The hardest job in flair bartending?

When it comes to flair bartending, there are a variety of challenging roles out there – not least being the competitor on stage in front of hundreds of people – however we aren’t here to talk about the competitors. We are here to talk about those people within flair bartending who aren’t often given a lot of credit but do one of the most challenging jobs in flair, if not the hardest… the flair bartending judge.

With this in mind we have sought out a selection of flair bartending judges of different ages, experience, and from all over the world; we have put a number of questions to them to try and understand what it takes to be a flair bartending judge, what sort of challenges they are presented with and more:

How difficult is judging really?

Tony Adams: “Judging is more than just the job on the day, in order to be a judge that is good enough to actually assess accurately what you see on stage – you must watch hours and hours of videos online. I personally think it is the most important part of being a judge, completing that preparation before the competition. A good judge must build up a huge knowledge of both the competitors and the competitions from all over the world and online resources such as Facebook and YouTube are the best way for us to do this”.

Manuel Wieser: “As long as you are well prepared before the competition, it can be a lot easier. You must be updated on the current situation in the world of flair, who is on top, who has been coming up with the most difficult and original moves, etc. There will always be something unexpected that happens on the day but you must know if this is the first time a move has been performed in a live competition or not and things like that.”

Tom Dyer: “In some ways I think it is more difficult than making up a new routine.  When judging you have a whole host of bartenders relying on you making the best and most educated decision based on your experience.  There is a lot of pressure to get it right.  Especially during this time in flair where the flair world is quite divided in the views of flair world wide.  What is good and bad, who is original and who isn’t.  We have seen a change in judges more recently and I think we will see a lot more which will diversify things even more at competitions, which I think is only a good thing for the art of flair”

Steve Parsons: “Judges should watch all flair competitions that they can, to keep up with styles and original moves and routines. Including but not limited to the old school legends and Roadhouse comps featuring some of the pioneers of flair from the early days such as Ken Hall, Nicholas St Jean and Christian Delpech.”

Shahmil Lin: “Sometimes it can be difficult constantly putting up with criticism from the competitors or viewers, instead of feedback. Another very difficult part of judging for me is having to enforce points deductions when competitors have had a fantastic round but then forgotten something vital at the end.”

Alex Searle: “When it comes to judging I think people tend to overlook what really goes into typing a score into the computer. All the judges I have worked with are ex-competitors, so understand the endless amounts of time and sacrifices given to reach the highest level.”


Is there much pressure on you on the day?

Steve Parsons: “It is of utmost importance to pay 100% attention at all times, we owe it to the competitors who have put in countless hours of practice and spent time and money to compete. All judges SHOULD be ex competitors too, so we know how it feels to be on that stage”.

Manuel Wieser: “There is always a bit of pressure because anything can happen! Especially with competitions like the Roadhouse Grand Finals where the prize money and the fame are huge. The pressure is on you to make sure you make the best decision you can, there is no right decision in flair judging”.

Tony Adams: “Judge honestly, call it as you see it, and from the heart. I’ve often worried about results afterwards, but I’ve always tried to care. You’ll get it right 99% of the time if you’ve done your research and try your hardest to see the good in every routine. Don’t be afraid to watch routines back after the comp, I often rejudge things for my sanity. I’m still torn over January 2010, it was the right result, but goodness it still bothers me! Thank heavens for the videos!”.

Shahmil Lin: “For me the pressure can be on your performance as a judge during the day, it is not easy to multi task – recording what you are seeing on the stage as well as preparing remarks and justifications for what you have scored that person”.

Tom Dyer: “There is a lot of pressure to make sure the number you are writing down is correct.  I judge horizontally and vertically.  Vertically – What that means is I check to see if my difficult score is correct for one bartender in comparison to all the rest.  For example if I think Deniss Trifanovs is the most difficult I make sure my difficulty scores reflects that and he has the highest score.  You’ll be surprise how many times I have seen an inexperienced judge get something that simple wrong.  I am constantly checking my scores.  Horizontally – means that when I score each bartender I ensure that the score I give in each category is scored separately without being influenced by other categories.  What that means is that someone can score high in originality, but that doesn’t mean they will automatically score high in difficulty.


