NEW DELHI: The room is tastefully done up wooden mahogany floor, cherry red walls, Chinese flower arrangement yet barely the size of a
kitchenette. But for many smokers who visit Chungwa, the Chinese restaurant located in GK-I’s M Block market, the room is the first port of refuge. “The government smoking ban in public places has hemmed us into a corner. A space like this is most welcome,” says Samit Patel, a young diner at the restaurant.
Chungwa is just one of the few but growing numbers of restaurants and pubs in the NCR that have opened designated spaces for smokers after the ban came into effect in October, 2008. TGI Friday’s in Saket and Vasant Kunj, Hard Rock Cafe in Saket, Cafe Morrison in South Extension, Tabula Rasa in Saket and Buzz in Gurgaon are some other joints that are saying, “Come on baby, light my fire.”
Some have invested anywhere between Rs 2 and 2.5 lakh in setting up a smoking lounge; Cafe Morrison, for instance, has installed a state-of-the-art smoking exhaust. Hard Rock Cafe’s 100 sq ft smoking space has a window and a separate exhaust system. The puffing room at Tabula Rasa has graphic art covers on the walls and bar stools. One corner is dedicated to a cigar humidor.
Restaurants are reaping the rewards. Cafe Morrison’s manager Umakant says business went up by 60% after introduction of the smoking room. Chungwa’s manager Gaurav Chatwal also says that footfalls have gone up by 20%. “Business has picked up after we constructed our smoking room six months ago,” says Chatwal, looking at a group of dressed-up youngsters who walk into the restaurant. While half the group waits, the other half moves across the floor to the smoking room.
The ban on smoking in restaurants is a part of a nationwide ban that prohibits smoking in all public spaces: workplaces, hotels, public transport (buses, trains and Metros), airports and railway stations, educational institutions, cafes, theatres, among others. A violation of the law comes with a flat fine of Rs 200. The only sign of relief is that restaurants with more than 30 covers are allowed to have an enclosed designated smoking area.
“Our smoking room was set up just 20 days after the ban was enforced on October 2 last year. We had to create a separate space in the restaurant. Business was immediately hit after the ban so the room was absolutely essential,” says the maitre’ de of Cafe Morrison.
Smokers were infuriated by the government’s decision to ban smoking in public places and the initiative is a form of relief. “I need to smoke while I drink. A space like this really works,” says Kabir Joshi, a diner at Chungwa. The management seems to echo the sentiment, “Drinks cigarettes ke bina nahi jati,” says Umakant.
That may or may not be true. What is clear is that in smoking rooms, the customer is puffing in peace and the restaurants are smiling all the way to the bank.
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