Charlotte Maxwell, bartender, TGI Friday's, Covent Garden, London

16 November 2006
Charlotte Maxwell, bartender, TGI Friday's, Covent Garden, London

Charlotte, Maxwell, 22, has just taken bronze at the annual TGI Friday's European Bartender Challenge final in Athens.

Having stormed the UK competition back in September, Maxwell, who was the only female competitor, saw off the challenge of more than 1,000 contestants from across the continent to take third place.

Not bad for someone who took on a part-time door host job in 2004 at the then soon-to-open new-build TGI Friday's in Bath. The sports science graduate, intent on earning some cash while considering her options, was spotted as having potential from the start, and a week before the grand opening in November was offered a coveted spot on the bar team after an unexpected departure.

Maxwell admits to having been terrified at the prospect. "I almost said no because there was so much to learn, but a week of intensive one-to-one training got me through," she recalls.

For anyone keen to become a bartender at Friday's, be aware that to do so is to undertake a form of brain training. If you're the sort who forgets names, it's probably not for you.

TGI has three bartender levels. For the first you need to know everything about an introductory selection of 150 drinks on the bar menu as well as learning the flairing skills that form the eye-catching entertainment for punters.

By the time you step up to the top, master level, something Maxwell has on her to-do list now she's got through this year's competition, you need to know the Friday's drinks book inside out, which is around 600 cocktails and food matching, drink shelf lives, garnishes, the works.

Maxwell moved to London last year, and lady luck smiled on her once more when someone quit the bar team at the Covent Garden restaurant and bar as she arrived. A trial session later she was part of the team. "It was extremely lucky as it can be very hard to get a spot on the bar in London if you haven't worked at a Friday's in the capital before," she says.

Bartenders need to be night owls, as most of the shifts are in the evening to tap into the after-work drinking and dining crowd. Typically, it means a 1am finish for late shifts, but Maxwell admits to never having being much of "a morning person".

Wages are good, says Maxwell, but "tips really help" and a percentage of the bartenders' take is shared with the bar backs and waiting staff.

Maxwell has recently become a trainer, supporting new store openings with on-site coaching in the weeks running up to launch. It keeps her role fresh and allows her to pass on some of her skills, shaping the next generation of Friday's bartenders.

She hopes her direct influence will attract more women to try a life behind the bar, as female bartenders such as Maxwell remain the exception to the rule.

"It can be a tough job to start, especially as the blokes tend to be quite cocky with strong personalities, but I'd urge girls to knuckle down and stick with it," says Maxwell. "In my experience they work so hard that they're often better than the guys in the end."

The lowdown

TGI Friday's Covent Garden has…

  • Covers 260
  • Staff 90
  • Weekly turnover £65,000
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