CA Bartenders React to the New Glove Requirement Law

Across California, bartenders are grappling with a new law requiring them to wear gloves behind the bar. Citing environmental issues and safety concerns, five bartenders and owners share their thoughts.

garnishing a corpse reviver

To the dismay of the California’s hospitality business, a new regulation effectively banning chefs and bartenders from touching food with bare hands was introduced on January 1st. The California Food Retail Code now requires any ingredient or garnish that will not be heated or cooked to be handled with utensils or gloves. All those big, beautiful clear ice cubes dropped into your Old Fashioned glass? Expect tongs. Those long, loopy lemon peels corkscrewed into Champagne Cocktails? Get ready for some latex action. Though the roll-out is being implemented over the next six months, bartenders (and chefs alike) are hoping the state comes to its senses soon. 

For starters, latex gloves are an odd disruption in the landscape of any beautiful California bar or kitchen. Imagine piles of farmers market produce, garden picked herbs, bowls of bright citrus, frosted glasses of crushed ice…and a dusty rubber glove dipping into it all. This is a bar, not an emergency care clinic. More importantly, the environmental implications are huge. For front-of house workers to avoid cross-contamination between cash transactions and making drinks, a change of gloves would be required between each step (rather than just washing hands). How many pairs of disposable gloves will the thousands of restaurants and bars across California go through in a single day of service? Unless the state begins doling out exemptions like wildfire, it seems the hospitality industry will be forced to figure out how to comply. We talked to five bartenders across California to gauge their opinions and intended courses of action.

 

ERIK ADKINS, Bar Manager, Slanted Door Group | San Francisco

What is your initial reaction to the regulation change?

Gloves and wet metal tins would be a hysterical combination. It’s not even a possibility. If you’re handling money and plates, and that same glove is going from drink to register to plate, it’s no more sanitary than unwashed hands. For us, I think it really only affects garnish. We don’t handle ice here, but we do touch garnishes.

How do you think it’s going to affect the way California bars do business?

I think you’re going to see a lot of tong flair. (Laughs.) If it actually goes into effect, we’ll use tongs to handle straws and garnish. It would be really weird to see your dive bar bartender wearing rubber gloves and using tongs though. We drop and squeeze garnishes into the glass, but it’s one of those things that seems to be low risk. It’s one thing to be worried about food-borne illnesses, but we’re talking about alcohol. And unless you take off your gloves between every action, there’s going to be cross-contamination. You’re trading one set of skin of for another.

 

MATTHEW BIANCIANELLOCocktail Consultant | Los Angeles

Are you concerned about the new regulation?

I’m definitely concerned because of how much I touch and grab ingredients. Garnish is a big thing for me. It’s going to force me to use more instruments like tweezers or tongs when garnishing. Also, gloves are a huge waste if you’re changing them constantly. Think about it like this: if you make a drink for someone, they finish drinking it and then you grab that glass with a gloved hand, you’ve just touched a contaminated surface. That person has been out in the world, shaking hands all day, and you’ve just picked up their glass. How many times do you see people with gloves at places like Subway where they’re touching so many things and ingredients and not changing gloves? I wash my hands all the time.

Much of your style has to do with the beauty of garnish. Are gloves going to mess with the aesthetic of your drinks?

I just don’t like the look of the gloves. They’re hostile. You’re taking something beautiful and putting something from a hospital next to it. It makes people think, “Maybe this stuff isn’t clean. Maybe this stuff isn’t fresh.” But I’m handpicking things from my garden or buying things from farmers who spent thousands of dollars to produce and grow things organically. I spend so much time trying to do things right.

How do you plan to deal with the new rule?

When I started working with big ice, I would use a big rubber glove to handle it. Gloves make sense for ice of that size. But I hate the waste of the gloves and throwing them away. If I have to, I’ll probably get special gloves designed for me—something that looks nice, breathes, and allows for washing. I will not go through 10,000 pairs of gloves.

 

ERICK CASTRO, Owner, Polite Provisions | San Diego

How are you feeling about the new regulation?

It’s hard. We just spent our entire pre-shift discussing it. It seems like it’s one of those things that wasn’t completely thought through—almost a knee-jerk reaction. I don’t think it’s a malicious move, but more trying to solve a problem and going a little bit overboard.

What are your main concerns?

I’m more concerned with the environmental implications than anything else. We’ve got sushi hands over here. We wash our hands constantly, so we’re covered on that. It’s more about the cost and the inconvenience. We’re about as green as you can be at our bar. We recycle everything. I’m a fucking asshole about it. Are you supposed to put on a pair of gloves to make a drink, take them off to collect cash, and then put on another pair to then handle produce? How many piles and piles of rubber gloves are going to end up in a landfill just because someone is putting a lime wedge on the side of your Coke? With the number of transactions our bartenders go through in a night, that’s something like 200 pairs of rubber gloves a person. It’s an environmental nightmare. You’re looking at garbage bags full of gloves. We’ve been trying to reduce waste in America—getting cities to reduce plastic bag waste at grocery stores. This is like taking one step forward and five steps back.

If it comes down to implementing the regulation, how will you do it?

I hope it doesn’t come down to that. I still have some faith in the powers that be that they’ll give the appropriate exemptions or realize the damage something like this will cause.

