What Is Flair Bartending?

When it comes to performance, you need to rehearse to be prepared for the show. Rehearsal is your time to make mistakes, correct and then try again until you’re perfect. This applies to skills, sports and art. To be an expert, you need to practice, practice, practice and then practice more.

So, lets talk flair bartending. Think, Tom Cruise in the movie Cocktail. When it comes to flair bartending most people know the basics, juggle bottles, toss glasses and shakers around, bartender’s use flair to impress their guests while making them delicious beverages. It’s fun to watch and can set you apart from the rest quite quickly.

Here’s the catch, there are 2 types of flair bartending, competition flair and working flair.

Competition flair is the show, the performance. It is spot on, choreographed and requires hour after hour of rehearsal. This is the spotlight, the big moment. The audience is waiting, so you better be ready and it better be polished.

In competition nothing is left to chance. The bottles are numbered, positioned accordingly, contain just enough alcohol for the drinks you need to make. In competition you work the crowd, not your guest. Some people might not understand the difference, imagine talking to your friend versus talking to 100 people at once.

Flair competitions also allow for a little more freedom than the tricks you would pull behind the bar at work. When the bar is busy at work, you can’t take 3 minutes to make a drink, you also are not supposed to spill, this is very frowned upon. Actually spilling in competition is also a no no, but it happens all the time and is overlooked. Not so true at work on a Friday night. So why compete? Well, bartenders compete for a few things, money, prizes, better bartending gigs, even viral clips on youtube. The main difference, this is a show and people are here to see the best, so practice perfect and who knows it might just be you who takes the cake.

Working flair, is your practice without pizazz.

A great working flair bartender is mixing drinks, in a decent amount of time and using basic tricks to impress their guest. They do not slow down the pace of service, they do not spill and they do not use the flair to shy away from guest interaction. Actually, working flair is there to strengthen your relationship with your guest. The main difference, with working flair is most people you serve are not expecting anything more than their beverage so simple tricks go a long way. Tossing a glass behind your back and then a quick flip pour, will have your guest walking away remembering what a great bartender you are.

Here is the key to working flair if nothing else, it is about great guest interaction with a few tricks mixed in. Your goal as a bartender is always the same whether you use flair or not. Have your guest heading home thinking, “what a great night, that was some of the best service I have ever had.” Working flair can help impress a guest and enrich an experience but do not let it overshadow one. This is a fine balance.

If you are interested in learning flair either for work or for competition, there are specially made weighted bottles you can buy to practice with. These bottles will not break when dropped and mimic a good weight. Pair that with a standard aluminium shaker and you have the tools you need to get started.

I have also included some video links for your reference so you can start to learn the basics.

Remember, learning new things takes time. Don’t get frustrated. With determination and practice you will get there. If you are looking for more learning materials YouTube is packed with stuff and the internet is a wealth of knowledge. Best of luck, hope to see you flipping bottles at a bar near me soon.


Jennie has worked in the bar and restaurant industry for 9 years. She has been a host, expeditor, bartender, server and manager. She still works in the industry today part-time as a server at Milestones. Find her on twitter @jenniedleaver and say hi.