New York Restaurants Slated to Become Smoke-Free

NEW YORK restaurants are getting ready to clear the air: The city's new no-smoking law goes into effect April 10. While some owners and managers say the ban will cut into their business, others say it may boost business in the long haul.

The law prohibits smoking in dining areas of more than 35 seats. Smoking is permitted in the bar area, however, if the bar is at least six feet from the indoor dining area or separated by a ceiling-to-floor partition.

New York City follows the lead of states such as California and Utah, and many cities and towns that have enacted more-stringent smoking restrictions for restaurants, office buildings, and other public places.

Tim Zagat, publisher of Zagat restaurant guides, says the ban should help business in the long run: ``It's what the majority wants.'' In a recent Zagat survey of restaurant patrons in New York, 70 percent said they favored a complete ban on smoking in restaurants. In addition, when asked what major improvements people wish to see in restaurants, ``clearing up the smoking problem'' ranked nearly as high as did better food and lower prices, Mr. Zagat says. It's aggravating for the majority of people these days, who are not only bothered by smoking but also see it as a health hazard, he explains.

But for restaurants like the River Cafe, which has a large foreign clientele that smokes, the ban is seen as a threat. ``We were strongly against the no-smoking law. We had a system already in place that worked,'' says John McFadden, manager of the Brooklyn restaurant, referring to the no-smoking and smoking sections. ``What we don't need is more regulation.''

``As a fine-dining restaurant, we cater to our customers,'' Mr. McFadden says. ``If they want no meat, we give them no meat. If they want no dairy, we give them no dairy. If they want no smoking, we give it to them. But let us decide.... I will not be a policeman.''

Clark Wolf, co-owner of the Markham (see story, above), says that after he and his partners heard about the law they talked about closing. ``There are some nights when everyone smokes,'' he says. Plus they recently installed a costly ventilation system. But, Mr. Wolf says, they will probably turn their downstairs cafe into a smoking lounge.

Business aside, smokers and nonsmokers alike say restaurants will shake out just like airline flights: Smokers will smoke before and after their sit-down stay.

``People who smoke are getting more and more used to dealing with smoke-free environments,'' says Mimi Taft, author of the TriBeCa Cookbook and a frequent diner in New York. One of her neighborhood's restaurants, Nosmo King, keeps a leather sofa outside under an awning for smokers. In the winter, they provide lap blankets.

Alex Gouras, maitre d' at Aureole, speaks for many restaurateurs when he says, ``We have a wait-and-see attitude.''

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