Michael Butt: Our industry's awards

Michael Butt

14 November 2016

This is a mature industry, with maturing attitudes – and some awards look out of place as a result...

'The only prize you need is the satisfaction of doing a job well' was one of my father's favourite aphorisms, especially when coupled with a refusal to pay extra pocket money for chores. As one ventures into first employment and then entrepreneurship, the satisfaction is often twinned with some financial reward – in the first case a pay rise, in the second a more profitable business (hopefully!).

It is a truism to say that you are your own worst critic, because all other external examiners can be duped. If you can go to sleep at night pleased with both the day’s effort and attainment, you have reached true happiness.

Why then do we crave more? I had the fortune recently of participating in the judging of two bar-related competitions: one, waxing in importance, was this magazine's Drinks List of the Year; the other, waning, was the Global Rematch.

You will have seen the results of the inaugural Drinks List of the Year, but let me re-enforce the comments. This competition proved to me that we are now a mature industry, one that requires both creative genius and tons of hard work. It was great to be allowed to add my approbation to that warm feeling of satisfaction already in the hearts of the winners (and in my category the vast majority of the entrants).

What was clear to me about the bartenders who had written and produced the menus (apart from many having problems with spell check) was that they had entered to help the performance of their bar, rather than in a quest for self-aggrandisement. It was as refreshing as a frosted Daiquiri in a heatwave.

They had entered to help their bar, not in a quest for self-aggrandisement

Rematch, by contrast, saddened me. Not just because I wasn't sitting next to my long-time fellow judge Dick Bradsell, or because I was talking to a young bartender who had never heard of Match, but because I was watching an omnishambolic selection of how not to bartend… ever.

The fact that it was won by a brand ambassador says it all, even if said BA is an excellent human being. In front of a reduced crowd, with none of the consumer interest of earlier iterations, I watched a series of bartenders take part who, regardless of skill level, will not be satisfied with a job well done.

Yes, the prize was a lot of money, and it continues to boldly eschew sponsors, but it clearly demonstrated to me that to match the now-expected professional standards of our industry, winging it is no longer an option. A bit like misspelling 'Hemingway' on a menu – if Microsoft doesn't wiggly line you, then you don’t need to bother checking...

However these two events, Drinks List and Rematch – representing competition in both positive and negative roles – pale into insignificance when compared with the ululation of disagreement/horror/shattered hubris when discussion turns to the subject of a top 50. Designed for a clickbait listicle world, these bar awards are not helping us – not one little bit.

People outside LDN and NY have been huffing that being off this axis prevents a bar getting enough votes. People in all bars are questioning the impartiality of a) the limited selection of judges and b) the unlikeliness of them being treated to an everyman experience.

A certain tyre company receives similar criticism, but at least it makes an effort to review enough places to provide a good consumer guide. Until our bar equivalent (for which I would be happy to be an inspector) fulfils this limited brief, I suggest bartenders everywhere ignore it.

What's most important is to work hard, self-promote (but not shamelessly), win with panache, lose with utmost grace and, most importantly, sleep well.

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