John Porter: Day one of the smoking ban

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Related tags: Smoking

"Have you got another cigarette machine? This one's not ****ing working." It was not, perhaps, the most obvious question a family-led food pub could...

"Have you got another cigarette machine? This one's not ****ing working."

It was not, perhaps, the most obvious question a family-led food pub could have expected on the first day of the English smoking ban. Nevertheless, the young lady making the query was most insistent, even if the new rules meant she'd have to enjoy her nicotine fix outside.

The Toby Carvery at Ewell, Surrey, was, I can confirm, teeming at around 5.15pm on July 1, when three generations of the Porter family arrived to experience the glorious smoke-free renaissance of the English pub.

Mind you, given the fact that it was Sunday, as well as the success that brand owner Mitchells & Butlers has had in driving food sales across its estate, you'd be surprised if it wasn't doing a good trade.

However, there were telltale signs that this was something a bit out of the ordinary. Not just the glassy stare and fixed smile of the young barman doing his best to deal with the faulty fag dispenser as the same time as pouring pints, nor the fact that I had to break it to the kids that the pub was out of both ice and straws for their drinks - as well as having no draught cider, my default tipple in any keg ale-only pub. Nor, as a somewhat disappointed Mrs P pointed out, were there any roast parsnips on the food servery.

Busy pubs run out of things from time to time. What raised my eyebrows more was the fact that the one hour wait for a table we were quoted when we arrived had extended to a two hour wait for other customers by the time we sat down. The pub was far busier than it had expected to be.

I was, I freely admit, one of the cynics who argued that new customers wouldn't automatically emerge from the mist once the smoking ban hit. It does seem, however, that there were plenty of curious customers out on Sunday to see for themselves.

That seems to have been confirmed by my subsequent conversations with a number of publicans. At the Cock and Dragon, Orchid Group's Thai food pub in Cockfosters, the manager told me: "We were as busy as ever on Sunday - but it wasn't the usual faces."

The story was the same at the Hog's Lodge in Clanfield, Hampshire, a Fuller's pub. Manager Chris Marsh said: "The pub's always busy on a Sunday, but there were more people in than usual."

One swallow does not, of course, make a summer and there were undoubtedly some very quiet pubs on Sunday as well. But it does seem there are new customers out there ready to give smoke-free pubs a go.

But just in case, you might also want to get the ****ing fag machine fixed.

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