Many of us first became familiar with flair bartending long before our bar careers started - the reason being Tom Cruise’s hit film Cocktails.
Flair bartending is defined as the practice of bartenders entertaining guests, clients or audience with the manipulation of bar tools (bottles, shakers, jiggers etc). Most of us have seen and admired flair bartending in person and it’s certainly the sort of showmanship which excites and delights.
Hyppolite Civins, Learning and Development Manager for Adventure Bars Group and a bit of a legend in the London Bar Flair community, is here to answer some questions about flair, bartender training & development and driving sales through improving guest experience.
Q: Hi Hyppolite, how are you?
A: I'm really good and you?
Q: Can you give us a bit of a background about how your bartending career started and progressed? Where do you work now?
A: I started bartending when I moved to London 5 years ago, before that I did some kitchen work and worked as a waiter in pubs! I fell in love with hospitality and more precisely with bartending and I think that's what helped me progress. I now work in Adventure Bars Group (editor’s note: Blame Gloria, Bar Elba and more) as a training manager
Q: How did you end up in the field of flair bartending?
A: I really started flair as soon as I started bartending, when I did the European Bartender School course 5 years ago. I've learned some basics there and then put myself into it as much as I could with my bartending training!
Q: Can you tell us about the differences between exhibition flair and working flair?
A: Working flair and Exhibition flair are very similar on the grounds that they both require precision and practice, however the use of exhibition flair has become a competition-oriented style. Working flair applies to both, day-to-day bar work as well as competitions. In competitions, working flair means you have to perform with a bottle usually half full, and in the exhibition the bottle would be ¼ full. That means that the moves would be different: in exhibition the bottle can spin without spilling while in working flair you need to be more careful on what the bottle is doing in order not to spill. Working flair also applies to day-to-day bartending - even if you don't work in a bar specialised in flair, you would mainly use working flair, or craft flair as you would be looking for moves that don't slow you down but add some visual value to your cocktail making!
Q: Is flair bartending only relevant in competitions or is there space for it behind a working bar?
A: Flair bartending can be relevant anywhere, who doesn't want to see some super cool tricks when you are ordering a simple Mojito! It just needs to be controlled and understood. You need to know when to perform what moves and also understand the type of guest you have in front of you, that comes with experience behind the bar. Of course I am not going to do my full 5 minute flair routine every time you are ordering only 1 drink, otherwise I would get really bored, as would the guest! Also be mindful of the moment when you are doing it. If all your colleagues are making 50 drinks during the Happy Hour and you are flaring and taking the space behind the bar, that is going to make the working space chaotic - just maintain common sense and mindfulness. You need to understand the environment you are working in and adapt to it, there is a type of flair bartending for all situations!
Q: What are the key benefits of bar teams knowing some flair? Are there any drawbacks?
A: Flair is 100% beneficial when well used! It will make the guest stay by your station and as I said before, some would order drinks just to see some new moves, or what you will do with that specific drink. Also flair bartending takes a lot of time and practice, so a guest knows that the bartender performing it will be a professional, so they will trust the bartender a lot more. Flair is showmanship, and showmanship helps sell drinks!
Q: Asking for a friend… What’s the best way to start practising flair? Can you share insider tips with young bartenders?
A: Get yourself a bottle (plastic if you can that will be less painful to start with, my preferred brand is Fly Bottle - they produce amazing soft bottles with a good grip) and just start with balancing the bottle on your hand! Get this sensation of doing something nice and enjoy the moment. Then, if you want to progress, the best way would be to start with the World Flair Association’s yellow routine that you can find on YouTube or on their website. With that you can have your first full routine in no time and then keep on practising which is what makes flair perfect! Bring some creativity, watch some training videos, ask for help from flair bartenders in your area or watch online, and you will eventually come up with your own routine very soon!
Q: What would you say to a venue manager who can’t see the benefit in their bartenders knowing some working flair and practising on shift during the quiet hours?
A: We all started somewhere but I would always suggest not practising behind the bar in the middle of the shift! It doesn't look amazing and as you said your bar manager would not be happy (as poor flair can make a lot of mess and a lot of noise)! Instead, ask your manager to grant permission for you to come to work or leave 1 or 2 hours before/after the shift if possible, or go to the park next to your house and bring your simple kit. Your manager will see that you are motivated, willing to learn and flair is an asset to increase guest interaction.
Q: Which flair competitions in the UK are the most important?
A: Right now the most important and also only one is Ballie Ballerson x WFA flair competition. The next one is on the 12th of September in London and will be the last chance to qualify for the big final of the year!
Q: Who are the key figures in the flair world for us to keep an eye on and learn from?
A: For me I started watching Alexander Shtifanov and Tom dyer of course, and it is still amazing to watch them! But I would say we have so many amazing talents within the UK so if you want to get inspired and progress, have a look at:
- Oliver Deak
- Marian Chmel
- Michael Moreni
To name a few but I'm sure you can find way more with just a quick look on Instagram
Q: What are your favourite places to enjoy cocktails?
A: That really depends on what night I want to have, but of course come to any Adventure Bar to have a drink you will have fun!!