There has been much debate the past year on if the smoking ban in Springfield, IL is causing economic harm to bars and restaurants. I've formed an opinion on the subject from going out to a limited number of locations. This opinion was further strengthened this New Year's Eve. I honestly don't feel it is the smoking ban that is causing the revenue loss. My thought is that some of the decisions these business owners have made are what are truly effecting their bottom line. Not to mention the fact there has been an increase in competition from newcomers to the area. My opinion is based upon my own observations since the ban was put in place and before. I'm of course no expert and I'm not out on the town every single night of the week. Yet basic business sense is just that. While things may change from year to year in regards to taste. There are certain doing business basics that don't change.
One of those would be that turning away customers is not good for your bottom line. I tend to bet that many of you reading this are saying that it would be a no brainer to try and not turn customers away. But in fact two popular Springfield bars did just this on New Year's Eve 2006. Not because they had a full house and couldn't serve anymore customers. They had people leaving their establishments because of business decisions that they ( the bar ) had made.
To be fair and accurate. I think it would be best to explain where my night started and the establishments that I went to. This in my opinion will help give a more balanced assessment of the overall situation. The evening started with dinner for two at Outback Steakhouse in Springfield. After much debate on where to go and with this being last minute no reservations. We had decided this was going to be the place for New Year's Eve dinner. I will say that it was surprising to see that this restaurant did not have a line out the door. If my memory is functioning. On a previous New Year's we had gone here and that was in fact the case. Keep in mind though that year the establishment was not properly staffed. Either way this year when we walked in we got a table right then.
Most of the staff seemed really unhappy to be at work. To the point of being rather vocal about this. The bar for being New Year's Eve was far from fully stocked. Not that it mattered. A few weeks earlier we had seen this restaurant much busier. On this night there weren't to many people at the bar. That being said from the conversations we overheard if a rush of customers came in wanting to celebrate New Year's in the traditional fashion. They might not have been able to get their drink of choice at Outback that evening. I'm not sure if this shortcoming was do to a good amount of business earlier in the day. Or just lack of preparation on the part of managers. In some respects it seemed as if many of the employees had just started working there. Which I'm almost sure is not the case. Just seemed like there was a lot of unusual drama that night.
As we were leaving Outback a small group was walking out before us. Someone in fact did make mention of not being able to smoke. Another person in the group informed them that this was the case in Springfield for almost all bars and restaurants. So there is some ammunition for the smokers. This obviously didn't stop anyone in this group from going out and having a meal. It was my impression that the person who made the original comment may have been from out of town. But they sure didn't walk back out the door when finding out they couldn't smoke with their dinner.
Our next stop would be right around the corner from Outback. We stopped in at Red Lobster for a drink and to say Happy New Year to a friend. This restaurant had a decent amount of customers for 9 O'clock or so at night. I know that a previous New Year's several years ago this establishment was packing them in. Although things that year did slow down as the evening got later. Grumblings must have been in the air after a long day of dealing with customers. Some of the staff at Red Lobster seemed worn out and not to happy. The bar staff were more than friendly and handling all their customers politely though. No complaints were overheard in regards to the smoking ban when we were having drinks here. The major complaint seemed to be not being able to get the Bear's game on their Direct TV. I guess they don't pay for the local channels or something.
Now we are finally to the point where I'll begin to explain why I don't feel the smoking ban is the direct cause of some bars and restaurants losing money. I'd never say that hasn't had some effect on the bottom line. However to me it seems like decisions being made by the business owners is costing them more revenue than the ban.
After Red Lobster we hadn't fully decided what we were going to do for the rest of the evening. So we headed home to make a plan of attack. Since Mowie's Cue said they were only open till 1 AM the plan was to head to Break Time. Only because I wanted to have somewhere to play pool that wouldn't be closing early. Honestly I'm not a big fan of this establishment. This would of course be based upon an opinion formed over several visits. I'm sure my tone tells you that my most recent visit hasn't changed my thoughts any. If anything my original opinion has once again been proven right. Keep in mind it is rare for me not to try and give places multiple tries before fully writing them off. So any opinion I may express isn't just based on a one time occurrence.
I'd previously been to this bar earlier in 2006 for a co-worker of Cheryl's birthday. The pool tables where in need of some serious repair work. The jukebox had a warning on it to use at your own risk and stated no refunds. The wording made it seem as they knew the machine wasn't working and could care less. That night the place was fairly empty in the pool area. My last observation is in regards to their bathrooms. I've seen better at rest stops and gas stations. For a place that is on the West side of town and host a nationally known comedy club. You would think this place would at least have decent facilities. Think again.
So fast forward to New Year's Eve 2006. As we are walking into Break Time outside the door two men are in a heated argument. Looked as if it could turn nasty. It did seem as if tempers had mellowed a bit by the time we got to the door. The person at the door gave us a nod but didn't say anything. We headed over to the pool signin area. At this point we were asked if we had wristbands. Both of us were clueless as to why were being asked this. It was then explained to us that the bar had a special package deal that evening. Several of the employees stated it would probably be cheaper for us to wait until 11:30 PM to get a wristband. It wasn't stated at this time that we had no choice. The employees made it seem as if it was optional at that time.
So we end up going into the bar area and grabbing a seat. Cheryl gets a stiff drink and I get a Coke. Not sure what they charge for soda but $9 was the total. Other bars are a little cheaper for the same order. As we are sitting there we are having a conversation and trying to decide if the $20 a person fee for the wristband would be worth it to us. Keep in mind we weren't going to drink a lot and just wanted to play pool. With the wristband drinks would be a dollar. But even at $5 an hour for two people to play pool. We would have had to have downed a lot of drinks to get our $40 worth. So we made the decision to just try and get a table for pool and pay full price for everything that night. Would have been cheaper for us. It's at this time that Cheryl finds out that the wristband isn't optional. It is in fact mandatory after 11:30 PM and no one can play pool unless they have the wristband.
