Yes, bartenders, the glove law is upon us. Grab a garnish, be it something as simple as a lemon twist, and you must don the plastic. And then take them off to serve the drink, and then wash your hands, and then make another drink, and then – you know the drill.
Over the last week, California's new glove law has been discussed, protested and dissected. Surely, it cuts a wide path across the service industry, but for bartenders, it creates some particularly onerous issues in a business that is already minutely concerned with cleanliness. Here, then, are three takes on the situation from Angelenos in the bartending business. Ranging from practical to outraged to simply baffled, they pretty much sum up what many folks feel is simply overzealous politicking and yet another example of the government protecting us from ourselves.
Steven Sue, General Manager, Harvard and Stone:
“I've worked with a few 'gloved' bartenders who came to it out of necessity (long term skin irritations) and they all ended up preferring to remain gloved long after it was no longer necessary. Like anything, I think there'll be a period of getting used to it, but there's nothing inherently unwieldy about wearing gloves in my opinion. If NFL quarterbacks can throw a tight spiral with them, I think my staff will be able to make the transition easily enough. In short, I'm not worried.”
Naomi Schimek, Beverage Director, The Spare Room:
“We remove plastic bags from grocery stores and implement this noise? This new law is wasteful and senseless. I wash my hands constantly throughout the night, so much that the water tap hardly stops running, as do all bartenders I know. That is why the skin on our hands suffers the way it does. Lawmakers in Sacramento would do better to keep our raw ingredients clean by banning hormones and agro-chemicals from contaminating our food supply – and leave the hospitality to the professionals. Maybe these politicians are projecting – they think everyone else's hands are dirty too.”
Daniel Warilow, former General Manager Son of a Gun (currently brand ambassador Olmeca Altos Tequila):
“I've had the pleasure of either working in or visiting some of the cleanest most well organized kitchens and bars in the world. None of which require gloves to be worn at all times. I've even been health department certified in 3 different states, including New York, Washington D.C. and California. They have always said that if you maintain a hand-washing program in your kitchen or behind your bar, you will be completely fine. Cross contamination can occur with or without gloves on; if you don't change your gloves you can still cross contaminate.
A moment that will never leave my mind happened at an airport bar. The gentleman behind the bar was wearing a pair of latex gloves. He came up to me with a menu that had most likely been passed around all day and handed it to me. When he took my drink order, he was leaning on the bar with both hands, still wearing the same gloves. He made me a Bloody Maria and scooped the ice from the ice well with his gloved hands, probably assuming he and everyone else would be safe since he was wearing gloves. He then garnished my Bloody Maria with his gloved hands and served it to me. When I handed him the cash in my pocket that had certainly exchanged many hands, he took that with his gloved hands and put it in the register. Not once did he remove that set of gloves. I've never not taken a sip of a drink I paid for until that day. I highly doubt I'll feel confident paying for drinks from someone wearing gloves ever again.”
It remains to be seen where this new law takes us. As Sue says, people are adaptable; bartenders and other service professionals do what is mandated in their business. Both Schimek and Warilow repeat that stringent hand washing regulations are already in place. Many have expressed concern over the outright waste and environmental damage created by single-use gloves. And, of course, there's the inevitable sloppiness of some servers, like the gent Warilow encountered. All this makes for some curious times ahead. Sounds like we could all use a stiff drink.