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With the ban settling in for the long-term and winter fast approaching, Louise Troy finds that venues are thinking up imaginative ways of coping with the changes
Since the smoking ban came into effect on July 1, partygoers have been quick to appreciate the cleaner air (and their reduced dry cleaning bills). But for venues, the law change has created a host of challenges. Venue owners are urgently colonising every inch of outdoor space to accommodate smokers, and hi-tech heaters and canopies are being installed to protect them from the elements.
As balmy summer evenings give way to the chilly nights of autumn, the difficulties are only going to increase. ‘With the Christmas party season approaching, we need to start addressing these concerns,’ says Jamie Simon, a director at Impulse Events. ‘For us it’s about trying to minimise the impact now – because in six to eight months the ban will seem completely normal.’
He identifies the disruption caused by crowds of smokers on the streets as one of the biggest obstacles. ‘Our flagship venue, the Hellenic Centre in Marylebone, is a prime example of the effects of people smoking on the street in a residential area. After 11pm we have a duty to the venue’s neighbours not to be noisy.’ The key, according to Simon, is investing in effective crowd control over the smoking area. Some clubs, for example, have implemented a one-in-one-out system in their smoking areas, while bosses at Hotel du Vin, the mini-chain of boutique hotels, have hit on an ingenious way to work within the law and prevent too much noise, by creating ‘Cigar Shacks’ in the hotel’s gardens. Smokers can puff away in the bandstand-like huts thanks to a warm air curtain and underfloor heating.
Meanwhile, some venues are attempting to capitalize on the ban by introducing innovative drink options to help those trying to quit. Pearl Restaurant and Bar is offering the ‘Nicotini’, a cocktail containing – you guessed it – nicotine; a blend of Havana seven-year-old rum infused with a Montecristo #4 cigar, mixed with Kahlua, lemon juice, Demerara sugar syrup and egg white. At Floridita, a new range of tobacco-based cocktails include the Tobacco Old Fashioned and Smokey Old Fashioned.
But there is one more problem in the post-ban world that few anticipated: smell. The Cuckoo Club in Mayfair has been quick to recognise that the smell of smoke – while unpleasant – had been masking a whole host of other nasty niffs. Their solution? To spritz the entire place hundreds of times a night with £1,260-a-bottle Clive Christian No. 1. But expensive scents aren’t the only option. Uber-chain Mitchells & Butler is blazing a trail for smaller venues by testing freshly mown grass, sea breeze and leather smells in some of its 2,000 pubs. Rentokil-Initial, which provides Marriott hotels with bar perfumes, is trying out the smell of Mojito.
The challenges faced by the industry are numerous, but what about the benefits? Once the industry has adjusted, it will have time to savour the aesthetic gains – no more cigarette burns in expensive carpets and furniture, for example. Kate Woods of the Silver Sturgeon changed her plans for the boat’s refurbishment to include beige leather banquettes once she knew people would no longer be lighting up on board.
Who would’ve known that the ban could improve the look of venues as much as the looks (and health) of their guests?
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Autumn 2007.