Whilst bartending competitions are predominantly about fun and celebrating a mutual love for the craft, at the end of all of it someone does have to be named the winner. It can be a difficult task for judges to whittle down the competitors to just one winner. Sometimes knowing what the judges are looking for in a bartending competition can give you a major advantage above your competitors.

Know the rules

Every judge in every competition will tell you that the one thing they notice the most is if the competitors have actually studied the rules. Gary Hayward, brand ambassador for Bombay Sapphire, has judged at cocktail competitions including the UK’s Bartender of The Year and Bombay Sapphire’s Most Imaginative Bartender Competition. He told TalesOfTheCocktail.com that it’s common to reject incredible drinks simply because the bartenders didn’t follow the brief and the drink didn’t fit the spec: “This goes for any competition – the theme has to be the number one priority”.

There’s a great Douglas MacArthur (American WWII General) quote that reads:

“You are remembered for the rules you break”.

The judges will know you were the one who used eight ingredients when you could only use five, or you used five tins when you could only use three, so know the rules and try to abide by them (if you want to win, of course).

Show your personality

You can often forget to show your personality when you’re competing Judges will look to you to see how comfortable you are behind the bar and how comfortable you are performing – after all it is a bartending competition. Smile. Entertain your judges. Treat them as if they were guests. They will appreciate being put at ease and feeling comfortable in your presence and generally understanding your personality as a bartender. Basically, be yourself.

Being entertaining is extremely important in flair competitions. Judges have often mentioned how a lot of competitors fail to engage the crowd either through nerves, looking bored or concentrating too much.

BartenderHQ.com suggest flairing in front of a mirror: “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.”

Fun fact: Beyonce created an alter ego, “Sasha Fierce”, to allow her to have a stage persona and battle her own shy personality (we couldn’t believe that Beyonce was once shy either). She could be Sasha Fierce on stage, and Beyonce Knowles off stage – if it works for Queen Bey it might work for you.

Presentation

If it’s a cocktail competition then how have you presented your drink? Have you chosen the correct glass that is appropriate for the drink? How does it taste? Have you balanced the taste properly? These are things that judges will look for when you are competing and will score you on.

Serving cocktail bar

Presentation does not just apply to how your present your drinks or your routine. It applies to how you present yourself. If you show up dressed like the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz then the judges are going to think you aren’t taking the competition seriously (unless it’s a fancy dress competition and then you should definitely go as the Wicked Witch of the West). A lot of judges dislike it when competitors swear during their time behind the bar, too, the “lack of professionalism” can cost you points.

Preparation

Judges love it when competitors have done their research, know how they’re going to do something and perform it flawlessly.  Research the brand thoroughly, find out more about what your specific judges prefer. Make sure you know where all of your equipment is on the bar. Ensure you have brought everything you need plus spares. Remember: Proper preparation and planning prevents poor performance.

Hygiene

Similarly to your presentation, you don’t want to appear as if you don’t know how to clean yourself. Unhygienic bartenders don’t belong behind the bar and you will lose points for sloppy hygiene and cleanliness. Clean your surroundings if you spill anything, keep a cloth near to you at all times, don’t scratch your head, don’t sniff your armpits. Treat it like you’re working a shift and you won’t lose any points for being messy! 2016 Bartender of the Year, Hidetsugu Ueno, once said “I want you to treat me as a guest. I like a clean table, I don’t want to see a messy table. Clean your table, clean the shakers, clean the bottles.”

At the end of it all, ask for feedback

Different competitions call for different approaches and judges are always happy and willing to share their feedback (some a little more than others) so don’t be afraid to ask them where they thought you were strongest or what you could improve. There’s always something to learn about yourself.

Good luck with your first competition and we’ll leave you with perhaps the best piece of advice on competing from Tim Etherington-Judge, the Global Bulleit American Whiskey Ambassador:

“The most important piece of advice I have is to keep calm, smile and enjoy the experience. Our wonderful industry is filled with amazing like-minded people who will only celebrate your successes and hug you if things go wrong.”