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Dallas County Requires Bar Patrons To Wear Masks, but Who Will Persuade the Drunk People?

Imagine trying to get a drunk hoaxer to put on a mask. Tip your bartenders.
Imagine trying to get a drunk hoaxer to put on a mask. Tip your bartenders.
Sergio Alves Santos

Updated 10:30 a.m.: Gov. Greg Abbott ordered bars closed again as Texas' coronavirus infections surged, though the county's enforcement rule remains in effect for now should they be allowed to reopen.

Dealing with drunk people has always been an unpleasant part of the job for those in the service industry. Trying to get drunk people to wear a mask is a near impossible task, local venue workers say.

In part, that makes sense. People at bars need their mouths uncovered. The problem is, patrons refuse to comply with bar protocols that they remain masked when outside of their seats.

An order by Dallas County commissioners mandates that businesses require patrons and anyone on their premises to wear a mask at their establishments. It officially went into effect at 11:59 p.m. Friday. Businesses face fines of up to $500 for noncompliance.

Bars require patrons to wear a mask while coming into a bar, moving around common spaces away from their designated table, and to keep their distance from other patrons. What could go wrong with drunk people and rules? Almost everything, say some local service industry people.

Mike, a bartender in a popular Deep Ellum bar, who requested we don't identify his place of employment, says that compliance has been “very loose.”

“It’s been very hard to control groups of people, especially drinking people,” he says. “Beyond the masks, everyone seems to forget there's a national pandemic and get all up in each other's space.”

Mike says that his venue’s staff has been “A-plus” in following protocol, and the bar’s general manager will walk around reminding patrons to wear masks and to keep a social distance. But that compliance hardly seems to last, he says.

“I’m not too thrilled to be in the midst of it,” Mike says. “It’s definitely scary how few people seem to care or still believe things like, ‘This is a hoax.’”

Since the ordinance passed, Mike says the staff has doubled down on enforcing rules, handing out masks to customers who don’t have one and informing them that the bar could lose its liquor license if they’re found to be in violation of the order. That hardly seems to make a difference, he says, and most bars aren’t equipped to follow customers around to make sure they’re complying.

“When it comes time to enforce customers ... it would require several people walking around reminding everyone all night,” Mike says. “It’s just not happening like it should.”

Donna, who requested her name be changed, is a musician in Dallas. After keeping a strict quarantine for months, she finally began playing onstage in the last few weeks.

Both of the venues she’s played at have not enforced any safety rules, she says.

“A lot of venues are saying they will make sure to take safety precautions and ensure social distancing, but then there is no sign of it,” she says. “It’s like they say that just to get you to come play ... just to cover their asses.”

Donna says it isn’t just customers, but venue workers who are unconcerned with safety.

“I haven’t seen any sound personnel wearing masks,” she says. “They are also the first to break social distancing as if they have no choice. When you set up there are always sound personnel on stage and, in my experience, there is no practice of social distancing. They touch your gear, your mic, and don’t wear masks.”

Donna says she is putting herself at risk every time she performs in public.

“I am wondering, do they realize I am protecting them when I am wearing a mask, but when they are in my face, they are openly, possibly, spreading a virus?” she says.

“You obviously have two groups of people ... those wearing masks and those who don’t,” Donna says. “It’s shocking to watch people who aren’t wearing masks walk straight over to someone wearing a mask and talk to them in close proximity.”

The musician says even those people who do seem to comply with venues’ requests often change their behavior after a few drinks.

“It’s interesting how through the course of an evening people will loosen up on their boundaries,” she says. “I watched a group of strangers not wearing a mask convince someone that they didn’t need one, and he took his mask off.”

Bar staffs are also not able to prevent customers without masks from approaching musicians, she says.

“People will come up to the stage, and what can you do?” she asks. “Turn around? Back away? I don’t think people have a lot of awareness. People want to pretend like everything is fine and there is nothing to worry about even if you feel differently.”

Anastasia Quiñones-Pittman, a chef at Jose on Main, recently made a post to Instagram describing the unpleasant feedback the restaurant received on the first day of the Dallas County order, from customers asked to put on masks:

“I hope this place fails,” “I will sue you for $7000,” “You’re a pussy and I hate socialism,” were the three examples Quiñones-Pittman encountered on one day.

“Three different people, met with kindness and professionalism,” she wrote on her post.

Since the days since the order passed, these incidents (mostly directed at hostesses) have become more infrequent, she tells the Observer.

“It seems that the day before the ordinance hit, everyone was confused about it. It's pretty tame now,”
Quiñones-Pittman says.

Tarrant County just announced that it will also require business patrons wear masks, starting this Friday at 6 p.m.

Videos of “Karens” — a nickname given to high-strung white women making obnoxious demands — bullying store managers over their attempts to enforce mask-wearing have become a daily occurrence online. There is no video evidence of Drunk Karen bullying bartenders just yet, but the new order is making it easier for venues to defend their demands that customers follow rules.

When a global pandemic won’t suffice as an excuse, telling customers they might lose their favorite bar after it loses its ability to sell liquor might just do the trick, tough Mike says that while customers have become no less unruly but less aggressive, musicians themselves are also noncompliant, and “act immune” to the virus. Many of them have been in massive crowds, playing church gigs during the pandemic, Mike says.

He says he’s seen 10 musicians onstage at a time without a mask, even offstage while unloading their gear. These instances can cause a venue to be fined.

“A lot of people are not taking this seriously,” he says. “People listen for a minute and go back to doing what they want. It’s pretty fucked.”

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