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Virginia bars, restaurants go smoke free

Restaurants and bars in Virginia will go smoke free as of Tuesday.

The state legislation, which was signed by Gov. Tim Kaine in March, requires restaurants to prohibit smoking within their interiors. Patrons are permitted to smoke in outdoor patios, as well as some enclosed patios that are completely separate from the restaurant and properly vented.

Restaurants located on the premises of tobacco manufacturers, as well as private clubs are exempt from the law. Hookah and cigar bars, as well as bingo halls and bowling alleys, must comply with the law if they serve food. Institutions can elect to stop serving food in order to comply with the law.

Before the bill was introduced, a lot of Northern Virginia’s restaurants already prohibited smoking.

Approximately 66 percent of restaurants statewide were smoke-free before the legislation was passed, and about three fourths of restaurants had already complied before the Thanksgiving holiday, according to Virginia Department of Health spokesman Gary Hagy.

“I think when the law went into effect for us, we were more concerned about cigar smokers than cigarette smokers,” said Chris Gerkin, maitre d’ and manager of the Reston branch of Morton’s The Steakhouse. “Morton’s has always been a haven for cigar smokers, a place where the business elite come in and have a cigar.”

Morton’s, however, is able to accommodate the cigar smokers with its outdoor patio, so Gerkin said that should appease those who enjoy cigars, and that the ban will help bring in new patrons formerly turned off by cigar smoke.

Gerkin did not have to make any physical changes to the restaurant on account of the ban, as Morton’s had recently installed new carpets and does not need to replace them. The carpets will be shampooed, and the restaurant is holding a dinner with cigar pairings Monday evening as a “last hurrah” for cigar-smoking patrons.

Gerkin siad the restaurant could see a slight dip in business in the early weeks of the ban, though he has done no formal estimates on the amount, but expects it will quickly rebound as new patrons balance it out.

“When you look at other cities that have done this, such as New York and places internationally, the restaurants always kind of come out on top,” he said. “And I’ve talked to a lot of our clientele who are die-hard smokers, and they say cigars are just the icing on the cake of their experience.”

Whitlow’s on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington will still be able to allow smoking in its Sandbar room and patio, which is ventilated separately, according to General Manager Emmanuel Fliakas, who scheduled a walk-through with the Virginia Department of Health to ensure the room was compliant.

“I think if anything, we’ll benefit from it,” said Fliakas of the ban. “We talked about going nonsmoking across the board, but even if we had, I don’t think we would have necessarily lost out on anything. I’m a smoker; people conform.”

Violators of the smoking ban can receive a $25 fine, along with restaurant owners who don’t enforce the restrictions.

Arlington’s Whitlow’s on Wilson will still be able to allow smoking in its Sandbar room and patio, which is ventilated separately, according to General Manager Emmanuel Fliakas, who scheduled a walk through with the Virginia Department of Health to ensure the room was compliant.

“I think if anything, we’ll benefit from it,” said Fliakas of the ban. “We talked about going non-smoking across the board, but even if we had, I don’t think we would have necessarily lost out on anything. I’m a smoker; people conform.”

Monday, November 30, 2009

Source: Washington Business Journal

Virginia bars, restaurants go smoke free