More and more flair competitions are springing up all the time, each with their own styles, specific house rules and requirements. While you could take a single routine and enter any you want, lets see what can be done to maximise your score with the minimum amount of effort.
1: Know the Score With the Event.
As soon as you consider entering a competition you should find out exactly what the rules and conditions of entry are. Find out how long your music needs to be, is there a main routine and a “bonus segment” (more on those later)? What are the compulsory drinks you need to make? Is there a specific spec for that drink? Any restrictions on which bottles you can use? Be sure you know the event rules inside out and you’ll know how to focus your routine.
Nowadays, there is often not the simple 1st, 2nd, 3rd prize giving at the end of the day, which is great especially for newer bartenders. There may well be a mixology segment with its own prize, Entertainment, Technical, maybe even more. If you’re not the most experienced bartender in the competition, with the biggest moves, you could still be in the running for entertainment or mixology, which will really help to build your profile and confidence for future competitions. Play to your strengths and you’ll see success sooner than you think.
3: Mixology Rounds.
Mixology rounds particularly will give you the opportunity to shine, as you can test the recipes ahead of time with more experienced bartenders you know and hone your recipe. Try to bring everything you need to make these drinks, don’t assume the venue will have anything for this – bring your own glassware (and spares), your spirits and liqueurs, juices and garnishes. Don’t leave anything to chance.
4: Know your Judges.
More often than not, sponsors will provide one of the judges for flair competitions, and you can use this to your advantage. Many bartenders will flair with whatever bottles they’re used to regardless of the competition, but with a little research you can make sure you’re ONLY using the sponsor’s brands, and they will score you higher for it. They’re sponsoring these events to gain exposure for their products, so expose their products!
If you find out that the other judges are from a local bar, see how you can get a mention in to these, if they have branded shakers or glassware, ask the bar to borrow one. Make your performance relevant to the guys judging and you’ll get better reactions from them.
5: Perfect Practice.
Make your practice sessions as hard as you can, and by that I mean the worst possible situation, way worse than you should ever face on stage. You’ll make sure before the competition that your bottles are clean, dry and not sticky of course… but what if your first bottle either breaks or spills over your rail?
I used to practice with a bowl of water with dishwashing detergent in it, and completely soak my bottles for practice. They were slippery and wet, and horrible to flair with, but it can be done. By doing this (and you’ll quickly be able to do your whole routine with soaked bottles), you’re giving yourself an insurance policy incase things go wrong.
Also try flairing in the dark, and when you’re good at it, have someone shine a light in your eyes at the same time. Especially if the venue has a stage, you might find that your vision is severely impaired during your routine, so you might as well be ready for it.
6: Be Entertaining.
This is probably the biggest tip here.
Thats it. So many bartenders look nervous, intense or bored when they flair, but you can easily fix this by flairing while watching yourself in a mirror. Don’t watch your hands, make eye contact with yourself, and just use your peripheral vision to watch your props.
It will do a couple of things – you’ll be more aware of your facial expressions, and you’ll also be forced not to look at your bottles and tins the whole time. Strangely enough, this is how I learned to flair blindfolded – it sounds stupid but you take the focus off the items and just know where they’re going. It also allows you to keep eye contact with your guests and hold a conversation while flairing in the long run, which is really impressive for a bartender to do.
You can of course include other entertaining elements to your routine, I personally use magicians flash paper for fire effects in a few ways (check that you won’t be disqualified if you want to try this), use a track that the audience will interact with and sing along rather than a heavy dance track, which will make the judges see them having a good time. There are plenty of little bits you can add – but they have to suit you!
7: Advanced Rules.
Some competitions publish everything the judges get, others don’t think it matters so much. It does, so call the organiser and check this stuff if they don’t put it out there ahead of time. Find out what the penalties are for spills, for drops, and for breaks. If they’re harsh compared to the general scoring, ease back on the big technical moves and aim for a smooth, safe routine to avoid penalties. If they’re not marking down for those things, or the penalties are very small, go for your life and bring the big guns!
8: Dress Rehearsal.
I know, I know, it sounds completely stupid. But do it. Here are a couple of reasons. If you’re competing in an event which requires you to wear a work uniform (for example a bartender challenge at TGI Friday’s) you will be wearing a long apron and possibly long shirt sleeves. Can you turn quickly enough, can you stall a bottle on your forearm with your arms covered? Might as well find out before the day. Are you going to have a bar blade pouch on your belt that could catch your arm or bottle? Will wearing a hoodie interfere with your shadow passes? Is your footwear going to make you slip where you perform?
9: Know your Music.
While I’ve picked up a track on the way to a competition before, if you know the routine length you can put in markers at specific points. If you miss the 1 minute left call (or the compare forgets) will you know your music enough that you end with completed drinks? Or will you have a glass of ice on the bar, with half a drink in the shaker. I’ll give you a clue. Be the first one. I have literally had a countdown over my music for the last 30 on my track, so I don’t need to rely on anyone else. I can make three good drinks in 30 seconds.
10: Complete Your Drinks.
Don’t throw easy points away. Make sure all of your drinks are completed, poured to the right level, sat on a bevnap, with the right straws and garnishes. At the end of the day flair is one aspect of Bartending, and not one that is as important as making quality drinks. Why on earth do you think you will get more points from bouncing a bottle off your arm one more time, than you will get from doing the absolute most basic requirement of a bartender, which is… making your drinks. In fact, make more effort than the other guys, have more elaborate garnishes on your drinks, which can be prepared before your routine so they don’t take up a second of your flair time.
I’d love to hear your tips on this – These have come from my own experience and watching massive numbers of competitions (and hosting as a compare in the past). What’s your most valuable competition prep tip?