On July 23, 2017, the Philippines was placed under a nationwide smoking ban under Executive Order No. 26. Three months into the implementation, a number of restaurateurs are already finding it difficult to ignore the dip in their sales since the ban started. Are we likely to see these businesses going up in smoke any time soon?
“It’s something that customers need to get used to,” admits chef Francis Lim. “We aren’t the only ones who implemented the ban. I expect people to understand that it’s a nationwide thing.” According to Lim, the ban hit his BGC gastrobar Tipple & Slaw harder than Nav, a Thai restaurant in Kapitolyo, primarily because the former is a watering hole situated in one of the city’s most popular party districts. “People come here to drink, and sometimes this goes hand in hand with smoking.” Prior to the ban, customers were allowed to smoke inside the bar. For the first few weeks, Tipple & Slaw experienced a 30 percent decrease in customer turnout but has since regained its usual crowd.
The same could be said for Borough, which serves comfort food and cocktails 24/7 at The Podium in Ortigas. Although owner Patrick Santos is quick to clarify that dinner sales haven’t been significantly affected, he admits a 10 to 15 percent drop in Borough’s happy hour and bar sales.
“A lot of our customers are office people who primarily go to our place because they want to let off steam from work and relax. Part of this is being able to smoke a few cigarettes while drinking and chatting with friends,” he says.
Prior to the ban, customers were allowed to smoke inside the bar. For the first few weeks, Tipple & Slaw experienced a 30 percent decrease in customer turnout but has since regained its usual crowd.
While the mall has its designated smoking areas, direct access to it has become an issue for patrons who enjoy their drinks with a few puffs every now and then. Before the ban, customers could conveniently step outside the restaurant for a smoke. “We’ve been consulting lawyers and the management of the mall if it would be possible to have our own smoking area. Unfortunately, at the moment, we still haven’t gotten any approval or advice about it. Hopefully, we can find a way to have our own smoking area, then that will be ideal for us,” Santos explains.
For now, the restaurateur has resorted to amplifying Borough’s marketing strategy. This means creating more promos and events, and boosting social media presence. While the recovery period has been slower for Borough, Santos is confident that the “-ber” month sales will rake in more than enough to make up for the loss. He also stresses that for as long establishments’ products and services make customers come back for more, the sales drop won’t have a lasting effect on any restaurant.
But considering Metro Manila’s worsening air quality and with nearly 90,000 tobacco-related deaths in the country every year, isn’t this slump in revenue a small price to pay for public and environmental health?
“The most important thing is that the parameters of the smoking ban are set. What would really benefit restaurants is if the implementation was a bit better than what it currently is now,” notes Patrick Santos of Borough.
While this would generally garner a resounding yes, Lim notes that there are always two sides to the story. “I have so many opinions about it. For me, it was implemented too fast [for establishments to prepare]. Also, there’s the tobacco industry. Yes, it’s not good for your health, but people actually work there. These businesses also provide jobs so that’s where I’m kind of torn,” he says.
But Lim does agree that it will benefit the general population, especially non-smokers and those trying to halt the habit. “The most important thing is that the parameters of the ban are set. What would really benefit restaurants is if the implementation was a bit better than what it currently is now,” notes Santos, who wishes that the government would provide businesses enough opportunities to protect themselves from losses brought about by the ban.
At the end of the day, though, customers must also keep in mind that they troop to restaurants out of necessity or for camaraderie, or simply, for the sheer love of food and drink—and not because it’s a place to take a drag.
Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 14 No. 6