 

ALEX DAY, Honeycut | LA  & Death + Company | NYC

What is your initial reaction to the regulation change?

Fundamentally, you can’t argue with the impulse to make people safer, but this was clearly conceived by legislators with zero understanding of hospitality, the nature of contemporary bartending and food service, and who clearly have no interest in protecting the economic vitality of our industry. As the owner of a very busy bar, this regulation (as it seems to read) does nothing short of handcuffing productivity and guest engagement. Single-use gloves?  You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s the kind of government overreach that could convince a guy to be a Republican. Almost.

Any thoughts on the aesthetic interruption introduced by gloves in such an aesthetically driven industry?

The aesthetics are obviously horrendous. But the gloves aren’t just about the look. Properly trained food professionals know to keep their hands clean constantly.  We’ve been taught to know when our hands are not perfectly clean, and then we go clean them. This change means that our tactile connection with our work is distanced, and I can guarantee it’ll cause more health issues than it prevents by allowing people an excuse to be irresponsible. The existing hand-washing regulations are already so thorough; I’m baffled by the need for this additional step.

Do you think the regulation will change the way your business works?

Absolutely.  Walk through the steps of “one pair of gloves may only be used for one task” in making a drink.  The amount of extra steps and waste is incredible. As a single example, Honeycut sees as many as 550 people in a night, each one of them presumably has at least a drink.  Do the math on how many gloves that requires, the amount of waste that creates, and the long-term financial burden it brings to our business.  So, thanks Sacramento, you’ve just made drinks harder to make, take much longer per transaction, created additional cost to a business already difficult from which to profit, and probably increased the risk of contamination by implementing some ass-backwards false sense of security that doesn’t teach mindfulness.

The thing that’s aggravating me is why light hasn’t been shed on the motivation behind the regulation. If it’s genuinely motivated by safety concerns, then I’d like to know what led them to conclude that this move would impact safety.

How do you plan to implement the changes?

The local Department of Health has yet to supply us with specific guidelines for compliance, but when they do, we will do everything in our power to comply with the letter of the law.  Though we may disagree with the spirit of the law, the DOH is our ally and we maintain a strong relationship with their directives.  We look forward to getting a clear understanding how to navigate this.

If we’re cool with this kind of draconian law, I propose one of my own: every resident of California has to work in a bar or restaurant in one way or another for no less than two years.  Especially if going into civil service.  Can you imagine how much better our government would be?  Or at least the DMV would be a bit more pleasant and possibly have delicious snacks.

 

JOSH HARRIS, Owner, Trick Dog | San Francisco

What is your initial reaction to the regulation change?

My initial reaction is to not think twice about it until it was more solidified than blurbs on the Internet. Maybe that’s a slightly ignorant approach, and I don’t mean it to come off as such, but there are so many rules and regulations across industries that can be interpreted in a number of ways, and are not implemented immediatel—from smoking bans to traffic laws. I’m not going to get worked up about something that isn’t in effect yet.

Any thoughts on using gloves while bartending?

Personally, I’m sort of grossed out by it. I equate it with going to Subway and the person has a glove on. I’d prefer to see you making the sandwich with your hands and feel confident that you’ve washed them and don’t need gloves. It’s like when you see someone walking through the airport with a SARS mask on. I’m like, “I don’t want to be close to you. You’re making me feel like there’s something unclean around here.” From the consumer/customer perspective, that’s not a reassuring thing.

If it comes down to it, how would you deal with it at Trick Dog?

Well I can say, we’re not going to blatantly disregard the law. I’m not looking to cause problems. I imagine there would be people who would take up the issue and lobby to the appropriate politicians to find an alternative or some sort of compromise. A few years ago, people gathered signatures over the infusions law. I did see an interesting interview, which compares to bartending, with the owner of a popular sushi restaurant in San Francisco. He said they won’t be following the regulation.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

Leslie Pariseau is the Deputy Editor of PUNCH. She has written about food, drinks and people for GQ, Esquire and Saveur among others. She was included in Forbes' 2014 "30 Under 30" List. In her former life, Leslie worked for Momofuku Ssäm Bar, reported at the United Nations and dropped out of grad school to become a professional drinker. She has a degree in art history from University of Michigan, and lives (immoderately) in Brooklyn, New York.

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  • Michael Robertson

    It’s OK to poison your body with alcohol but you’re going to do it in a sanitary way. It reminds me of the regulation that you had to swab a convicted murderer’s arm with alcohol before giving them a lethal injection. Who gets this crap started?

  • Maureen Demar Hall

    What happens when someone is allergic to latex, customer or bartender? I see a major landfill issue, specially in Las Vegas and NOLA!

  • Mitchell Whipple

    RUFF…It is not hard transition…Las Vegas had to this 2 years ago and California is crying. We are all professionals here..sack up and figure it out..it is do able..really LATEX…people are allergic to latex..should be using vinyl gloves…LIVE TO SERVE!

  • Lmm3

    Thanks for the article! I was wondering how this whole glove thing is going to play out.
    I’d be concerned gloves just mask bad hygiene practices. If you’re not clean about handling food and garnishes, gloves aren’t going to suddenly fix the problem.

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