No love for glove law

Local bartenders give thumbs-down to new regulation requiring gloves

Countless people flock to local bars looking to unwind with a beer or other alcoholic drink. But there's a new regular at the watering holes that won't get a warm welcome — protective gloves for the bartenders.

"Is there a rhyme or reason behind it?" asked Tim Crawford, manager of Francesca's Sports Bar in Mountain View. "I don't think so. I think you're going to cause more problems with the gloves than you are with just your bare hands."

Crawford is responding to an amendment to a California retail food-safety law that makes gloves at the bar a requirement. The law's change, which took effect Jan. 1, bans restaurant workers from handling ready-to-eat food with their bare hands. For bartenders, that means wearing gloves for something as simple as dropping an olive into a martini.

Crawford has been tending bar for eight years and his sentiments reflect the collective voice of local bartenders.

"Honestly, I think it'll be just a big nuisance," said Sam Bonales, a bartender at Scratch in downtown Mountain View. "It's going to take the fun out of it," for both the bartender and the customers.

Sara Hernandez at pan-Latin restaurant Cascal across the street agrees.

"(People) want their drinks and to be able to interact with the bartender, not, 'Hold up, wait. I have to go put my gloves on,'" she said.

"Make the drinks, get it out and get other people to order stuff," Hernandez said of the typical bar scene. "It's a rotating door."

Though Cascal's restaurant environment is less fast-paced, timeliness with service is an ever-present concern for any bartender. For customers, if bartenders must wear gloves, it could easily lengthen the time it takes to get a drink.

Virginia McVeigh, who works as a bartender at downtown Palo Alto's Greek standout Evvia, doesn't just knock the law. She has a suggestion for reform: Instead of a flat-out requirement to wear gloves, gloves could be worn during any kind of preparation. This is a practice she's minded since she got her start as a bartender more than 10 years ago.

"I believe that gloves should be worn during the preparation of the garnishes and any kind of preparation," she said, noting that the use of gloves during service times "diminishes the level of service and class."

"When (customers) come here, they don't want to see a bartender wearing gloves," McVeigh said. "It also kind of makes us look like we're an assembly line producing simpler drinks," a characteristic far from the selection of wine and spirits offered at higher-end Evvia.

Hernandez suggests a more practical option: Focus on the actual practices of bartenders as opposed to making them wear gloves.

"If there was more attention to cleaning your hands, that would be better than wearing gloves," she said noting that cleanliness is already an industry standard.

She also mentioned that she knows of some locations that make use of tongs or other utensils instead of their hands. Crawford dismisses this option for the same reason as the gloves: timeliness and ease.

"It'll take much longer to stick a pick in an olive with a spoon than with my hands," he said.

"Our hands are always in water, always wet, always clean," Crawford said. "(Gloves) are going to retain any residual of anything and I think it'll to be worse actually. I think what they need to do is go through and look at that and measure the amount of bacteria on your hands at the end of the day and the amount of crap that's on your gloves. I think you're going to transfer more with gloves than with your hands."

Such concerns don't even take into account the difficulty bartenders would face if they "flair." Flair bartending is the practice of entertaining guests using bar tools and liquor bottles in tricky, juggler-like ways.

Hernandez got her start in bartending at restaurant chain TGI Fridays, the home of flair, she said. If she had had to wear gloves then, it would have ruined the show.

"It would be so hard to flair," she said. "You just wouldn't be able to do it. It would be like a show and then they make your drinks, instead of a show while making your drinks."

"The experience is completely lost at that moment," said Angela Fragomeni, a 12-year veteran who works at The Patio in downtown Palo Alto. "Flair bartending will go out the window. It'll be strictly for show."

Fragomeni mentioned another concern with instituting gloves for bartenders.

"Really and truly, it's bad for the environment," she said. "Think of how many bartenders are out there. Think of how many times we're going to have to change our gloves a day."

But bartenders across the state aren't going down without a fight: They've amassed more than 17,000 signatures in online petitions. On Feb. 24, California State Assemblyman Richard Pan, whose committee authored the original law, responded by introducing "emergency legislation" that would lead to the glove law's repeal. The repeal is on track to be approved before the June 30 deadline to comply with the law — a result that should draw cheers from local bartenders and drinkers alike.


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