by Kevin Allman
Stephen and Pauline Patterson, the owners of the popular Mid-City pub Finn McCool’s, decided to put it to the test with what they call a “social experiment”: yesterday the ashtrays came off the tables and Finn’s went smoke-free for 14 and a half hours: 9:30 a.m. to midnight. So how did it go?
“Interesting,” said Pauline. “We’re going to try it again on July 11, on pub quiz night." One of Finn's regular customers is serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan, she said, and they want to turn the July 11 event into a fundraiser for him and his friends.
"We're a community bar, and we know 90 percent of our customers by name," Pauline said. "A few people boycotted for the day — and some of them were non-smokers. But it had no effect on the ring [cash register total] at all.”
It was 1 p.m. and a small lunchtime crowd of about a dozen people had gathered for a midday pint and a bit of air conditioning. The ashtrays were back, but the only person smoking was a young man at one end of the bar.
When the Pattersons (both nonsmokers) decided to try going smoke-free for the day, Pauline put a brief announcement on the bar’s Facebook page, reading “To go smoke-free or not?”
“Within seven minutes, we had 25 comments,” she said. “We’re up to 450 now.”
A man with a cigar walked in. Pauline greeted him cordially. “He’s one of our regulars,” she said. “We don’t want to cram this down people’s throats.”
The Pattersons said that — despite tales of bar sales actually going up when smoking is banned — they understood that business was down as much as 30 percent in Irish pubs in New York, as well as in pubs in Ireland, where smoking was banned in 2004. “I’ve worked in bars since I was 15, and it doesn’t bother me,” Stephen said. “But this is a community center. We want to see what our customers want.”
Pauline said a “small majority” of Finn McCool’s clientele were smokers, but that most of those to whom she’d spoken actually liked the idea of a ban: “They said, ‘It might help me quit smoking,’” she said. “But the vast majority of our customers are in the middle, smokers and non-smokers. It’s just a few on both sides who have really strong feelings.”
Groups like Let’s Be Totally Clear have argued for a ban on the grounds that a bar or pub is a workplace, and employees there should have the right to a smoke-free workplace. Pauline said that of her eight employees, two were smokers. One thought the ban was a good idea; the other was noncommittal. Sunday’s “social experiment” had neither a positive nor a negative effect on their tip buckets.
So the Pattersons will try another social experiment, this time at the bar’s very popular pub quiz night on Mondays: the July 11 pub quiz will be non-smoking. (One of the bar's Facebook respondents wrote, “Pub Quiz Night alone is enough to give me Second Hand emphysema.”)
“Pub quiz isn’t like a soccer match, where if you leave you miss anything,” Stephen said. “We’ll take breaks where people can go outside.”
The Pattersons largely stayed out of the Facebook thread, preferring to see what their customers told them, but Pauline finally had to chime in with her own opinion:
“I'm a non smoker but I don't believe I have a right to tell people not to smoke. I do have a right not to be around it tho...so I decide to go to a bar, or not ,of my OWN CHOICE I don't think smoking should be legislated...it is a personal right. I have never and will never vote for it to be banned. My reasoning is what will ‘they’ come after next. However to those that say they don't come to Finns cus of the smoke...I may disagree with you..because the very area you are suggesting we put the smokers is AND always has been available to you...the benches outside. So if this area isn't good enough for you why would it be good enough for the smokers?? … The decision we make will obviously piss off half of you...as the camp is divided. I wish we could all just get along.”
“If we were to go non-smoking,” Pauline said, “I’d make sure we had a wonderful place for smokers outside. It would be so nice that the non-smokers would want to sit there too.”
The social experiment resumes at Finn’s July 11.