‘Don’t get mad at us’: Bartenders worry about unruly customers, lost tips as L.A. vaccine proof mandate goes into effect

Local news

With Los Angeles County’s new COVID-19 vaccine proof requirements now in effect for bars and other venues, bartenders are faced with turning away paying customers and worrying about having to deal with unruly patrons.

The county started requiring indoor bars, nightclubs, wineries and other venues to verify customers’ proof of full COVID-19 vaccination to let them in last week. And starting Monday, the City of L.A. is requiring even more businesses to verify vaccination.

The venues will have to make sure that customers aged 12 and older have taken two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson at least 14 days before trying to enter the venue.

L.A. County Health Director Barbara Ferrer has said that targeted vaccine verification requirements will help the county break its “cycle of surges” like the one that came last winter, overwhelming hospitals and filling up morgues.

But critics have voiced concern over the differing rules in the city and county sowing confusion for businesses and customers, and putting those in L.A. at an unfair disadvantage.

For Anthony Salvi, a bartender at The Blue Room in Burbank, it’s been “aggravating” having to deal with the multitude of COVID-19 closures and restrictions imposed during the past year that he feels were meant to deter people from visiting bars.

Now, he dreads having to turn his regulars away.

“What do we do? Say you can’t come here anymore after 20 years? It’s just it’s not a good thing when health departments and and governments try to run your business for you,” Salvi said.

The new rules are also bad for business, he said.

“It’s taking money out of my pocket when I turn the customer away,” he added.

In Pomona, a bartender at the Back Door Cocktail Lounge said she was worried about customers becoming aggressive after being asked for their vaccine cards.

The bartender, who only provided her first name as Shonna, recalled customers getting mad and slamming doors after being asked to mask up when bars were first allowed to reopen. She worries it’ll be the same when asking for vaccine proof.

“I’m dreading it,” she said. “It’s a bar. Sometimes, people come here already a little tipsy, and you have to tell them that, and they get mad.”

She had a message for customers unhappy about the vaccine requirement: “don’t blame us.”

“Don’t get mad at us,” Shonna said. “Because we got to feed our kids too, and we don’t wanna lose our jobs.”

Senior policy manager at the Los Angeles County Business Federation, Sarah Wiltfong, told the Associated Press that harassment of workers tasked with verifying vaccine status is the top concern.

“This puts employees in a potential position of conflict, when they’re not necessarily trained to handle situations like that,” she said.

Claire Risoli, owner of Pocha LA in Highland Park, told KTLA she does not want to have to “police” her customers.

“I don’t want to be in the position of having to turn anyone away,” she said.

Meanwhile, yoga studio owner David Gross told the AP he was relieved after L.A. passed the mandate because it meant he and his co-owner don’t have to unilaterally decide whether to verify their customers are vaccinated.

Health officials said the added safeguards are needed to stave off another deadly coronavirus surge.

And L.A. lawmakers have said the rules are necessary to avoid a return to business closures as the virus remains a threat, and many remain unvaccinated.

Ahead of voting to pass the vaccine proof ordinance, L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez — who introduced the motion — said those who have been vaccinated “deserve to go back to normal.” 

“We’re getting tired of protecting people who do not want to protect themselves and get vaccinated,” Martinez said.

Some bars and eateries throughout the county have for months already been asking for vaccine proof — even before the county started requiring it.

In July, Italian restaurant Osteria La Buca in Melrose and Sherman Oaks announced on Instagram that it’s requiring all guests to show proof of vaccination, and that a security guard will be checking all guests.

“We haven’t fought this hard, for this long, to let it go awry now,” the post reads.

Last month, L.A. County began phasing in the vaccine proof mandate, requiring businesses to check that customers had taken at least one vaccine dose rather than be fully vaccinated. 

While compliance hasn’t been perfect, the majority of businesses visited have been following the requirements, according to the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

Inspectors visited 78 bars between Oct. 16 and Oct. 22, and found that 85% percent were in compliance with customer vaccine verification requirements.

“Gotta play the game because it’s the government and we don’t want to get fined,” Blue Room bartender Salvi said.

He had a message for residents: “Get vaccinated so we don’t have to deal with all this.”

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