With just two weeks to go before smoking in enclosed public places becomes illegal in England, the hospitality industry is getting ready for the new legislation.
To discuss the practical issues of implementing the smoking ban, which comes into place from 1 July, four hoteliers recently gathered at the Goring hotel, London. Two of the operators - Christina Simons, owner of the Cottage Lodge hotel, Brockenhurst, Hampshire, and Andrew Colley, owner of Pride of the Valley Hotel, Churt, Surrey - are already running no-smoking hotels, while Graham Copeman, hotel manager of the Goring, and Simon Hirst, general manager of One Aldwych, London, will introduce no-smoking policies once the ban becomes law.
Simons explained that neither guests nor staff had been able to smoke inside or within the grounds of her 12-bedroom hotel for the past three years. "We have suffered from problems with guests believing that while they can't smoke indoors, it is perfectly acceptable to smoke in the garden," she said. "We've had to tell them kindly, but firmly, that it is not."
Colley, who took over the 16-bedroom Pride of the Valley Hotel in December, decided to implement a no-smoking policy following completion of a refurbishment of the business, which includes a 50-cover restaurant and 32-cover gastropub.
"The feedback in favour of our self-imposed smoking ban has been 99% positive and it has been particularly popular with families, which has allowed us to build up a new area of business," Colley said. "We do allow smoking in the garden, though, and have a covered area on the patio if the weather is inclement."
Copeman said that the 73-bedroom Goring was still drawing up its smoking policy. "The feedback from staff has been very positive about the ban - we've received no resistance to it. We shall be designating some bedrooms as smoking rooms, but we have not yet decided which ones. It is difficult as our bedroom stock is so varied. Smoking will be allowed in the garden, but we don't want to erect a smoking pavilion."
The 105-bedroom One Aldwych has also not yet finalised its plans for handling the new legislation. "We have decided, though, to cut down the number of smoking bedrooms," Hirst explained. "Out of six floors of bedrooms, three currently accommodate smokers. This will be reduced to two."
While it will be mandatory for all hotels and restaurants to display no-smoking signs clearly and prominently in their premises to ensure that all guests and customers are aware of the ban, the hoteliers agreed that there could potentially be difficult situations in dealing with guests who wanted to smoke outside the hotel entrances or even flout the law directly by smoking inside.
"It could be particularly tricky policing guests who want to smoke on the steps of the hotel," Copeman said. "The staff will do their best to encourage them to move away from the entrance to the hotel in the nicest possible way, but we don't want other guests having to enter the hotel through a cloud of smoke. The pavements won't be ours to manage when it comes to policing guests smoking there, but there is a concern that there will be more litter. We do already maintain the pavement outside the hotel with regular sweeps, and Westminster Council says it plans to improve street cleaning."
Some guests are absolutely determined to smoke, Simons explained. "We've had guests hanging out of the window smoking, even though they have been told at booking, on confirmation and on check-in that we are a no-smoking hotel," she said. "Amazingly, when confronted, they seem surprised that smoking out of a window is not acceptable. It's actually a major fire hazard. If there should be a gust of wind which blows an ember back into the room, there could potentially be a very dangerous smouldering situation when the guest goes out to dinner."
"If guests are doing things they shouldn't be doing, we'll always deal with it appropriately and on an individual basis," Hirst said. "If we discovered a guest smoking in a non-smoking bedroom, we would probably charge them the cost of cleaning that room."
The hoteliers recognised that there could be more difficulty in ensuring that staff adhered to the smoking ban. "So many workers in this industry are smokers that it is going to be very hard for some of them," Simons suggested.
Staff smoking rooms and back-of-house smoking areas will no longer be allowed. While, legally, staff will be able to smoke if they leave the restaurant or hotel for an agreed break, there was uncertainty among the hoteliers about the practicalities of this.
"We've got to consider whether we actually forbid staff to smoke during an eight-hour working shift," said Hirst, who pointed out that if staff did smoke they would have to change out of their uniforms to do so. "If we say there is a total ban for staff during the working day, then contracts may have to be renegotiated."
"I don't think it is acceptable for staff to go out for a break to smoke and then come back to the property to service a room smelling of smoke," Simons added.
It is hoped that some staff will use the smoking ban as an opportunity to quit cigarettes. "It's certainly going to be very difficult for those staff who have been used to smoking 40 cigarettes a day for 30 years," Hirst said.
Copeman said that the Goring would assist staff to stop smoking, if they chose to do so. "We won't be handing out complimentary nicotine patches, but we will help with literature, guidance and support."
Some hotels are planning to provide smoking shelters outside for staff, but they have to be "non-substantially enclosed" to comply with the new law - that is, the openings in the walls have to be more than half the total area of the walls. Simons said that a nearby hotel in the New Forest that had erected a shelter for staff had had to remove one of its sides because it was not 50% open to the elements.
Once smoking is banned after 1 July, it is expected that some premises may retain a lingering smell of stale smoke. Simons said that the nicotine from cigarettes that were smoked at the Cottage Lodge impregnated itself into the fabric of the 17th-century building. "It took about six months for the smell finally to go."
