Both working flair and exhibition flair can be seen in competitions, depending on the rules and regulations of each event. The important distinction between working flair and exhibition flair is not so much the level of liquid in the bottles (though that is a criterion) but the speed in which the bottle is thrown and/or the drink is made. Working flair usually incorporates a "flat" throw, which is when the bottle is released into the air without flipping. This gives an illusion of the bottle floating, but reduces the chances of liquid spilling. This also opens the bartender to be able to use similar routines, regardless of what bottle they grab, as the level of liquid is not a factor. The accepted definition of working flair is "flair that does not noticeably slow service," usually involving bottles filled to various levels (as in a real work situation) that are quickly manipulated and then poured. Exhibition flair almost always involves bottles that are often pre-set with less than 2 ounces (60ml) specifically for flipping. Exhibition flair often involves longer sequences and routines, multiple objects, and performances choreographed to music.
The first open competition to have an exhibition round was the Quest for the Best Bartender in 1998.
The first open competition to have a working flair round was the Quest for the Best Bartender in the World in 1998.
There are different styles of flair bartending competitions. Legends of Bartending World Bartender Championships test the bartender on four disciplines of bartending, accuracy, speed, working flair and exhibition flair. The Blue Blazer and Independent Flair League (IFL) in Poland rewards flair and mixology together; competitors gain points for both flair and creative mixology. NATIONS International Flair Challenge and other competitions like Roadhouse World Flair, MBA, Athens Flair Open feature pure exhibition flair where the biggest and best moves are shown.
The earliest known competition for flair bartending was held by T.G.I. Friday's in Marina del Rey, California around 1985. Management noticed bartender John Mescall's talent for juggling bottles while pouring drinks and decided to hold an in-store competition, which they later took national. Mescall was a bit hesitant, because other Friday's bartenders saw his art more of a nuisance when they were forced by management to flair as well. He made a couple of "how-to" videos for TGI Friday's and later worked with John J.B. Bandy in what was probably the first ever flairtending video, "Olympic Bartending". The earliest world champanionship for flair bartending was held by T.G.I. Friday's in 1987 for their bartenders, and was won by John J.B. Bandy, who went on to train Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown for the 1988 Movie Cocktail. T.G.I. Friday's is credited for modernizing and popularizing flair bartending in the United States beginning in the mid 1980s. London and Orlando were the hotbeds of flair bartending in the early and mid 1990s. In 1991, T.G.I. Friday's started its global competition called World Bartender Championship. The global competition has continued to today with divisional champions from Midwest, Northeast, Texas/Colorado, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, Central, West, Briad Franchise, Latin America, and European Divisions come to compete in Carrollton, Texas.Recently, Las Vegas has become the flair capital of the world, with London a close second. The countries currently producing the most top competitors right now are Uruguay, Argentina, Ukraine, Italy, the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan.
There are hundreds of flair bartending competitions around the world each year, most of which are local and not well publicized. In 2005 the Flair Bartenders Association (FBA) launched the FBA Pro Tour, a linked series of events where competitors earn points toward the title Pro Tour Champion at the end of the year. In 2007 there were 14 events on the Pro Tour with 7 of them located in the USA.
Five-Time World Champion Ken Hall and Jim Allison, president of the FBA, organized six of those seven events. The flagship flair bartending event is Legends of Bartending, which will enter its tenth year in 2008.
Some the biggest flair bartending events all over the World includes
Roadhouse World Flair in London, UK
LEGENDS of Bartending (Las Vegas)
Quest (Orlando - the oldest major flair competition in the world)
Skyy Global Flair Challenge in 14 different countries incl. China, UK, Canada, Israel, Czech Republic, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, etc.
The newest major events to gain credibility among top competitors include:
Umag Daylight (Croatia)
Helsinki Onnela Flair Master (Finland)
Brasil Open Flair (São Paulo, Brazil)
Flair Vegas (Las Vegas)
Champions Flair Crash (Romania)
US Flair Open (USA)
The Blue Blazer Challenge (Las Vegas).
Major events almost always have a prize money of US $20,000 or more, and most of today's majors including Legends, Nations, Quest and Roadhouse World Flair in London.