News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Mary Mckee, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Feb. 28, 2004 - DALLAS -- Matt's No Place was the rustic restaurant where Julia Child chowed down on her first chicken-fried steak and cigar-chomping patrons gathered for dinners of wild game and fine wine.
But about two months ago, No Place ceased to exist. Business simply dried up, restaurateur Matt Martinez said, after the City Council enacted a smoking ban in restaurants and other public places.
"I just got fed up," said Martinez, whose former restaurant has been subleased and now houses a bar. "You work to get a clientele and build your business, and then the city comes and takes it from you."
A year after the ordinance took effect March 1, 2003, some businesses say the ban has hurt a hospitality industry already reeling from the lagging economy, but supporters praise the law for promoting a smoke-free atmosphere.
Mayor Laura Miller took the lead in backing the ordinance, which prohibits smoking at restaurants, bowling alleys, bingo parlors, hotel banquet rooms and other public places. Places such as stand-alone bars, outdoor patios and hotel guest rooms designated for smoking are exempt.
In passing the ordinance, Dallas adopted the toughest smoking restrictions in the Metroplex and became the area's only major city to ban smoking in restaurants. In Fort Worth and Arlington, smoking is allowed in certain sections of restaurants if city-approved ventilation systems are installed.
Miller said she loves the smoking ban and receives praise from residents in neighboring cities who enjoy the smoke-free environment.
"I think it's been very successful," Miller said. "The public loves it, and I don't want to open it up again, and I don't want to amend it, and I don't want to change it."
City records show that Dallas has received about 350 complaints of ordinance violations since the ban took effect. Because inspectors have to observe a violation before taking action, about 77 percent of complaints were unconfirmed. Inspectors issued 15 warning notices and almost 100 citations, which carry fines of $25 to $500.
Some complaints resulted in more than one citation.
"We're seeing the complaints have slowed down," said Karen D. Rayzer, director of Dallas' environmental and health services. "When it first started, we were getting maybe 10 calls a day. Now we get one or two a day."
Critics of the ordinance said it's difficult to quantify their losses. Surveys conducted by the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association indicate that alcohol sales in the bar areas of restaurants have suffered the most, Executive Director Tracey Evers said.
Members estimate that alcohol sales at their establishments have fallen 20 percent to 25 percent since the ban began, Evers said.
Four restaurants, including Matt's No Place, have blamed the ordinance for putting them out of business, she said.
Restaurant operators complain that the ban has hurt their bar business during happy hour and late nights after food is no longer served, Evers said.
At Dick's Last Resort, a West End nightspot, general manager Craig Edwards estimates that his business has dropped 3 percent to 4 percent since the ban was adopted. Edwards remains opposed to the ban, even though he said it has helped him because he is an asthmatic.
"It's improved for me, but it's taken away the guests and the late-night fun that people like to have," he said.
Others who claim adverse effects include Dallas hoteliers, who oppose a provision in the ordinance that prohibits smoking in private meeting rooms. An official with the Greater Dallas Hotel Association said members have reported a loss of $1.5 million, although members said that figure probably is low.
Some businesses have learned to adjust their marketing strategies in the wake of the ban. At Don Carter's All-Star Lanes, more people are booking the bowling alley for birthday parties and children's functions, said Adam Wyse, proprietor and general manager.
"It did have an initial impact, but our business has more or less shifted," Wyse said. "For every person who wants to smoke, there are people who don't want to smoke."
Dallas officials have said studies done after smoking bans were enacted in other cities and states showed no lasting economic losses.
"If restaurants have closed in the last year, it's not because of the smoking ban," Miller said. "It's because of many other factors involved at the restaurant."
But Martinez, who owns a family-oriented Dallas restaurant called Matt's Rancho Martinez that has not been affected by the ban, said the new law was the death knell for his other Dallas eatery.
"I survived 9-11, but I didn't survive the no-smoking ban," he said.
Dallas smoking ban:
What's covered - Restaurants; hospitals and nursing homes; city facilities; private clubs with eating establishments such as country clubs; schools; movie theaters; libraries; museums; department and grocery stores; shopping malls; laundromats; bingo parlors; bowling alleys; hair salons; hotels and motels.
What's not covered - Designated areas of stand-alone bars and pool halls; tobacco shops and cigar bars; outdoor patios; hotel guest rooms designated for smoking.
Staff Writer Eva-Marie Ayala contributed to this report.
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(c) 2004, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.