TGI Friday's prestigious UK Bartender Challenge Final has taken place in the capital, at the Covent Garden restaurant, which was won by Rob Stephens from Basildon, taking home the £2k prize.
Stephens will now represent the UK in the World Bartender Championships in Nashville, USA, in March.
The final was split into two separate challenges, first was the Best Bartender Challenge which judged the challengers’ overall service, the quality of their cocktails as well as their flair technique. Four of seven contestants then competed in the Greatest Showman where only their flair technique was judged.
The competition was a closely contested masterclass as seven world class bartenders lined up and delivered their highly intensive and flair filled routines in front of six specialised judges.
However, it was Stephens, a bartender at TGI Fridays for over twenty years, who won both after he wowed the crowd and the judges. His routine included a multitude of stalls, balancing acts, signature moves, including The Crucifixion, and even some magic tricks.
His flair technique coupled with the great taste of his Long Island Iced Tea, and other bespoke cocktails he served up for the judges, was enough to bring the prize.
The UK Bartender Challenge is a competition that searches for the finest bartenders in TGI Fridays’ ranks and attracts entrants from across the country. Stretching far and wide contestants begin the long road to the final in May, with two rounds of intensive testing that narrows the selection down, so only the elite world class bartenders remain.
Round one was all about putting the bartenders’ mental expertise through its paces with a 90-minute written exam that quizzed them on everything from 100-plus cocktail recipes to intricate details on the history of TGI Fridays.
Hundreds are reduced to around approximately 20 in round two as the contestants are then put through their paces with a bootcamp where they undergo rigorous testing for higher-level cocktail making and have their routines, pour measuring, speed and knowledge all put to the test. After careful consideration eight finalists are then chosen and battle it out for a chance at the world championships.
Dawn Cheetham Head of Culture for TGI Fridays, said, “We’re so proud of all our bartenders from start to finish who took part in the UK Bartender Challenge this year. We think this year has been up with one of the best we’ve had, and it shows that it’s growing year on year. I wish our winner Robert the very best of luck at the world championships and I know they will do the United Kingdom proud.”