just fine before. Some restaurants made their patios nonsmoking, others allowed smoking on theirs. It left the choice to the businesses and their customers. But the city just wasn’t satisfied.”