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MIX MASTER: Is your bar crew ready to compete?

You have to hand it to the people who run the T.G.I. Friday's casual dining chain. They work hard to keep their operation fresh and exciting—not an easy thing to do when a concept is 42 years old and has 996 units. But they're on to a good thing with their "Greatest Bartender in the World" contest, which brings together Friday's mixologists from around the globe for a weekend-long competition. Skill and knowledge matter, but it's the "freestyle" (i.e., flair) segment that seals the deal. This year's event saw eight of Friday's 8,000 bartenders worldwide do battle at Club Rain in The Palms casino resort in Las Vegas. Eric Martinez, a 26-year-old from the Philippines, took home the title and the $10,000 prize.

Could you do a mini-version of this contest for your employees? Thanks to the Internet, there is a way.

First, you'd want to pick up some training materials for your bartending crew. Juggling tips are easily acquired at many places on the web, and your employees should have a grasp of the basic skills–and the practice routines necessary to maintain and improve them—before going live with full liquor bottles in front of paying guests. Before they do that, you'd better head to to pick up flair bartending how-to videos and DVDs and, perhaps more importantly, "practice bottles" that go for $19.95 apiece.

Once your bartenders get comfortable with tossing liquor bottles and cocktail shakers in the air with people watching, it's time to see how they measure up. To do so, you want to enter them in the 2007 Online Flair Challenge being sponsored by website All you have to do is make a video of a bartender's one-minute flair routine and send it in. Sixteen finalists will be chosen, and the first qualifying round ends on May 15. The prize pool is $10,000 and, no, you can't edit mistakes out of a tape. Contest sponsors warn that "it may take 10 or 20 takes" to get the perfect one-minute routine. The prize pool? $10,000. To see what they're after, go the website and check out routines from last year's winners.

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