Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Restaurants, Bars Consider Outcome of Smoking Ban

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Restaurants, Bars Consider Outcome of Smoking Ban

Article excerpt

Byline: Caren Burmeister, Shorelines staff writer

A haze of cigarette smoke no longer hovers above the picnic tables at Beach Hut Cafe in Jacksonville Beach.

The popular eatery on Third Street South banned smoking on Jan. 1, even though an amendment approved by voters last year won't be enforced until July 1. Several corporate restaurant chains with restaurants at the Beaches, including Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba's and Chili's, imposed the smoking ban on Jan. 7.

But they are in the minority. Most restaurant owners plan to wait as long as possible to impose the rule, for fear of alienating longtime customers.

Richard Downing, who owns and operates Beach Hut Cafe, said he was emboldened by a customer survey he did in late September that showed 250 people favored the no-smoking amendment and 50 did not.

About one smoker a day has walked out of the cafe since the ban started, Downing said.

"Two or three have been back already," he said. "The majority of people are loving it and praising us for it. I think overall it's going to be a good thing."

The amendment became part of the Florida Constitution on Jan 1. But the Legislature still has to write a bill to determine who will enforce the rules, identify penalties for violations and decide whether stand-alone bars, which are exempt from the smoking prohibition, can serve food.

A spokesman for Chili's Grill and Bar on Marsh Landing Parkway in South Jacksonville Beach said the company chose to act now to alleviate confusion.

"We're following the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law," said company spokesman Louis Adams.

Chris Sullivan, chairman of Outback Steakhouse, said his company was also imposing the rule now to "honor the intent of the voters."

Restaurant officials hope customers will comply with the no-smoking signs posted on tables and doors. …

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