Ohio Restaurants Prepare for Smoking Ban, Minimum Wage Increase

Thousands of Ohio businesses will soon be affected by Issues 2 and 5 – the constitutional amendments voters approved in November. Issue 2 raises the minimum wage January 1st; Issue 5 bans indoor smoking in public places beginning this Thursday. Ohio Business owners say they’re getting ready for the changes.

Just about every booth and table is taken at Stan’s Restaurant on Westerville Road, and several of the diners here are smoking. Stan’s is in Blendon Township, outside Columbus city limits and beyond the reach of the city’s year-old smoking ban. But the atmosphere here will change on Thursday when Issue 5, the statewide ban on smoking in the workplace and other public places, goes into effect. Co-owner Robert Jefferson says he thinks many of his regulars won’t like it.

“A lot of them said they wasn’t coming back on account of the smoking ban,” Jefferson says. “And I feel that it’s going to put a damper on all restaurants and it’s going to hurt business.”

Jefferson, who’s worked at Stan’s for 30 years and has been co-owner for 2 1/2, says there’s a lot of uncertainly about how the ban might affect business.

“We’re kind of like setting in the dark,” he said. “All we can do is just wait and see how it goes and adjust accordingly.”

There’s even more uncertainly about specifics of the just-approved amendment. The Ohio Restaurant Association’s Mark Glasper says the group has been flooded with calls from owners and the public asking for details.

“When does it start? Does it include my banquet facility? As far as ash trays outside a facility, how far from the door should they be so that customers can put their cigarettes out before they enter? On patios, can they smoke, can they not smoke?”

The penalties in Issue 5 are already spelled out but not enforcement regulations. Businesses must post No Smoking signs with a toll-free number to report complaints. A first violation draws a letter of warning; subsequent violations incur fines between $100 and $2500.

Stan’s owners and other restaurateurs also must implement new wage rates courtesy of Ohio voters. Issue 2 takes affect January 1st. It boosts the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.85 an hour. The Restaurant Association has responded by sponsoring a series of seminars to answer questions its members have about the new minimum wage law and the smoking ban. Restaurant consultant and part owner of the Tee Jaye’s Country Restaurant chain, Randy Sokol, says he’ll try to help owners make the best of it.

“Is it bad for business? Well I don’t think that it’s great for business but it’s in law and we just have to deal with it,” Sokol said.

At Stan’s, Robert Jefferson says the new wage law will cost him more than $11,000 a month. About 30 of his employees are servers, he says. Their salaries will increase from $2.15 an hour to around $3.40, at a time when some of his regular smoking customers might stay away.

“I think they might go home and pout a little bit,” he said. “But after they find out they can’t do it anywhere else they might come back here and eat.”

Maybe so, but Carroll Bragg, a smoker and a Stan’s regular says he may think twice.

“Where I used to go when the city of Columbus went non-smoking – I quit going there. I ain’t been going there for I-don’t-know how long because of it,” Bragg said.

Stan’s co-owner Robert Jefferson says he and other businesses will have to raise prices to pay for the wage increases January 1st. Meanwhile some Ohio restaurants and bars are planning smoking parties Wednesday night to mark the start of the state-wide ban on Thursday.

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