Cigar Smokers and the Fight for Public Places
The weather is getting warmer, and restaurants in cities across the United States are stretching out onto sidewalks. Why not bring a touch of Europe across the Atlantic and enjoy the fresh air? Well, for some, fresh air is what's at issue. Smokers, after spending a winter enduring the elements, are happy to enjoy a bit of comfort. With most cities passing smoking bans, outside has become the last option for a lot of us, and outdoor dining almost always leads to ill will.
I was out on my front stoop a few nights ago, cigar in hand – as I've done for the past two years at this location. Customers at Bistro Cassis, a few doors down, complained loudly and in shrill voices, "You can't do that! It's blowing right at us!" Well, I reminded her, it's a public place, and I can do what I want. I continued to enjoy my cigar, though I moved back a little bit, so the building would provide some cover. Routinely, staff at the restaurant has been unnecessarily rude, perhaps in an attempt to show some advocacy for guests. Routinely, the staff fails.
Had she asked nicely, of course, I would have gladly relocated to the benches on Central Park West, a block away. Most cigar smokers seem to share this attitude. Ask nicely, and we'll accommodate the best we can. Demands and rude tones tend not to yield the desired results.
Smoking bans are an easy target for cigar smokers (and, for that matter cigarette smokers), and I admit, our community gripes about them a bit too much. We're past the point of being productive, and dwelling on the injustice feels like a waste of time. The fight for outdoor spaces, however, is a very real outcome of the prohibition on indoor smoking. Without locations where we can partake of our chosen luxury, we're forced outside. Though the laws vary, most do not prohibit smoking on sidewalks. So, that's where we go, disrupting dining experiences as a result.
The smarter restaurateurs realize that there is little they can do, especially if they want your business. They explain to their customers the realities of city life. Those that take a combative stance run the risk of being embarrassed in front of their guests ... and becoming part of a generally sour dining experience.
The battle over "rights" tips in favor of cigar smokers on this issue, as they have every right to smoke where smoking is permitted. Ultimately, diners can choose to eat inside or find another restaurant. It sounds harsh, but it's true.
Alternatively, nonsmokers may find that a bit of understanding can be helpful. The best approach I've seen is from one diner who asked me how much time I had left to smoke. If it would be a while, she said, she'd eat inside, realizing she didn't have a choice. Or, ask politely, and be prepared for the answer to be some polite variation of "no."
For restaurant managers, there's another slick trick you can use that will make everyone happy. Instead of fighting a losing battle and risking embarrassment, invite the smoker inside for a glass of wine. The cigar smoke disappears, and you may wind up with a new guest ... a regular, in fact, if he lives nearby.
Smoking bans won't go away, and tighter restrictions are meeting with resistance. The worlds of smoker and non, it seems have no choice but to coexist.