Why You Should Enter a Cocktail Competition
Ever thought of entering a cocktail competition? Now is the time! We caught up with Tanqueray Brand Ambassador Tim Homewood, who works as a judge for World Class GB, to find out the benefits to entering a competition as well what the judges are really looking for.
Why you should enter
Competitive bartending is an exciting thing to be a part of. It’s the best way to expose yourself to what your peers are doing and to get cool new ideas for what you can do back in your bar. Entering a competition gives you the opportunity to evolve your knowledge, practice your skills and apply everything you have learned and continue to learn.
It’s a great way to meet people and make new friends—this is after all an industry built on people. More than anything else, for the ambitious bartender, this is hands down the best way to progress your career. You put yourself out there in front of people, the press, other bars and brands—all potential avenues for future work and progression. Plus the prizes for winning are pretty good!
For me when I was a bartender, competition season was one of my favorite times of year. Not only do you get to hang out with a load of like-minded people for a day but you also get the chance to win some absolutely incredible prizes. Some of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my life have come from cocktail competitions such as World Class, which allowed me to travel to Mexico or to eat in some of the finest restaurants in France. Some of the big competitions nowadays are potential life changers.
Don’t be put off
Strangely, sometimes the draw of a competition still isn’t enough to get people entering. It’s possible that you might find the idea of entering a bit intimidating or may think you "aren’t ready". "Aren’t ready" annoys me, there’s no such thing as not ready. In the initial stage of every competition it is simply about entering a cocktail. It doesn’t matter if you’ve worked for 3 years at one of the world’s best bars or 6 months in your local cocktail bar—if you have put in the effort to build your skills and knowledge, you have a chance of creating a memorable drink. Just put a recipe in and see what happens next.
The benefits to your bar
In my opinion, bar owners should also be getting behind bartender competitions. I always pushed my teams to get involved. The reasons are simple:
- Free PR—Brands such as World Class invest a lot of money into these competitions and will have media and bloggers from around the world who will write about the competition—meaning your venue will appear online and in print giving the bar incredible exposure for nothing.
- Cash in the register—Competitions are generally held by more premium brands, which carry a greater margin. Whenever there is a competition on, the team’s awareness of this product will be higher and they will be looking to show off their cocktails to your guests. The result of this is a greater number of premium spirits sold, meaning more money in the register.
- Staff recruitment and retention—If a bar is active on the competition scene, then ambitious bartenders will naturally gravitate toward it. Great bartenders want to work in the best bar in town and will have heard about it over the industry grapevine.
- Customer satisfaction—This one is pretty obvious but needs to be said. A bar full of guests drinking competition standard drinks made by competition-standard bartenders is a happy and profitable bar. The guests are drinking better drinks made with better spirits and are being entertained by the bar team as they tell them about the cocktails they are drinking. Of course, more satisfied customers results in more tips for bartenders!
Tips to get started
Now you’re thinking of entering your first competition, right? I can’t blame you and here are a few tips to help you on your way.
- Read the Rules—If the rules state use of 1 oz. of the sponsor's brand and no more than 5 ingredients, stick to that… you’d be amazed how many people make that mistake.
- Show the Spirit—Try to make the sponsor’s spirit the star of the show. Pick out flavors within it and build your drink around that.
- Make It Memorable—Try to do something to set you apart, this might be by using an unusual garnish, telling a story or even getting the judges to do something interactive.
- Enter Your Recipe—Just get a drink entered. You can worry about everything else afterwards.
What the judges are looking for
This is what I generally look for when judging;
- Taste & Balance—Is it a tasty drink and have you got that balance between sweet and sour or bitter right?
- Presentation—How is the drink presented? Is the garnish appropriate? Is there anything memorable about it?
- Bartender Skill—I’m not necessarily looking out for how you wield your bar spoon or how accurate your hard shake is (although I do pay attention to that) but more about how comfortable you make me feel when you are behind the bar. I want to be put at ease and entertained while you’re making your drink. In the short time I’m sitting in front of you I want to get a feel for what you’re about as a bartender. This is what competitions like World Class are about. World Class is about more than just great cocktails—it is about inspiring people to drink better drinks and showcasing the art of being a bartender.
While there are many elements that are important in competition, for me this last point is one of the most important as this is more about your skill as a bartender. Anyone can put together a good recipe but being a good host and bartender in that time is tough and that is what’s memorable.
Time to enter
So what are you waiting for? Enter your recipe, follow my tips and see what happens. You never know, it could be the start of something very exciting.
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