With trays in hand and cups and bottles filled with water, they were off and running.
Well, almost running.
For nearly a dozen servers, it was an evening of thrills while trying to avoid spills during the annual Waiters’ Race in downtown West Palm Beach. The event, hosted by the Pistache french bistro on Clematis Street, was part of festivities to celebrate France’s Bastille Day.
Pistache owner Thierry Beaud said the Waiters’ Race is an early 20th-century tradition that started in Paris as a way to promote restaurant and waiter professions.
“It has been a tradition all over the world,” Beaud said. “For us, it’s a way to promote downtown and Clematis Street restaurants. And it’s fun. It promotes camaraderie among restaurants. In the middle of the summer, it gives us something fun to do.”
This year’s field was a bit smaller than normal as some competitors dropped out as overcast skies threatened to wash out the race.
Under a cloudy sky as a light rain began to fall, 11 competitors gingerly made their way twice around a course set up at the Centennial Square.
“Slow and steady” worked in favor of waiter David Turbeville of the Hyatt Place as he crossed the finish line without spilling any of his water.
“I did it last year and I spilled right at the end,” Turbeville, 32, said. “This year, I just stayed on the inside and went slow, (but) as fast as could and not spill.”
A slight bobble near the end was the difference between first and second place for Pistache waiter Jonathan Irvin. Irvin was the first across the finish line, but a spill cost him the victory.
“I was in the lead and (had) just a little bobble on the final turn,” Irvin, 29, said. “A little bit of water spilled on the tray and that’s what did it.”
Irvin won the event three years ago and finished second last year and said he enjoys doing the Waiters’ Race each year.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I love doing this every year.”
Elizabeth Wolfgram, 22, representing Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar, said the event was trickier than she anticipated. Wolgram spilled water on her on tray while trying to catch up to the pack.
“I thought it was going to be a lot easier, but it was pretty tough,” she said. “It made me work up a sweat.”
But Wolfgram, with a laugh, vowed that she’s going to come back stronger next year.
“Next year, I’m going to back strong and I’m going to win,” she said. “I’m going to dominate.”