Ready, set, pour! The first Waiters’ Race Atlanta raises money for the Giving Kitchen

The Bastille Day tradition made its way to Buckhead for a good cause
Waiters Race Atlanta
Participants line up for the first Waiters’ Race Atlanta at Shops Buckhead Atlanta.

Photograph by Rachel Pittman

There’s no use crying over spilled milk, but you couldn’t have blamed one of the servers competing in the first ever Waiters’ Race Atlanta in Buckhead on Friday afternoon for shedding a few tears over spilled Champagne.

Benefiting the Giving Kitchen and hosted by the Industry Fund, a new local nonprofit with a similar mission of supporting hospitality workers in their time of need, the quirky event was a take on the “Course des Garcons de Cafe,” a century-old Bastille Day tradition where waiters race with fully loaded trays, avoiding spills on their route. While the event began in France, variations now takes place annually in cities all over the world. This was Atlanta’s first.

Photograph by Rachel Pittman

Lining up outside of Le Bilboquet, servers from different local restaurants each held a serving tray with a glass of water, glass of wine, and split of Champagne. The servers then followed a marked course that wound throughout the Shops Buckhead Atlanta as fast as they could while holding their trays in one hand, the other hand behind their backs, making sure not to spill a single drop. Speed walking with knees cautiously bent rather than sprinting with their delicate cargo, the competitors curved around the half-mile race route while shoppers at Hermes, Joie, and NARS stepped outside to snap photos of the unique quest. At the end of the course, the servers opened their champagne, carefully poured a glass for the judges, then crossed the finish line with tray and glasses in-tact.

A server pours Champagne for judge Karen Bremer, CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association.

Photograph courtesy of Waiters Race Atlanta

A panel of six judges that included radio host Dana Barrett, HLN correspondent Lynn Smith, and Atlanta‘s own dining columnist Christiane Lauterbach, rated the servers on their style, speed, and service.

John Wilkins, of Decatur’s Cafe Lily, won the race, taking home two round-trip tickets to Paris and a traveling trophy to display in his restaurant.

Wilkins says he practiced a lot for the race, but what was most important to him was the charity the event supported. “Most people in the service industry can’t afford insurance, so if you get sick or your house burns down there aren’t a lot of options,” he says. “The Giving Kitchen really helps when things like that happen to a member of the restaurant industry.”

Following the race, Le Bilboquet hosted a celebration with French music, an outdoor rosé bar, a fresh flower cart, and bottles upon bottles of Champagne. Fulton County Chairman John Eaves even read a proclamation from the Fulton County Board of Commissioners declaring July 14, 2017 as Waiters’ Race Day, which “[celebrates] the excellence, dedication, and hard work of the over 230,000 that work in the Atlanta restaurant industry.”

“I’ve been in the business 11 yearsevery day serving drinks and picking up trays,” says Jorge Rios, a server from Le Bilboquet. “It feels good to have this race in Atlanta.”