This article was also published in the Financial Times.
As a cigar smoker who welcomes the complete and long overdue smoking ban that will come into force in all workplaces, and therefore all restaurants, pubs and bars, in Wales on 2 April, Northern Ireland on 30 April and England on 1 July this year, I realise that I may be in a small minority.
But I believe that my reasons for this seemingly contrary position are valid. When I was a restaurateur, I, and whatever I wore, suffered the effects of secondary smoking and I also, admittedly unknowingly, subjected my staff to its damaging effects. Good food and wine unquestionably taste even better in a non-smoking environment as I have discovered in restaurants from San Francisco to Edinburgh. And the new non-smoking environments will, I believe, attract even better staff to work in restaurants.
Before Chase arrived I was greeted by Ranald Macdonald, Boisdale's expansive host. While his initial response to my question on how this ban will affect his restaurant was unprintable, he followed this up by pointing to the conservatory under which numerous diners, smokers and non-smokers, were currently enjoying their meal. "We are going to have to take the roof off there so that it becomes a separate smoking area that complies with the new legislation. But because that space is between the kitchen and the restaurant we are then going to have to construct a corridor for the waiters to walk through with the food and then try somehow to accommodate all our smokers in that one particular place," Macdonald explained resignedly.
Smiling, one of Chase's perennial trademarks, he continued, "This new legislation is very demanding and will clearly divide those restaurants with an outdoor area which can comply from those which are 'landlocked' or surrounded by residential property where, however keen the restaurateur may be to provide a smoking area, they simply cannot comply with what is being referred to by restaurateurs as 'the 50% rule'. This stipulates that 50% of the wall area of the COSA has to be left open on a permanent basis and any door, window or other fitting that can be opened or shut cannot be included in the 50%. This stipulation is strict (as are the penalties restaurateurs will face for not enforcing them) and mean, for example, that small conservatories cannot be converted into smoking rooms. To establish a COSA restaurateurs will have to invest in shelter, heating, lighting and furnishing."
The onset of the smoking ban in Scotland a year ago has provided Chase with a very clear idea of what is to happen in the rest of the UK. "Overnight we lost 60% of our restaurant customers who could obviously either not comply with the legislation or who chose not to. But what has proved remarkable is that new customers have emerged who can. Before the ban, for example, we never did any business with the One Up Bar and Grill in the Royal Exchange in Glasgow but it happens to have a significant balcony which, with the help of waterproof settees, outdoor heaters and global warming, has now built up a significant cigar business."
The haggis despatched, Chase pulled out of his briefcase a bulging file holding the imminent legislation that has been his companion for the past couple of years and a couple of boxes of different Cuban cigars that have never been far from his side. As a marketeer, he appreciates that the ban will have one long term consequence on sales. "There is no doubt that the whole ritual of the humidor being presented to the customer in a restaurant, the cigar chosen and lit correctly by the specially trained waiter has always attracted a great deal of attention. And, without any particular input on our part, this has happily attracted new customers. But as cigar smokers head outside this ritual will disappear, sadly."
Simon Chase's favourite cigars:
Boisdale Belgravia, 15 Eccleston Street, Belgravia SW1W 9LX www.boisdale.co.uk