Bars, restaurants not having trouble attracting customers under smoking ban


Now that the smoke has cleared from a state law prohibiting lighting up in public places, Cheryl Singer has discovered a pleasant surprise.

Singer, the manager of Grille 31 in Mt. Pleasant, said the smoking ban has not exacted a toll on business there.

“We still have smokers who still come in here and we have an outside patio now and they go outside and smoke. Our business hasn’t changed at all. I was shocked,” Singer said.

And patrons are breathing easier since the Pennsylvania Clean Indoor Air Act took effect on Sept. 11, 2008.

“The Clean Indoor Air Act is clearly an improvement because it is saving lives and saving money in Pennsylvania,” said Joy Blankley-Meyer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Alliance to Control Tobacco.

But anti-smoking groups are not completely satisfied because people can still smoke in some public places.

“The other way to look at it is that there are several exceptions in this law and that causes some workers in the hospitality industry not to be protected and we want everyone to be protected,” said Blankley-Meyer.

State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, a Montgomery County Republican who advocated for the law, has introduced a bill to close the remaining “loopholes” allowing smoking indoors, she said.

No big bust …

Mulligan’s Clubhouse Grille in Harmar, Allegheny County, serves smokers and nonsmokers, and hasn’t had much trouble attracting either.

Smokers can go to a bottom-floor pub or an outdoor deck, while nonsmokers can enjoy a drink or a meal in the upstairs dining room and bar. Each section has its own ventilation system and entrances, as the law requires.

“There are a lot of people who say that they come because they can smoke downstairs, ” said manager Lola Nobilese. “We’re just lucky we are able to do both.”

All that was in place before the law, which requires restaurants to make modifications to completely separate smoking and nonsmoking sections and receive an exception.

Cary Rigatti, owner of the Creighton Hotel in East Deer, said he had to make slight modifications to serve smokers and nonsmokers.

He installed a door to separate the nonsmoking dining room from the smoking bar area, along with some ‘no smoking’ signs.

Rigatti prohibited smoking until the modifications were made. As a result, he said, he lost some smoking customers but thinks business has since evened out.

“One thing that happens for sure is (smokers) don’t stay as long because they get tired of walking in and out of the door,” Rigatti said. “For some of those guys, they were out of the building more than they were in the building. I think our smokers are happier about it now.”

The renovation was more extensive at The Carriage Inn in Lincoln Borough in southeastern Allegheny County, according to Judy Gibala, general manager.

The business sectioned off about 25 percent of its bar/dining room with a glass enclosure and added separate ventilation to create what employees call “the fish bowl” for smokers. The project cost about $21,000, Gibala said.

“I think it may have helped us because people tell me they come in here because they know they can smoke in here,” Gibala said. “We didn’t lose business that we would have lost to other places where they would have been able to smoke.”

Andrew Pyros, manager of The George Washington, a hotel in Washington, said smoking is only permitted in its bar, which is largely frequented by local residents.

“We had to seal the door between the restaurant and the bar,” Pyros said. “The bar is isolated — you have to get to it from the street.”

He said the renovation was not expensive.

“I think the effort to isolate the bar from the restaurant area was worth it,” Pyros said. “The bar business has increased because we have smoking.”

Smokers do not always find such welcoming accommodations.

The Elbow Room in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood has a patio for smokers to use, according to manager Keri Chitester.

“In the winter we had a little tent up on our patio so they wouldn’t get snowed on, but it wasn’t anything special,” Chitester said.

She said while the restaurant lost some smoking customers, the level of business has not changed because of the nonsmokers it attracts.

… or boom

Because most private clubs are exempt from the smoking ban, some saw shifts in their customer base.

Joanie Jerina, manager of the American Slovanic Home in Greensburg, said membership didn’t jump, but the bar saw more business from old members.

“Last year, when it went into effect, I did notice an increase in business as far as our actual members coming in more often,” Jerina said. “What I noticed, too, was people coming in earlier. Instead of coming in the door at 2 a.m., they would be coming in at 11 or 11:30 p.m. and it was the smokers, you could tell.”

Jerry Pellish, vice-president of the Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge in New Kensington, said his club is “running about the same. I don’t think we lost any to (the smoking ban), and we didn’t gain either. It hasn’t gone either way.”

He said the club’s smokers and nonsmokers seem to have a peaceful coexistence.

“They get along for the most part, nobody complains or anything,” Pellish said.

Stacy Kriedeman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, said the department has issued 1,100 warning letters to businesses for smoking violations during the past year, but only eight citations. Businesses that receive a citation are subject to a $250 fine for the first offense.

Kriedeman said the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement has been active in enforcing the ban.

“I can tell you that according to our most recent data, the LCE has issued more than 250 citations and more than 250 warnings,” Kriedeman said.


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