A bartender from Yorkshire has been declared UK Bartender Champion in a competition run for bar staff at TGI Fridays around the country.
Russ Ward, aged 35, from Scholes in Rotherham and a bartender at TGI Fridays in Sheffield, won the grand final in Birmingham – the fifth time in a row that he has taken the top spot.
Russ will go on to represent the UK in the TGI Fridays World Bartender Championships in the US next year, vying for the prize of $10,000 – over £7,500. He has previously finished as high as second in the global final.
Russ earned his place in the UK final after putting in perfect performances in the local and regional rounds. He was put through hours of testing including demonstrating the ability to free-pour perfect measures every time.
He also had to show he knew every single one of the 500-plus cocktails available at TGI Fridays, being tested on the recipe of 85 of these and having to create nine of them.
In his performance, Russ distinguished himself from the other finalists with his incredible timing and skill, and won over the crowd with a number of signature moves, including catching a cherry on a cocktail stick in his mouth, pouring flawlessly behind his head and back, and juggling three bottles at a time effortlessly.
For the first time, TGI Fridays has arranged a training camp in the USA ahead of the world final for Russ and the other finalists to prepare for the challenges, including practising his cocktail-making skills from the US menu.
Russ said: “With the world finals in just two months there really is no time to pause. I’ll be practising for three or four hours a day, perfecting my routine so that come February I can finally walk away with the world championship trophy that I’ve been working so hard over the years to win.
“My Fridays family have been so supportive throughout my bartending career and this year will be flying me out early to practise on American soil so that I can bring the trophy home. I can’t wait to do my family and Fridays family proud.”