Published Date Written by Natalie LaddThe hazy in hazy, hot and humid has taken on a new meaning lately as I seek a place to drink and dine al fresco where I am not assaulted by second-hand smoke. I'm not talking about chainsmoking Canadian tourists in banana hammocks, or European nationals who are accustomed to being in Rome and doing what other Romans do. I'm talking about designated outdoor dining areas, where patrons smoke butts directly upwind from me, and employees in full uniform brazenly light up in plain view, thus wrecking my good time.
None of this is new or exclusive to me, but it is a relevant and illegal can of worms, over which everyone has an opinion.
A little background refresher: In September 1991, legislation was signed by then Maine Gov. Angus S. King Jr., banning smoking in all restaurants and many bars, making Maine the fifth state to approve such restrictions. As of Jan. 1, 2004, the law was revised to include all bars and taverns, and in July 2009, outdoor dining areas of all restaurants and bars as well. Over the course of repeat voting and four acts, fallout like my personal favorite clause came to be for a short period of time: If less than 20 percent of a restaurant or bar's total sales come from food, smoking is allowed. Thinking back, there was more than one of my dubious haunts that scaled back to pickled eggs and bagged Lay's potato chips, cutting out the sparse menu that helped patrons absorb one too many PBR's.
As much as I complain about the smoke, I have mixed views on the subject. The financial ramifications were great and opposition to the bans trickled down from the National Restaurant Association to the independent tavern owner to the end user. It went further than, "Don't want to wear your seat belt and die in an auto accident as a result? That's your fault alone. Don't want to wear a helmet in the bitch seat of your boyfriend's Hog, and end up in a vegetative state? That's your fault, too." Laws of this nature were designed with the best of intentions to protect the public, but also infringe on individual choice and human rights under a democratic government. I could digress and debate further about the selfishness, and potential expense to others of such lawbreaking actions, but that's not the point here. The point is, people are rude and shouldn't smoke where diners can see, taste and smell it, unless the diner chooses to do so.
Last Sunday, this was not a personal choice and my feathers were ruffled when seated outside on the deck of a Commercial Street restaurant with a keen view of the dumpster and members of the kitchen staff smoking. These guys weren't across the parking lot or discreetly around the corner. They were seated within a few feet of the steps leading to one of the deck entrances and I was grossed out. It could have been because New Guy wouldn't indulge me and wait the 35 minutes until we could get a waterside table at Flatbread, or because our server didn't bring us silverware until halfway through our meal, or because my blue cheese "crumbles" were actually a single microscopic speck. We could have asked to move or left altogether, but didn't, and I instantly remembered a few years back when seated outside a swanky Wharf Street restaurant, with a full-on dumpster smell overpowering my expensive and much anticipated food. When we left, we walked passed the offensive dumpster only to see our server smoking a cigarette while still on duty.
I've been doing the restaurant thing long enough to know people are going to duck outside for a smoke and if they roam any further than the back door (often located near the parking lot where patrons walk back and forth), they'll leave tables stranded and food sitting in the window. People are entitled to exercise personal choice and I've never heard of the $100 to $1,500 fine for violating the smoking bans being enforced. Right or wrong, can of worms or not, I just don't want to see it or smell it.