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Awards for (South) Africa

Taking a look at the importance of bar awards in the African context, and how South Africa is celebrating its own.

16 October 2023 · 11 min read
Leah van Deventer

Awards programmes play a vital role in motivating the bar community, inspiring members to hone their craft and get their slice of success. While some of our peers in the Global South have managed to bag global accolades – for example Argentina’s Tres Monos winning the Art of Hospitality Award in the 2023 World’s 50 Best Bars – Africa lags behind. That’s not to say the continent is without recognition, just that we’ve yet to win big; additionally, to date our highest achievers in the “big three” global bars lists have been localised to a single country of the total 54, each being in South Africa. These are Café Caprice at #27 in 50 Best in 2010; Cause Effect Cocktail Kitchen at #55 in Top 500 Bars in 2020, and Cause Effect again, making Top 10 Best International Cocktail Bar at the 2020 Spirited Awards. Of course, awards programmes don’t just honour venues, but again, we’ve yet to see an individual who lives on-continent hold up a global trophy.

The closest we’ve come so far is South Africa-based Caitlin Hill making Top 4 for Best International Brand Ambassador in the 2023 Spirited Awards, and yours truly being Top 4 for Best Spirits Communicator at the 2024 International Wine and Spirits Competition (results pending!). Abroad, Africa-born Colin Asare-Appiah and John Gakuru have been celebrated at the Spirited Awards for Best American and Best International Brand Ambassadors, respectively, for their work in the US and UK. While we may not be able to compete in sheer numbers when it comes to venues and expertise, we certainly can – and do – match quality.

Among other challenges, key issues are comparably low international exposure, gatekeeping of awards information and a lack of diversity on judging panels. All of this to illustrate how important it is to celebrate our own on a local level, and why the new South African Bar & Beverage Awards are such a vital and exciting addition to the African drinks landscape. The B&B Awards, as they’ve become known, were launched early in 2023, culminating in a grand gala dinner on 28 August. The initiative was the brainchild of Paul Reynell, Director of Paddington Station PR, a communications agency servicing the South Africa drink industry. Paddington Station is itself an award winner, having been named Small Agency of the Year at the 2023 Prism Awards, the country’s most significant public relations and communications awards. Reynell’s reasoning behind developing the B&B Awards was pragmatic, seeing it as a necessary tool to drive tourism into the Rainbow Nation.

“South Africa is one of the world’s top destinations for gastronomy, leisure and hospitality, and a huge contributor to our global reputation as a destination is our cocktail bars and teams,” he said.

Like other bar awards around the globe, the B&B Awards celebrate bars, bartenders and bar-adjacent industry professionals. Of its 13 bar categories, eight are familiar favourites, namely Best Cocktail Bar, Best New Cocktail Bar, Best Hotel Bar, Best Restaurant Bar, Best Bartender, Best Bar Team, Best Brand Ambassador, Best Mentor and Industry Icon.

Four are enlivening, and regionally relevant, new accolades:

  • Best Support Staffer, for a team member whose exceptional work in a supporting role is considered key to their bar's success, covering bouncers, barbacks, cleaners, kitchen staff and more;
  • Best Bar Solutions, for a company whose exceptional delivery of goods and/or services (such as ice, equipment or event assistance) makes them an indispensable and sought-out trade partner to brands or bars;
  • Best Upliftment Programme or Initiative, for an enterprise that facilitates the upskilling and growth of individuals and contributes to the health, equality and diversity of the South African bar industry; and
  • Best Bar Communicator, for a communicator whose insightful reporting, storytelling and/or content creation brings bars and brands to life.

In order for someone to win any of the bar categories, they first need to receive a nomination in a suitable category, and then come out tops with a robust panel of industry judges. Nominations, which have to include supporting statements, are free and open to the public; self-nominations and both permitted and encouraged.

In 2023, all nominations were thoroughly vetted before going on to judging, to ensure candidates qualified for the category they were nominated in and to confirm they’d been in that role for the full 2022 assessment year. The judging panel was made of 32 industry professionals from around the country, with a 50-50 gender split. Judges themselves were eligible for awards, but they were not permitted to vote in any category they were nominated in, or where they had another conflict of interest. For example, if a judge worked at a nominated bar, they had to recuse themselves from voting in the affected category, and of course they could not ever vote for themselves.

The judging process itself was two-fold; in round one, judges named their top four candidates of all nominees in each category, and in round two, they ranked the overall top-four finalists to determine the winners. Some 317 total nominations were received, with 146 individual, vetted nominations going forward to judging. Unlike the usual bar awards found elsewhere, the B&B Awards – as its name suggests – offers applause specifically for beverage producers and promoters too. In line with the ethos of celebrating local, the beverage categories are specifically designed for local brands and marketing agencies, rather than global giants.

An emerging concept, for the inaugural year there were just three categories, namely:

  • Best Brand Campaign, for a South African brand campaign that has demonstrated creativity and keen market insight in the promotion of a beverage;
  • Best CSI Campaign, for a short-burst South African initiative, powered by a beverage (local or international), that has shown a significant positive impact on South African society; and
  • Best New Local Product, for the best new local bar product to enter the South African beverage market.

While it has started modestly, Reynell has high hopes for the beverage side of the awards programme.

“We anticipate these categories to be highly coveted and an exciting addition to the awards,” he says. “It is important to recognise the individuals and companies that support the industry and drive service excellence, and we are delighted to provide a platform for them to showcase their accomplishments,” he adds.

Similar to the bar categories, the beverage classes followed two basic steps. Agencies, brands and distributors were invited to enter the awards via paid submissions. Post vetting, these candidates were then judged via a point-based scoring system, with the winners being the highest scorers. The inclusion of beverage categories means a more well-rounded programme that comprehensively congratulates the national industry’s high achievers.

“This annual campaign recognises all industry stakeholders and the role they play in South Africa’s economy,” notes Reynell.

Some winners for 2023 are listed below:

  • Best Cocktail Bar - Sin+Tax
  • Best New Cocktail Bar - Hacienda
  • Best Hotel Bar - Gigi Rooftop Restaurant & Bar at the Gorgeous George Hotel
  • Best Restaurant Bar - Asoka
  • Best Bartender - Charné van Heerden (The House of Machines) & Julian Short (Sin+Tax)
  • Best Bar Team - The House of Machines
  • Best Support Staffer - Alex Duru (The House of Machines)
  • Best Upliftment Programme or Initiative - Sisterhood for Industry Support (SIS)
  • Best Bar Communicator - Leah van Deventer (Independent)
  • Best Mentor - Cassandra Eichhoff (European Bartender School)
  • Industry Icon - Brent Perremore (Lucky Rabbit Consulting), Kurt Schlechter (Cause Effect Cocktail Kitchen), Raymond Endean (Thirst Bar Services)
“On behalf of the Bar & Beverage Awards, we extend our heartfelt congratulations to all the winners of 2023. These remarkable individuals, teams, and brands have demonstrated outstanding dedication, innovation, and excellence to keep South Africa a top performing player on the global stage,” says Reynell. “Their achievements serve as inspiration to us all, and we look forward to watching their continued impact, supporting them and experiencing their cocktails!” he adds.

Next up, we’d love to see national awards programmes emerging in other African markets, and perhaps even one for the continent at large.