Competition flair is very different from the working moves you will use from day to day behind the bar (or at least it certainly can be!). Bartenders will pull out all of their biggest moves in order to impress the judges and get the crowd cheering them on, which is exactly as it should be.
Should you have a single routine for every competition?
There are arguments for and against this, and I think I have found the right solution, but we’ll get to that. If you use a single routine for every competition you enter, the advantages are of course that you will know that routine inside out and back to front (at least you should), you’ll know what you need to grab when, and should even be able to make up a checklist for the equipment and bottles that you need to take with you. With a set routine you’ll know your music well and be able to take advantage of beats in the music to really build the best possible routine.
On the other hand, different competitions will have different requirements, different compulsory drinks, proportions of working flair to exhibition flair etc. The sponsors will be different. Will your set routine work with the sponsors bottles or will you be stumped when you try to land the sponsor’s square Midori bottle for example in your round shaker tin?
At the other extreme, do not try to piece a brand new routine together from individual moves, with a brand new track you just heard that week for every flair bartending contest you enter, or you will completely overload your mind (unless of course you’re lucky enough to flair full time and have enough sponsors that you don’t need to actually step behind a bar and make drinks a few nights a week anymore!)
Do Your Research.
First and foremost, you need to know the rules for the competition you’re entering. Get as much information as you can from the organisers as early as you possibly can. Find out who the sponsors are, find out the compulsory drinks, see if you need to create a mixology drink that will be marked for recipe and flavour. Are the judges marking the accuracy of every drink you make, the length of your pours? What are the penalties for drops, breaks and spills? Are you marked on your personal appearance, or is there a contest shirt you’re required to wear, and will this affect any of your planned moves? All of this knowledge will influence the best way to structure your routine and get you the best possible score from the skills you possess.
Once you know the sponsors, get online and see what other products they produce. For example, if Smirnoff is the sponsor, they are part of Diagio, so if you need a scotch, you’ll want to grab Johnnie Walker, J&B Rare or Bushmills, Captain Morgans, Baileys and Tanqueray also come within their stable, so think about using these too. Its quite common for the brand sponsor to provide at least one of the judges for these events, so keep that judge happy by really showcasing their products. You can even get in touch with the local rep for the brands to get gimmicks that will really stand out like oversized or miniature bottles, branded glassware etc which will really boost your kudos.
The Happy Medium
In terms of the actual moves you’re going to use, the dichotomy of set routine or custom routine, the way I’ve always worked is to create mini blocks that I can assemble into a routine. This way you can switch these 30 second or so routine bricks in and out, know which ones will need the bottle to nest in the tin, know what you can do with a full bottle vs a short poured exhibition bottle, and practice these blocks as mini routines in their own right. They’re also just the right length to use on shift behind the bar when you get a quieter moment, or a guest who really reacts to your flair, and you’ll be able to really cement these as being solid, safe moves.
This way you can put together the blocks you need – a block could be as simple as picking up your glass and icing it, and most bartenders could easily come up with 5-6 different ‘bits’ for how to ice a glass, especially when you think of the variety of glassware you have at your disposal. From your 5-6 options, pick the 2-3 you’ll need based on what drinks you’re making. Then pick 1-3 blocks from your working flair repertoire, based on the bottles you need to use and drinks you’re making, and so on to complete your routine.
Try to keep your most advance and technically difficult routines for later in the routine – for one thing you certainly want your first 2-3 blocks to be 100% safe, or as close as possible. Nothing will ruin your confidence like dropping the first item you pick up, and that could ruin your whole routine. your confidence will build through the routine if you build up, and the crowd will be going crazy by the end!
Hopefully all of this makes sense, this article is by no means exhaustive, but it should give you some really good pointers for creating a routine or improving what you already have. The key is practice of course, so once you’ve put together your routine drill each block until they’re second nature and then practice linking them together. Don’t neglect practicing what you see as the filler – Icing the glass, getting down your napkins and garnishing your drinks, so even if your timing goes off, you know you can complete the drinks in time and not hit any penalties.
Most of all, make sure you enjoy it and that your personality shows through – a carbon copy of a routine you’ve seen online or on a DVD will not score well because it won’t be you!