How much do you need to know as a judge?

Manuel Wieser: “In my opinion it is a lot. Judges should only be judges who have lived the active competition experience – we feel the competitor, we understand what they are doing and feeling and we can talk about it after every round.”

Steve Parsons: “It is vital to the future of flair bartending that judges help with mentoring competitors, and I believe that it is also our responsibility to help flair grow”.

Tony Adams: “Lots! All the categories that have ever existed, from skill and difficulty to smoothness, originality to composition of routine, there’s lots to appreciate. I’m lucky, I’ve been watching flair for my whole adult life, it must be tough for younger judges. My advice would be to watch the old comps, understand where the current moves, sequences and trends have come from”.


How challenging is the amount of time you have between each competitor going on stage?

Tom Dyer: “The time limits are getting shorter meaning we have to be quick.  i start to think about my scores before the end of a bartenders round.  You are constantly thinking about whereabouts the bartenders score sits in each category.  I also try and make a point to write down good and bad points for every competitor so I have some feedback to give to each person after their round.  If we also have to count drops, spills, the drinks and all the scores it can be quite tough”

Alex Searle: “As a competitor I used to believe that just hitting big move after big move would be enough. Since I started judging I see there is a lot more to it. There have been occasions when I personally I may have preferred a person’s flair (visually), but my scoring needs to remain completely unbiased. I really have to assess, if for example the visual aspect outweighs the other competitors difficulty. Did they use the duration of the routine to showcase their skills, did they have long spells when not much was happening, was the routine enjoyable to watch. All these things need to be taken into account in the 3-4 minute window before the next person steps on stage. We must then reset and start all over again”.

Tony Adams: “Be organised and get those scores down whilst it’s freshest. It’s easy to get distracted, toilet stops can be a challenge!”

Manuel Wieser: “When it comes to talking about the competitor you have just seen on stage with the other judges, this time is not enough. You really need a few more minutes because you want the best for the competitor, this time discussing the routine with the other judges is vital to making sure you have given them an accurate score”.


How about explaining your scores to the competitors?

Tony Adams: “I used to dread answering questions when I started judging. But I care deeply. It’s my responsibility as a judge to give my honest opinion and if I need to explain my view to a competitor, then at least I can hopefully back it up. I must say the guys have all been very respectful and understanding over the last few years, hopefully respecting what we’re trying to do as judges. I think it’s very important for flair in a wider sense, that judges are approachable. Provided it’s respectful and professional, a difference of opinion is healthy and no problem”.

Alex Searle: “Nobody wants to give a low score or penalise somebody, but what i’ve found with judging as opposed to my time competing is that you really have to look at the overall picture a lot more. The drink, the preparation, the stage presence, music, crowd interaction and most of all, completing your drinks. What I see quite often now, more so with the newer generation, is they will try a move 2-3 times usually nearer the end of their routine using up valuable time, instead of doing the basics and finishing your drinks. 1 move is never going to score you as many points as you will lose by not completing your drinks”.

Tom Dyer: “I have no problems explaining my scores to competitors, however I think it can be difficult to hear the criticism that a judge can give about someone’s routines, hence why they may have scored in a certain way.  Everyone has an opinion about flair and how well someone performed and because flair is so subjective there is always going to be disagreements with what we score as a judge.  Our job as a judge is to give the best most educated score on everyone’s routine on the day.  Without biased, just solely based on who we thought was the most original, difficult, entertaining, choreographed etc”.

Manuel Wieser: “It is not an easy part of the job but it has to be done. In my opinion every competitor asking for scores and explanations already know that they did not perform their best flair. That is why they are looking for this explanation, providing them with an excuse to put the blame on someone else other than themselves. Therefore sometimes I find it even easier to talk it because, the competitor already knows 😉 “.