RESTAURATEUR: GIVE SMOKERS THE CHAIR

Buona

You’re on your way into a restaurant you’ve been dying to check out, and just as you near the door, it hits you: the cloud of nicotine exhaust you have to pass through thanks to the cigarette junkies huddled against the cold near the entrance.

Lovely, isn’t it?

Solution: Give smokers the chair. And a table. Preferably as far from the door as possible.

That’s the gist of an idea that Buona Sera Ristorante owner Chris Mariani pitched to the borough council in a recent letter.

He wants the borough to allow restaurants that offer outdoor seating through the warm months to do so year-round to entice smokers to less-trafficked corners of their properties.

“Just keep them away from the front door so it doesn’t look like a factory,” says Mariani, himself a cigar smoker. “It opens it up a little bit. Spread ’em out.”

Mariani’s idea quickly took to the air. Within minutes of its first mention at Monday’s council meeting, most of the governing body had endorsed it.

“I don’t see any downside to it,” Mayor-elect Pat Menna said of Mariani’s request.

“I agree tenfold,” says departing Mayor Ed McKenna. He cautioned, though, that pedestrian safety must be ensured, and that restaurateurs understand they still have to shovel their walks when it snows.

Council member John Curley offered no objection to the idea, and suggested additionally that restaurants be required to install butt receptacles.

That one, though, was apparently a non-starter. Waste of money, said McKenna.

“You can put out all the receptacles you want,” he said. “Smokers just throw their butts wherever they want.” Curley didn’t push the idea further.

Underlying the discussion, of course, was a barely-concealed exasperation with the fact that using laws to drive smokers outdoors seems to have created a new kind of year-round problem: doorway lurkers with a noisome habit.

Short of scaring them away like Canada geese or wetting them down with a water pistol, the thinking now seems to be, why not make their ostracism more comfortable? Maybe then they’ll congregate elsewhere. If the outdoor cafe is large enough to have an elsewhere, that is.

“It might not be a bad idea,” said Councilwoman Kaye Ernst.

Current borough law requires restaurants that meet criteria to set up sidewalk cafes from April through October, for a fee. The Mariani plan would allow the tables to remain year-round at a proportionally higher fee.

“It’ll mean more money for the municipality,” said Menna.

Menna said he expects few eateries would take advantage of the change, and also expects few complainsts from patrons and passersby. He noted that after a few years of grousing about the cafes encroaching on the public right-of-way or neighboring properties, enforcement of rules limiting the size of the cafes has reduced the number of complaints.

Mariani, who did not attend the meeting, said the sidewalk outside his restaurant, too, is plagued by the butts problem. But in addition to sequestering the smokers, having the option to put out tables and chairs with some outdoor heaters means he might also do some extra lunch or dinner business when the off-season weather is conducive to al fresco dining.

“It’d be nice to have that option,” he said. “For me, it’s important, because you need every angle in the restaurant business.”

Looks like the idea will be in shape for introduction as an ordinance at the next regular council session on Dec. 11.

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