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Recently, I was a judge at the Friday’s Bartender Championships in London and will be attending the World Bartender competition in Dallas this coming week. I am often asked how did this all get started?

Consumer tastes are constantly evolving. We call this the ‘yellow brick road’. In the early 80’s the ‘road’ was turning away from heavy consumption of alcohol. This resulted in an industry-wide decline in sales. Many chose the easy answer by discounting prices and promoting happy hours.

Friday’s policies supported the efforts of MADD and community responsibility. We felt promoting more consumption of alcohol through volume discounts and price promotions was the wrong answer to sagging sales. Our answer was to promote drinking quality, through educating the customer to the finest of alcohol beverage products and entertaining them while doing it.

We became the largest purveyor of fine cognacs, scotch whiskeys and unusual wines. We even FedExed a DC-10 full of Beaujolais Nouveau to celebrate the fun worldwide race to have this iconic wine delivered first. We produced a popular drink menu, with over 600 drinks. It was over an inch think and can be bought on eBay today due to its high theft rate.

Last but not least, Friday’s was always known for having the best bartenders in the world. They were always entertaining and executed clever showmanship behind the bar. As a part of the strategy to improve sales responsibly, we decided to formalize, train and develop what they called ‘flair’! This led to intra-company competition and eventually to the worldwide phenomena you see today.

 We solved the decline in sales and in fact grew sales through innovation. The lesson is anyone can ‘cut price’ but it’s more effective, in the long run, to innovate. Oh! And it is more FUN!

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