Ours is a business of subtleties and intangibles, one in which small things often make a huge difference. After all, we tend to stock the same products on our backbars, carry the same styles of glassware and rely on the same types of drink mixes. So what differentiates your establishment from those on either side of you?
Before you answer, ask yourself what most people are looking for from your bar, lounge or club. In my experience it’s connectivity — the pervasive feeling of belonging and being at ease. Ultimately, guests are looking for a place with which to identify, a place they can call their own. That connection is facilitated by dousing their experience with liberal amounts of panache.
In this context, panache is a magical and often unexpected spark of electricity that turns an ordinary night out into something extraordinary. That’s what gets people talking about your place the next day around the water cooler. If you’ve checked your pockets and desk drawers for a healthy measure of panache but seem to be coming up empty handed, worry not: Ample amounts of kinetic, crowd-pleasing pizzazz are close at hand.
Teaching your staff the secrets of flair bartending is like tapping into an unknown reservoir of excitement, grace and dazzling dexterity. Flair bartending is a time-proven means of wowing guests, building repeat business and driving sales to new heights.
Contestants wow the judging panel during a flair competition at the 2011 Nightclub & Bar Conference & Trade Show in Las Vegas.
If by flair bartending you’re thinking about the time-consuming, liquor-wasting circus routines featured in the film “Cocktail,” well, forget it. Those kinds of sideshow performances best belong at sponsored events and competitions, not behind working bars.
On the contrary, flair bartending is really about the admirable ability to flip a few bottles, toss a mixing set now and again and conclusively demonstrate to the clientele a complete mastery of all things behind the bar.
Perhaps no one better illustrates the point than master mixologist and flair guru Scott Young. Watching this tall, intelligent young man work a bar affords a rare glimpse into just how graceful and exciting the profession can be. His occasional bursts of flair are well timed and invariably draw smiles of appreciation from guests. They seem captivated by his abilities to defy gravity, all the while keeping in time with the music and not missing a beat preparing a drink order.
“I don’t think there’s any question that flair bartending gives guests a reason to stay longer, spend more money, tip better and leave talking about what a great experience they had,” says Young, president of extremebartending.com, an international concern dedicated to training flair bartending. “The way I see it, if a bartender isn’t helping you build your business by making a connection with your guests, find someone who will. Otherwise you’re leaving money on the table and shortchanging your clientele.”
While Young is an accomplished performance bartender and winner of numerous international events, he spends the bulk of his time as a consultant, teaching the art and science of working flair bartending.
“It’s the ability to create and serve drinks in a stylish and interesting way. Working flair doesn’t have to be complicated or risky to look good,” Young contends. “It involves tossing, spinning, flipping of glasses, bottles, shaker tins, garnishes, straws, napkins, strainers, ice and ice scoops, that sort of thing. A good flair bartender should be able to do something cool and captivating with every object behind the bar.”
Watching Young in action illustrates his point. While the actual flair moves are a matter of gravity, trajectories and physics, he moves and grooves in time with the music and interjects a healthy measure of fun. It’s a skill that energizes a crowd, one that people typically pay to watch.
We work in an extremely competitive market, where the margin of success is often razor thin and always determined by the consumer. They vote with their dollars, and today they’re spending their time and money at places that give them the best all-around experience.
If you’re looking to hedge your chances of success, consider arming your bartending staff with a dynamic new set of skills. Working flair is easily learned and has an immediate impact. Do it before those competitors on either side of you catch wind of it.