Arbor Brewing Company has announced that on Aug. 3 their establishment will become smoke-free.
In an email message sent to customers, Rene Greff – co-owner of the pub with her husband Matt – characterized the move as a “scary decision,” because it’s not clear what the impact will be on business.
Greff made clear that ABC had hoped the state of Michigan would take action to ban smoking for all restaurants – that would lessen the potential competitive disadvantage faced by ABC. Washtenaw County banned smoking in public buildings and workplaces, but restaurants and bars are exempt. In the state legislature, the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-led Senate haven’t been able to agree on a smoking ban, so it’s up to individual business owners to set their own rules.
“I’d really like to see our government in Michigan do something about it,” said Chris Pawlicki, co-owner of the Old Town Tavern on West Liberty. The restaurant hasn’t gone smoke-free, but Pawlicki says he thinks about it “every day.”
“I see both sides,” he said, adding that “my fear is that the smokers will go somewhere else (if we go smoke-free). In a two block radius, they can probably go to two or three other places.”
A few other local restaurants and bars have made the change. Casey’s Tavern on Depot Street went smoke-free in early 2006. Manager Paul Thomas said that initially, they sold less alcohol and more food after the change, making it less of a bar and more of a restaurant. “It made us more of a family-oriented business once we went smoke-free,” he said. “We saw a lot more families and kids. Families are looking for that kind of environment when they go out to eat.”
Thomas said that health benefits are a plus. “I don’t miss the secondhand smoke or cleaning 50 ash trays a night. You also think about the health benefits for your employees.”
The health of employees was among the reasons Greff cited for going smoke-free. ABC had three of their staff work through pregnancies, with a fourth due at the end of July. In her email, Greff also said that smoke interfered with patrons’ ability to appreciate the aroma and flavor of fresh beer and food.
The Chronicle spoke with Rene Greff by phone about their decision, which was discussed at a staff meeting earlier this month.
Why Aug. 3? Although it falls the day before primary elections, Greff said that had nothing to do with the timing decision. They’d wanted to implement the policy at the beginning of the next month and they like to start things on Mondays.
How will ABC tell customers? In addition to the emailed announcement, plus posting on Facebook and Twitter, they’ll use “table tents” inside the pub itself. The language for those signs will emphasize the positive, Greff said. Something like, “We’re please to announce … ” Smokers will also be addressed in the message, said Greff. So expect to see something along the lines of, “We value all our customers …”
What about accommodations for smokers? Greff said that smoking would continue to be allowed in the sidewalk seating area outside the pub. When that outdoor area closes for the season, the intent is to provide an outdoor, chained-off area adjoining the entrance off the game room. It’s a place for patrons to step outside and smoke a cigarette, with their beer in hand. The area would need to adjoin the building, because by law you can’t carry a beer across the sidewalk to a separate area.
Aren’t smokers good customers? Smokers are good customers, Greff allowed. In fact, many of them are restaurant industry folks, who tend to tip better than average. So smokers as a group are considered to be pretty good tippers, which is why ABC wants to try to accommodate them somewhat.
What if people hate it? Greff said she figured she’d hear from her managers if there were problems with the implementation of a smoke-free environment. The plan is to remain open to feedback and input on ways to tweak the implementation, if people had ideas on how to do that, she said.
Alex Nicola-Iott, an intern with The Chronicle, and Dave Askins, editor of The Chronicle, contributed to this report.