Flair is one of the disciplines in bartending which splits opinion more than almost anything else. Some bartenders focus on entertaining their guests with flair, some concentrate more on innovative drinks and take meticulous care over every step, while others entertain with close up magic or just chat with guests build rapport. There are no right or wrong answers about which kind of bartender you should strive to be or whether you should combine multiple traits, but here, we’ll focus on flair.
What is flair bartending?
Flair bartending can be seen as any movement that you make while making a drink for reasons of how it looks as opposed to another reason. Flair is the aesthetic of bartending, and the art of making it more visually appealing. It does not have to include throwing and catching bottles and tins though it often does take this form.
What’s in it for the guest?
Depending on the kind of bar you work, flair will either be expected by your clients, or blow them away as you’re really going above and beyond – or something in between! While how much and what sort of flair you perform will change from bar to bar – for example don’t expect to be flipping many bottles if your bar’s main appeal is its range of craft brewed ales – there are certainly things you can do to make your work more fun to watch. When your guests are enjoying their experience, they’ll hang around longer and not be wondering where to move on to next.
So whats in it for the guest? Well, its enjoyable to watch skilled people do things well. Its the reason we watch the olympics, these are the people who are the best at what they do, doing that thing for us to watch on TV. Flair is a great ice breaker – if someone wants to strike up a conversation with you or someone in the bar, it gives them a shared subject to talk about. Even if all you do is spin a napkin in front of them as you ask for their order (people love this move) they’ll understand that you take your job seriously.
So flair builds trust between you and your guests. Even if you only do a couple of basic moves, but do them well and with confidence, (remember, the public don’t know whats hard and whats relatively simple) they will certainly consider you to be experienced, and assume that you know the drinks you’re making, know what to recommend and so on. This is a powerful concept and probably not something that bartenders really realise or make the most of.
Your guests, if they’re entertained, will also not notice wait times as much (though be sure that any flair you are doing doesn’t make people wait longer for a drink!). This can be illustrated in a slightly abstract way, if you think about when you visit a theme park (a good one at least) the operators will often include TVs or animated characters and other items to distract you from how long you’re spending in line for a ride. As a flair bartender, you are the animated distraction, keeping your guests interested during busy periods!
What’s in it for me? (The Bartender)
I can only speak for myself – but flair is what kept me bartending for many years. I used to love performing on stage at school, and then worked in a bar and found an outlet for the performer in me! I taught myself to flair from the internet (well the basics at least) and this was back in about 2000, there was no YouTube or the kind of resources there are today, I didn’t have flair bottles, just empty liquor and wine bottles wrapped in tape to make less mess when they broke. I loved it. When I learned to flip an ice cube into a glass (taught by a Greek guy who worked at the club) that was a huge achievement for me.
Tips. I don’t know any flair bartenders who didn’t find it increased their tips. Your customers are impressed that you’re putting more effort into making their drinks than they’re used to, and often recognise that when they tip. I know thats pretty simple, but it does work, however, you won’t reach your potential from flair alone, building a rapport is really important for this too, but it helps.
I also find that being a flair bartender makes you a part of that community – flair bartenders get together quite a bit to swap moves, practice together and have a good time. Flair competitions have a great atmosphere and in general everyone helps each other out. I remember competing at the Roadhouse in Covent Garden once and finding Graham Warner and Tim Flippy Morris, top bartenders from the US and Canada standing either side of me as my bar backs, because they were such great guys and wanted to help out a newbie. Its a great community of people to be a member of.
What’s in it for the bar owner?
For the bar owner, having a great team of flair bartenders will quickly get your bar a reputation as a great fun place for a night out. If your guests simply want a drink, they could easily go to a store and buy a six pack, they’re buying an experience from you. As I mentioned at the top of the page, happy guests stay in the bar longer and spend more money, and that can’t be a bad thing!
Remember that your bartenders, if they’re wanting to flair are probably spending their own free time practicing to be better at the job you pay them for – how many businesses can say that their staff spend their free time trying to be better at their jobs?
If bar owners are worried about breakages, then consider putting some restrictions in place until you’re confident in your team’s abilities – encourage the bartenders to flair with garnishes, straws, tins, napkins etc, as even just these will be enough to see the effect of having flair in your bar. Consider buying bar mats to minimise breakages, and remember they also reduce fatigue in bartenders so they may be a little happier looking at the end of the night!
Simply remember that bartenders who want to flair are showing that they are passionate about their jobs, so surely they are the kind of people you want to keep around, just guide them towards what will help your business the most!