Alexandria officials are strongly considering an ordinance that would require the city's restaurants to set aside at least 25 percent of their seats for nonsmokers, with new or substantially renovated restaurants setting aside at least half the seats for nonsmokers.

The proposed ordinance follows the lead of a growing number of area jurisdictions requiring nonsmoking sections in restaurants, including Arlington, Fairfax, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

The Alexandria City Council voted unanimously Saturday in favor of the recommendations outlined in a report from a city task force on smoking in restaurants.

The panel found that the majority of the city's 454 restaurants were not voluntarily setting aside areas for nonsmokers and recommended an ordinance requiring the establishments to designate such areas.

"According to the Health Department's survey in the fall of 1985, only 25 percent of the city's 144 restaurants with more than 50 seats had reserved some of them for nonsmokers," the task force report said. "As troubling, 84 percent of the restaurateurs canvassed said they had no plans to establish no-smoking areas."

The city attorney will now draft an ordinance outlining requirements for restaurants and present it to the council.

After a public hearing, the council will vote on the plan.

The law would have the greatest impact in the Old Town area, which, with its 105 restaurants, has one of the highest concentrations of eateries in the Washington area.

"Seventy-five percent of our population doesn't smoke, and so to restrict existing restaurants to setting aside 25 percent for nonsmoking is not punitive," said Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran Jr.

Moran, a smoker, added that "smoking is a very stupid and destructive thing to do." He said he supports setting aside 50 percent of new restaurants for nonsmokers. "We get a lot of revenue from restaurants . . . I think most restaurant owners are going to support this ordinance."

About six restaurant owners interviewed at random said they support the ordinance mainly because customers increasingly request nonsmoking areas.

"I would love to have that law because I'm already planning to build an addition to accommodate a nonsmoking section," said Mo Movahed, owner of the Table Talk restaurant on Duke Street. "The addition will cost me anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000, and it's going to give me approximately 20 more seats which will be just for nonsmoking. We have 80 seats now," Movahed said.

Brian Croke, general manager of Chadwicks restaurant at 203 S. Strand St., said the restaurant set aside a section for nonsmokers about six months ago in response to customer demands.

"Our guests were becoming more and more adamant about having an area in a restaurant to be able to sit without smoke interfering with their meal," Croke said. One-third of the restaurant's 148 seats are for nonsmokers, he said.

"As nonsmoking has become more in vogue in the last three years, there has been more of a need for nonsmoking sections in restaurants," Croke said. "The problem is in many restaurants it's just not conducive to set aside a nonsmoking section because they {the restaurants} are small and the smoke travels to the nonsmoking area."

If the ordinance passes, as it is expected to, Alexandria will join Arlington and Fairfax counties in requiring nonsmoking sections in restaurants. Alexandria's ordinance, however, would affect all restaurants, while Fairfax County requires nonsmoking sections for restaurants with 100 or more seats, and Arlington County requires the sections for restaurants with 75 or more seats.

Nonsmoking ordinances in the area are relatively new. Arlington passed its law in March and the Montgomery County law was approved in April.