What impact are smoking bans having on business?
In July this year, a change was made under the Smoke-free Environment Act 2000, preventing smoking in any outdoor dining areas in clubs, pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants across Sydney.
New South Wales is not the only state to introduce the bans with South Australia following suit next year and Victoria recently announcing the changes for 2017.
Smoking bans have been enacted to prevent the harmful effects of second hand smoke and to stop the normalisation of social smoking. But what impact are they having on foodservice businesses?
The 2011 South Australian Health Monitor survey showed that smoke-free outdoor dining areas are supported by 91 percent of the community with 56 percent in support of a total ban and another 35 percent in support of smoke-free areas.
Furthermore, 76 percent of the community is in support of smoke-free beer garden areas and outdoor seating areas at pubs.
As part of the ban, smoking is prohibited within four metres of any doorway or alfresco dining areas and fines of up to $300 will apply for those who get caught – while venues could be fined $5500 if they are caught hosting smokers in dining areas.
Despite the number of benefits the ban will provide to both smokers and non-smokers, there are concerns about the short- and long-term effects it may have on the hospitality industry.
Coffee Hub in Punchbowl is a small caf where regulars would normally enjoy coffee and perhaps a light meal whilst occupying the outdoor area.
On 6 July, when the smoking laws changed, so did business for Sam Jrab, general manager at Coffee Hub.
After having the outdoor area as a ‘no smoking’ area for some time, Jrab decided to stop food from being served on the balcony , thus allowing smokers to return to the area, in the hope it would bring some of the regular customers back.
“I think the anti -smoking laws have affected the business, to an extent. We’ve lost a lot of regular customers but we’re hoping that now that we’re allowing smoking on certain tables, we’ll gain some customers back,” Jrab says.
But others haven’t had the same experience, and praise the new laws for boosting business.
Ryan’s Paragon hotel, in the heart of Circular Quay, is a popular spot for those who work and play in the area. It’s a pub where people would normally come for a drink – and for those interested, a cigarette.
This is no longer allowed and by only having one outdoor area, management was concerned about the impact the ban would have on business.
Emily Dougherty, functions coordinator and senior manager says that they initially thought the ban would have a huge effect on their business but “it hasn’t affected it that much. It may have in the short term, but I believe in the long term, most people are willing to comply with the laws and are willing to walk away to smoke.”
Having only one small outdoor area means customers have to leave the venue if they wish to smoke.
The Paragon Hotel.
For many pubs and cafes that have one or more large outdoor area, permission can be given to split up the area into non-smoking and smoking areas. This luxury was not afforded to Ryan’s Paragon Hotel due to the area being owned by the council.
Dougherty says, ”Due to our courtyard being owed by the council it is technically for dining so there was no way we could get around splitting our courtyard in half.
“A lot of venues around Sydney and NSW have split the areas to make it half smoking and half food, which I guess for them is beneficial as people like to sit and have a beer and have a smoke.”
But Dougherty isn’t worried. In fact, she’s of the opinion that the ban may see the pub welcoming more customers, as non-smokers are now able to eat outside without having to tolerate cigarette smoke.
She says, “The majority of people who used to come in are still coming in, it’s just more people are utilising our outdoor area now.”
While the smoking ban has not had an effect on the number of people visiting the venue, it has created a separate issue – that of having staff confront smokers who light up on-site.
Dougherty says her staff have been told how to address the issue and how to tell people they can no longer smoke in the courtyard. But sometimes the news doesn’t go down well, and staff cop the brunt of the smoker’s frustration.
“There is some risk involved in telling people they are not able to smoke in the courtyard. One risk is being verbally abused. Working in a pub, a lot of staff are quite used to people saying unnecessary things to them and shouting at them when it’s not called for.
“I guess verbal abuse is nothing that people can’t handle but in saying that people shouldn’t have to deal with that abuse because it’s not our law, we just have to comply.”
Regular checks by government officials are required to ensure customers understand the seriousness of the new laws. However, since the laws were introduced Dougherty says officials have only visited the venue once, which was on 6 July – the day the ban was put in place.
In recent years, changes to the Act also prohibit smoking in other outdoor areas such as children’s play areas, public swimming pools, and transport stops/platforms, spectator areas at sporting events and within four metres of a pedestrian access point to a public building.
The Smoke-free Commercial Outdoor Dining Law is just another attempt at eliminating the health risks associated with smoking, but the right steps need to be taken to ensure the government achieves the intended objectives, and that businesses don’t suffer because of them.
Have the smoking bans affected your business? Tell us how.