KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 9 — Just over a week has passed since the ban on smoking in eateries was enforced nationwide, and already, several watering holes here are seeing their revenue go up in smoke as their customers stay away.
Pubs, restaurants, coffee houses and bistros located at popular locations within the city that used to be busy — and blanketed by smoke — have seen their customer count drop drastically, some by more than half.
This is in sharp contrast, however, to similar businesses located on the periphery of the city, such as in neighbourhoods or smaller commercial centres.
City centre hotspots flicker
At Pavilion in the city centre, Malay Mail found restaurants in the usually packed open air level of the mall somewhat deserted with most outlets having no more than three tables occupied.
Angelo Picca, manager of the La Boca Latin American restaurant, said his regulars had shied away from the outlet, blaming the ban for not wanting to come.
“There are customers who want to come and enjoy their drinks and maybe a nice cigar, but they cannot do that now.
“I am personally disappointed with the new rule because people will not stop smoking, and even in other countries, they have smoking areas, so I hope this gets solved soon,” he told Malay Mail.
“My customers complain, but I cannot do much, this is the law. I can’t blame them for not coming back,” Picca added.
At another cafe just a few doors down, similar sentiments were echoed by its manager who asked for his name and that of the outlet to be withheld for privacy reasons.
“Business is down, it’s bad. If I had to put a figure on it, I would say we saw less than half the number of our usual customer count over the past week.
“People usually come here after or in between their shopping, but we have not seen that this week,” said the manager at the cafe where only two tables were occupied.
Implementation of the new regulation has had its fair share of brickbats and praise, with 1,453 warnings issued on the first day of enforcement.
There were those who lauded the government’s move, while several camps, mostly business operators, criticised it, some even claiming smokers were outright being bullied.
Sacrificing the kitchen
Several kilometres away at the TREC entertainment hub, it was the same scenario as customers shied away fearing enforcement of the new law.
Outlets like the Le Noir al fresco bar are even considering shutting down their kitchen to comply with technicalities of the ban.
The regulation prohibits smoking in all forms at eateries but this does not apply to pubs, nightclubs, discotheques and casinos.
“We might have to close the kitchen to get a full nightclub licence that will allow our customers to smoke at their tables,” said Vijay Kumar, Le Noir’s sales and marketing manager.
“Sales has dropped by almost half over the past week,” he said, gesturing at the almost empty outlet.
He explained that just over one-third of the outlet’s available space has been set aside for smokers at an upper level, where food is not allowed.
“There is a grey area with the regulation over the required distance, which we hope will soon allow smoking zones,” he added.
Supervisor of the Iron Fairies pub several doors away, Md Ferdous Alam Sumon, also admitted to deteriorating business since the ban’s implementation, even though his outlet allows smoking.
“Our customers are scared or confused whether to smoke inside, but they are allowed... we are a pub.
“Some of the regulars do come back, but it’s slightly fewer than the usual,” he said.
Neighbourhood pubs, restaurants flourish
Every cloud has a silver lining, and in this case, eateries and pubs located closer to residential areas saw a spike in patronage, some citing the fresh air as the newfound attraction.
Geoff Siddle, owner of Sid’s Pub in Bukit Damansara, said business has improved since the implementation of the ban.
The wives of customers, he said, were encouraged to visit the outlet now as they won’t leave smelling of second-hand smoke.
“Definitely the wives come in happier, and when they’re happy, they bring the children; they like being able to leave and not have cigarette-smoke smell stuck in their hair.
“The environment is also better, you can smell the food that’s being brought out now. I’d rather smell roast chicken, a bacon sandwich or some pie any day over the smell of smoke,” said Siddle.
He said the law is a lifestyle change Malaysians have to adapt to sooner or later, as they catch up with global health standards.
Eddie Teh, manager of the Opus Restaurant and Bar along Jalan Bangkung in Bangsar, also said his customers are happier.
“Even though we used to allow smoking only at the outside section, the smell would come in and some didn’t like it.
“I feel it is a good move as the customers no longer have to worry about smoke and their younger children when coming here,” he said.