Now DJ Flipside had been hyping the wristbands. The bartender had even asked us if we had one. Not to long after we found out this would be mandatory. DJ Flipside lets everyone know that if you have no wristband at 11:30 PM you'll be asked to leave. At this point I told Cheryl to finish her drink and we would be leaving. On the way out a gentleman is at the door with the door person trying to grasp the stupidity of the situation. This man is being told he can't even enter the bar until 11:30 PM. It was around 11 at this point. Not only that he is told he must purchase a wristband. You can imagine the reaction of this person who was just trying to enter a bar for a night of fun. I will say that the doorman was being polite and trying to explain the situation clearly.
Keep in mind that the outside sign made no mention of the wristband. No signage at the main door made mention of this either. And the door person made no mention of any special wristband being needed. I'm not sure if this is a promotion that Break Time does every New Year's Eve. Cheryl said she hadn't heard anything about it in their radio advertising. Not sure if their website had details. What we seem to have figured out is they have a cross promotion with hotels. A package deal for an evening stay at one of these hotels includes the wristband deal for Break Time.
Now to the meat of the situation. Here we have the owner of Break Time who has moaned, groaned, complained and cried to anyone and everyone who will listen about how the smoking ban is killing his business. Doing what? Turning away business!! I'm sure he didn't mention to the city council how his bathrooms look like an outhouse. I'm sure he didn't mention how his pool tables were in major need of repair. Granted it did look as if he had resolved that issue when we were in there for New Years. I'd also tend to bet that he didn't mention to The State Journal Register or the Springfield City Council how it's his business decisions that are killing business. If your turning away customers on the biggest bar night of the year and your bar is nowhere near it's full capacity. I truly have to question what your thinking. This bar had people wanting to come in and spend money. Yet do to the owner's business decision they were being hassled at the door. Instead of being allowed to come in and spend their money. I guess your business can't be hurting that bad if your willing to turn business away on one of the busiest bar nights of the year. Hope you made a good amount of money on that package deal you were selling. You can definitely be assured you have lost at least two customers. We won't be giving this place another chance. I can't even imagine why nationally known comics would make repeat appearances at The Funny Bone. Maybe there is a decent green room. Or they must get paid really well.
You would think that a place that is on a good side of town. Been in business for a good number of years. And attracts nationally well known comedians. Could in fact afford to at least keep up their property. Not to mention the fact that you would think they would have a clue that turning away business is a sure way not to make money. Either way this is one bar owner who needs to stop complaining about the smoking ban. I'd tend to bet his business was starting to hurt long before the ban went into effect.
Now to be fair. This wasn't the only westside bar turning away business on New Year's Eve 2006. The Corner Pub & Grill also had a group of people who decided to not give them their business. Why? Because they weren't serving food at the time this group came in. Normally this establishment serves pizza until 1 AM. Which we mentioned to a waitress we talked to a few nights before that they should at least add appetizers to this. Not that you would have known that they served pizza until 1 AM this week. Because their New Year's menu covered up that information. To me it only makes sense to have a limited menu available late into the evening on New Year's Eve. People like to snack while they drink. This helps to keep customers a little more sober. And in theory it should increase revenue on one of the busiest bar nights of the year. Instead two older well dressed couples that easily would have spent a decent amount of money – walked right out the door and took their money elsewhere. Call me an idiot if you want. But the last thing I want to do is turn customers away if I'm looking at a half full bar. This bar also didn't make as much as they could have off of us. Do to the fact that no food options were available. Later that night we ended up at Meijer for frozen pizzas. Which they tried to overcharge us for.
It does however need to be kept in mind that The Corner Pub & Grill is a newer restaurant and bar. The look is clean and they have a fully working jukebox. Flat screen TV's are placed throughout the bar and their restrooms don't look like outhouses. The pizza isn't bad either. Reasonably priced as well. With that said. If I'm a new bar that has been getting good word of mouth ( which the Corner Pub has been getting ). I'm sure going to try to do whatever I can to make sure customers spend their money with me. Not the competition down the street.
Keep in mind that I didn't make it to the downtown bars to see how their crowds were. I would say that the places we went didn't seem to be as busy as you would think they would be for that time of year. This could be partially do to the smoking ban. But even if the ban has hurt numbers. It doesn't seem as if owners are concerned enough to make sure customers are satisfied and spending their money with them. When I see customers being turned away from a half empty bar. I have a hard time feeling bad for the owner when they cry about how the smoking ban has hurt them. To me it seems as if some of their own business decisions are what are causing the bottom line to be less.
A quick interesting side note. While at Corner Pub & Grill a limo ( maybe the Hummer limousine ) pulled up. No big deal on New Year's Eve right? Who would end up popping in after getting out of the limo? A good portion of the Darcy's Pint crew.
Search results for Darcy's Pint Iggy Uncensored
A thank you to Hendricker Funeral Home for the Bears tickets – Iggy Uncensored
Everybody's a critic! And should be… Photos Et Cetera
Mowie's Cue MySpace
Corner Pub & Grill Springfield, IL – Google Maps
Funny Bone Comedy Club of Springfield — Home
The Eleventh Hour Bar Bashing Blog
A bash? Not in my opinion. More of just telling it like I saw it. The night had it's ups and downs. The general point of this long story was to show the true details. I hardly think it is right for someone to complain about loss of business. When in fact they are letting customers walk out the door. Or not even letting them come in to begin with. It's not as if these people were to drunk to be allowed in. It was do to business policy for that evening. In the last case it was do to lack of logic in my opinion. In regards to logic. It only makes sense if you don't properly maintain your business. That you may in fact suffer loss of revenue do to this.