Discovering the WFA Grading System around the world: Romania with Ionut Ivanov

We spoke to one of the organisers and senior figures at Exquisite Bar Solutions, Ionut Ivanov, to discover how they use the WFA grading system at their bar school and how it benefits them and their students:

What do you think abut the WFA grading system and how it works?

“I think it works really well, this was part of the reason why we adopted it here in Romania. We started by discussing the Grading System with the WFA team to better understand what is involved in the training and how it could help and from there we were convinced that this would be helpful not only to our students but also to us and the bartending scene in general in Romania.

We find it is particularly good for beginners. The Yellow level and then the Orange level after that and so on, provides a really easy to understand and achievable road map for the students. As you climb each level your skill and understanding improves and you can discuss with your friends and other students what level you have achieved.

The support provided through the WFA website where you can see the levels you have conquered and see that bartenders all around the world are using this system to progress, is very good also. Sometimes you have issues with confidence in beginners, they don’t want to attempt that first competition because they feel like it is too much of a step up from the WFA grades. However, we found that if you set the students a deadline for the achievement of their WFA grade then this is good practice for competitions as you have to be ready to go, with your flair routine and more, by a deadline in the same way you would have to at a competition. We have found this provided a good confidence boost to many of our beginners”.

What are your students thoughts on the WFA grading system?

“The system appears to work well for the students, they first off take a lot of confidence from the fact that other bartenders and flair bartenders around the world (that they may well be competing against soon) are also using the same levelled grading system to improve their bartending skill set – in most cases. We and our students take heart in the fact that the WFA grading system not only encourages elements of flair bartending but also provides a great all round bartending knowledge – although there are of course limitations to this, you will need more than just a basic WFA grade such as Yellow and Orange if you want to be a great all round bartender.

Some will find the Yellow and Orange grades easy, others will find it more challenging, however the jump up from Orange to Green grade can be particularly difficult. However, the great thing about the WFA grading system and the way it is set up as a levelled system ensures that you often want to push on and achieve the next level – so it acts as great motivation to keep many of our students enthused and focussed on becoming better bartenders”.

How helpful can WFA grades be for your students moving forward and for employment?

“Bartending as a profession and industry is certainly becoming more and more challenging. You need a fair amount of knowledge as well as personality and mastering of technique. The WFA grading system is particularly good for teaching technique and provides a fairly good basic level of bartending – however unless you had at least progressed to the Green grade this wouldn’t be enough for most bar managers or bar owners to hire you, you also need an understanding of the work place and customers that usually comes with experience or on the job training.

It is certainly a benefit to have any level of the WFA grading system on your CV, even if that is only the most basic examined grade. What it does demonstrate is that you have a passion for bartending and your eagerness to learn and train beyond the typical working hours. These are of course very desirable traits in any employee. Depending on what grade has been achieved, the WFA grading system can also be an indicator of great skill. For me, seeing a WFA Green grade on a bartender’s CV would prove to me that they must be a skilled flair bartender and therefore a good choice of employee”.

What is the bar and flair bartending scene like in Romania at the moment?

“As I briefly touched upon earlier the whole environment and culture in Romania has changed a lot in recent years. Year on year we are seeing growth in the bartending industry in Romania and as part of that the flair bartending industry. Until recently we only had three flair training rooms in the whole of Romania, by working with both current and former students of Exquisite Bar Solutions we now have eight flair training rooms, all of which are fully equipped and ready to go for anyone who would want to practice flair bartending.

The work that Exquisite Bar Solutions have doing for 12 years ensures that bartending and flair bartending would only get better and more popular in Romania. We hold our own international competition each year called the Champions Flair Crash – this provides a great goal for our students as their first international competition, where their aim is usually to get in to the top 10.

We are close-knit community at Exquisite Bar Solutions and this allows us the power to motivate and push our new and learning flair bartenders forward. Each year we enter our best five flair bartenders into an Italian tour where they will have to compete in 3 or 4 flair bartending competitions within close succession.

This not only provides some unbeatable stage experience but also a chance for many of the new and promising flair bartenders that we have within our ranks to experience a large audience, the pressure from competitors and everything else they would need to be able to handle to become professional flair bartenders”.

Exquisite Bar Solutions is an agency and bar school based in Romania. Started 12 years ago the founder, Marius Gogoasa, wanted to change the way the bartending scene operated in Romania. There was no standardised system or association in place for bartenders in Romania, if you wanted to learn new skills or improve your bartending you would have to rely on another bartender passing on this knowledge – Marius didn’t think this was good enough and established Romania’s first bar school at Flair Angel in Bucharest.

Ever since then Marius, Luca, Adrian, Ionut and the team at Exquisite Bar Solutions have been hosting a variety of training sessions, classes, internal competitions and more – all with the aim of creating a new wave of highly skilled and well trained bartenders in Romania.

In addition to this they host a Summer bartender camp by the beach as well as a Winter bartender camp in the mountains. Both are very unique and present different challenges to the bartenders in training. With a whole range of workshops and seminars as well as a special guest and a number of team exercises, these camps provide a different environment to further your bartending skill set.