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Photograph: Courtesy Big Bar/Eugene Lee

The 5 new rules of drinking at an L.A. bar right now

Back at the bartop for the first time in a while? L.A. bartenders say to keep these five rules in mind.

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano

Sure, we had cocktails to-go and patio spots serving drinks, but until this past spring it had been nearly a year since Angelenos could sink into a stool and chat up a bartender. That’s a whole lot of time for your bar etiquette to collect cobwebs. On top of that, just when we thought life was approaching something normalish again—surprise!—things swung in the opposite direction.

Combine the shifting rules and safety regulations (both self-imposed and county-mandated) with supply chain and labor shortages, and a night at your favorite watering hole might still look a little different than it did during the before times. So we talked to the owners, managers and bartenders behind some of L.A.’s best bars to find out what you need to know before you open your tab.

Bring some extra patience

“Due to the pandemic a lot of people are short-staffing to save on labor costs, and the employees that are working are expected to carry the same workload as before. So guests should know and expect that they will have to wait a bit longer for service and that they should not get mad about it.” —Cari Hah, Hakkasan Group

“Everyone needs to be aware that there are a multitude of reasons places are short-staffed, so please be patient and kind to those that have showed up. We’re doing our best!” —Kelso Norris, Genever

“There has been a mass exodus of staff. Either from a resolve of moving away from a career they never were really that committed to, or being completely burnt out from having to compensate for a severely depleted work force and insanely confusing regulations regarding the capacity and ever-changing safety guidelines. —Jerom Morris, Little Fatty/Accomplice

Tip well—like even better than whatever you’re thinking

“The job we do is straining and mentally challenging with high volume waves. With all the current ways this industry has been affected during the pandemic, a tip goes a long way for hard work in a time when it’s very hard to hire people.” —Karla Flores-Mercado, Bar Flores

“Tip well, tip ridiculously well. The people that are serving you are putting their health in danger to do so and are working extremely hard in a hazardous environment.” —Hah

“Even though a good percentage of guests are appreciative and aware of the crisis, it doesn’t translate to any more compensation. People aren’t tipping more, and employers can’t really afford to pay more.” —Morris

Be polite

“The Golden Rule holds truer now than ever: be kind to staff and each other. Everyone’s gone through trying times, and it’s come to light how many different elements it takes to create the experience of going to a bar and enjoying a drink—from staff to supply chain and ever-changing rules and regulations—so this is the moment to have patience and understanding.” —Marc Rose, The Spare Room

“We’re happy that most of our staff is back, vaccinated, and doing our best to keep our team and patrons safe and comfortable. It’s been a constant adjustment and I’m so proud of this team—they are pros. That said, please be nice.” —Eugene Lee, Big Bar

“People got used to single-file lines when ordering at the bar which I have never seen as much before. We are very lucky here at Bar Flores to have such kind people that even help bus tables when it’s very busy.” —Flores-Mercado

“In general, we’ve found our guests to be extra grateful and conscientious and even more eager to chat with our bar staff or meet their neighbors down the bar. A silver lining to all the difficulties of the past year seems to be an energized appreciation for community whether it’s friends we haven’t seen in a year or meeting someone new the next stool over.” —Camron Robertson, Thunderbolt

“There are people who abuse and belittle staff for following the rules at work: ‘I cant hear you behind that mask, take it down.’ ‘Why don’t you think for yourself?’ ‘It’s not real, you don’t need that.’ When in fact we do need it, as it’s a condition of our employment. But we are trying to indiscriminately serve both teams of the COVID debate in the safest way possible.” —Morris

You can be a little bit awkward 

“I think a lot of people are readjusting to social activities so there is a lot more awkwardness in general, which is completely expected. We’re all so eager and starved for human contact.” —Norris

“Mostly people have been lovely and are incredibly grateful to be able to sidle up to the bartop again, but they’re also understandably still shaking the rust off from the past year or so of not going out much or at all in some cases. A lot of people are charmingly awkward about everything, asking lots of questions that would normally seem pretty obvious. It’s completely understandable that guests at times might unsure about what's allowed or not, things may be operating differently from bar to bar.” —Robertson

But don’t push it

“People sometimes confidently act like nothing of note happened over the past 18 months, or are flabbergasted by any Covid-related changes.” —Robertson

“My personal pet peeve? Please refrain from asking ‘is so-and-so cocktail good?’ We spent a lot of time crafting our menu and are proud of the entire menu!” —Norris 

“‘The customer is always right’ adage is no longer relevant. If a customer is not adhering to the establishment’s code of conduct, the establishment fully has a right to ask you to leave. It seems very easy: just be nice and don’t be a dick.” —Hah

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