Ten years after New York City banned smoking in restaurants and bars, diners are puffing away once again.
E-cigarettes-battery-powered cylinders that deliver vaporized nicotine-are becoming the drug of choice for gourmands who'd rather not stand out in the rain, heat, or snow to enjoy a few puffs. Manufacturers of the devices, which hook up to computers like iPhones (some download!) and glow like phosphorescent jellyfish, pitch the cigarettes as odorless, ash-free, and without tobacco smoke. For some restaurateurs, that means e-cigarettes fall outside the antismoking law.
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“We allow it,” says Adele LeGault, general manager at Michael White's Costata, an expensive SoHo steakhouse where she encounters at least one e-smoker each night.
Other big-name operators are still grappling with the issue. Neither Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group (Maialino, Shake Shack) nor Daniel Boulud's collection of French spots has an e-cigarette policy. Eleven Madison Park, where dinner for two can easily approach $900, says it would permit e-smoking in its lounge but not in the dining room. Gabriel Stulman's more casual group of eateries (Perla, Fedora, Montmartre) forbids it.
Here's what some of New York's most prominent chefs and restaurateurs have to say about e-cigarettes:
1. Le Bernardin
“It happened once last week in the lounge; we let the person smoke. It's not happening enough for us to have a policy yet. It's totally new. I'm sure if we see more and more people using the cigarettes, we are going to have to decide what to do. Do we accept it or not? Personally, I don't find it elegant. It's weird to see someone smoking with a plastic cigarette.” -Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner
2. Momofuku (Ssam Bar, Ma Peche, Ko)
“We kindly ask that guests do not smoke electronic cigarettes at our restaurants in New York City, as we find it disruptive to other diners. We try our best to create a comfortable dining service for all of our guests.” -Sue Chan, spokeswoman
3. Major Food Group (Torrisi, Carbone, ZZ's Clam Bar)
“It's not something we encounter very often, though I know it's becoming more and more popular. Currently we don't encourage it, but we do allow it as long as it doesn't bother other customers.” -Jeff Zalaznick, managing partner
“Strangely we have never actually seen one of these contraptions in our restaurants. If the product is designed to be completely odorless, I think asking someone to take it out of his or her mouth is difficult. That might be the equivalent of telling someone to get rid of a toothpick or some other object. I think you should leave them be unless they're disturbing other customers in some way, and then you have to ask them nicely to put it away.” -Alex Stupak, chef/owner
5. Myriad Restaurant Group (Nobu, Nobu 57, Tribeca Grill)
“It's kind of a new thing. My gut reaction would be to say smoking is smoking. I probably would tell you we don't have a policy; we do it on a case-by-case basis. If it's not going to bother anyone, I don't think we should have a rule, but if someone were to complain, we'd ask them not to smoke.” -Drew Nieporent, owner
6. Little Wisco (Perla, Montmartre, Fedora)
“We do not allow them indoors or outdoors. To me it is a distraction and intrusive, no different than if someone were playing music from their iPhone on the speaker function. Anyone smoking an e-cigarette is forcing their desires and interests on others in a manner with which the other party may not enjoy it. It is the responsibility of the restaurant to try to balance and consider the interests of all of our guests against those of a few.” -Gabriel Stulman, owner
7. Altamarea Group (Costata, Ai Fiori, Morini)
“As of recently, there isn't much protocol but they are not as strange as they once were. We see at least one a night at some of the restaurants and allow it, but are monitoring to make sure it doesn't inconvenience other guests.” -Olivia Young, spokeswoman
8. The Elm
“We don't mind them. We actually have had a few guests 'light up' in the dining room.” -The Management
“It's never come up. We wouldn't allow it during the meal. We'd probably ask them to go outside. It's a relatively small space and there is kind of an odor to them. It's not disgusting. It smells like steam and weird flavor. But if it's at the end of the meal, and we're done with service and there's no more food around, and people are on their way out, I probably wouldn't have a problem with it.” -Carlo Mirarchi, chef and owner
10. Do or Dine
“I'm happy to have them. Nothing is worse than our kitchen having to hold/replate/refire an order because a guest decided to step out for a puff between courses. God forbid the guest smokes American Spirits, as that can be a 10-minute ordeal. My only gripe is that the lights on them are very tacky-looking. They look like a prop I would've had in my raver days.” -Justin Warner, chef and owner.