California Pizza Kitchen Was The First National Restaurant Chain To Ban This

In 2016, Larry Flax and Rick Rosenfield, the founders of California Pizza Kitchen, reminisced about the early days of their business and in doing so, unearthed something quite interesting. They mentioned to Fortune that after a meeting with their restaurant managers in 1991, they decided to ban smoking in all of their restaurants. This was to address the now commonplace concern that employees surrounded by smoke all the time may suffer the effects of secondhand smoking.

What makes this claim interesting is that the internet insists Arby's became the first chain to ban smoking in 1994. As The Balance writes "[Arby's was]the first to ban smoking in all its company-owned restaurants in 1994." So does Thrillist. The Daily Meal went so far as to claim Arby's was the first to ban smoking outright in all locations.

In fact, none support Flax and Rosenfield's claim that California Pizza Kitchen beat Arby's to the punch by three years.

Guess what? They really did

The first issue with the claim that Arby's was the first to ban smoking in its restaurants comes with the contemporary reporting in The New York Times. The reporters note that the measure affected only the 257 restaurants which the company itself owned, and not the nearly 2,000 owned by franchisees. (There was also company pressure on Dairy Queen franchisees to follow suit.) However, there is no mention of this being a groundbreaking ban, which would probably have been mentioned if Arby's had indeed been the first.

However, casting doubt on Arby's claim is not enough. There has to be something substantiating the claim for California Pizza Kitchen. And there is.

In 2002, Pizza Marketplace published a piece about the costs and benefits restaurants experienced due to their insistence on smoking bans. One subject of the piece was California Pizza Kitchen, with their senior vice president of marketing claiming that instead of a dip in sales they could "tell you business continues to increase since we made the decision." More importantly, Pizza Marketplace says that California Pizza Kitcafhen banned smoking throughout its entire system seven years before the state of California banned it in all restaurants. That ban was passed in 1998, according to an article in the Journal of Public Health Policy, posted at the National Library of Medicine. That means that depending on the month California Pizza Kitchen banned smoking, they either did so in 1990 or 1991. Either way, it indicates that California Pizza Kitchen, not Arby's, banned smoking first.