Simons added that there was anecdotal evidence that the smell of smoke actually masked other bad smells, which only became apparent once the smoking stopped.
"The Goring is an old building, but we already make sure it is as clean as it can be," Copeman said. "We don't believe there is a great deal of ingrained smell."
Hirst said that the long-term effects of the smell of stale smoke depended on individual buildings. "We have lots of hard surfaces at One Aldwych which are easier to clean than a hotel with lots of fabrics and soft furnishings. We've not had a problem of lingering smells in Indigo, one of our two restaurants, which has been no-smoking for some time."
Although smoking will no longer be allowed in their premises after 1 July, restaurants and hotels can continue to sell cigarettes and cigars. The Goring is one hotel that has elected to do so, although it has budgeted for a huge decrease in revenue from tobacco. "We don't have a great deal of cigarette sales, but we do have a large number of cigar sales, and don't expect them to be sustained," Copeman said.
"We're still debating as to whether we shall continue selling cigarettes. Perhaps it is a bit contradictory if we do," Hirst said.
In summing up, the hoteliers generally welcomed the forthcoming ban. Colley said that one of the benefits might be that former smokers stopped smoking and developed better palates, which would ultimately result in them demanding better food.
In particular, they were all reassured that in other smoke-free countries, such as Scotland, Ireland and New Zealand, the level of compliance has been high with the laws quickly becoming self-enforcing.
What the law says
Penalties and fines for breaking the law
If you don't comply with the new law, you will be committing a criminal offence. The fixed-penalty notices and maximum fines for each offence are:
• Smoking in smoke-free premises: a fixed-penalty notice of £50 (reduced to £30 if paid in 15 days) imposed on the person smoking, or a maximum fine of £200 if convicted by a court.
• Failure to display no-smoking signs: a fixed-penalty notice of £200 (reduced to £150 if paid in 15 days) imposed on whoever manages the premises, or a maximum fine of £1,000 if convicted by a court.
• Failing to prevent smoking in a smoke-free place: a maximum fine of £2,500 imposed on whoever manages or controls the premises if convicted. There is no fixed penalty for this offence.
Dealing with smokers in smoke-free hotels and restaurants
Owners and managers of hotels and restaurants will be legally responsible for preventing people from smoking in them. If someone does smoke in the premises you are responsible for, here are some practical steps for dealing with them:
• Point to the no-smoking signs and ask the person to stop smoking or go outside.
• Tell them you are committing an offence by allowing them to smoke and they are breaking the law by smoking in a smoke-free building - and both parties could be fined.
• If an employee refuses to stop smoking, remind them the new law is to protect employees and the public from the effects of second-hand smoke. If necessary, use your disciplinary procedure for not complying with your smoke-free policy.
• If a customer refuses to stop smoking, explain that staff will refuse to serve them if they continue to smoke, and they will be asked to leave the hotel or restaurant. If they won't leave, implement your normal procedure for anti-social or illegal behaviour on your premises.
• Keep a record of where and when the incident took place, the name of the person involved and the outcome.
• If physical violence is threatened by a person smoking, call the police.
Top cleaning tips
P&G Professional, the maker of Fairy Warewash Solutions, Febreze and Flash gives five reasons for welcoming the ban:
1. A clean, fresh atmosphere. As well as better air quality, operators will have no cigarette detritus such as ash on tables, burns on toilet roll dispensers and butts ground into the carpet.
2. You can give your premises a complete spring-clean, in the sure and certain knowledge that there will be no smoke getting into the fabrics, no burnt-out matches and no cigarette ends under foot.
3. No more clouds of cigarette smoke fogging up the public areas at night. And when you walk into the place in the morning it shouldn't smell so stale.
4. It is an opportunity to turn a disused yard at the back into an appealing space for smokers, generating real income.
5. It will make life easier for the cleaning team and waiting staff won't have to worry about scooping up used ashtrays and replacing them with empty ones.
A message from our sponsor
"There has been a lot of media coverage about the ban on smoking in public places, which comes into force in July, but most articles have been focused on the effect it may or may not have on trade.
"At P&G Professional, we have looked at the ban from a different angle - what it will mean in housekeeping terms. The more we thought about it, the more we realised that there were opportunities for hospitality businesses, as well as potential problems ahead. The good news is that keeping premises looking and smelling fresh will become easier without cigarette smoke lingering in the atmosphere. The bad news is that the smoke could have been masking other unpleasant odours and these will now have to be tackled.
"Caterer and Hotelkeeper has also recognised that the ban on smoking in public places will affect its readers in very many different ways and we were delighted to join forces to produce the Spring Clean Survey 2007 (Caterer, 10 May).
"At the same time, we were keen to find out what operators' concerns would be as the due date approached. We invited people whose establishments have been non-smoking for some time and hoteliers who are waiting until the July deadline to meet and talk about all the various aspects of the ban, from their responsibility for enforcing it, through to the damaging effect of nicotine on character buildings. What appears here is a summary of the discussion.
"We would like to thank the participants for making it such a lively event. They raised some very interesting issues and introduced new angles to the debate."
Fairy Warewash Solutions by P&G Professional