Ready, Set, Garçon! Paris Waiters Race as Storied Contest Returns

The contestants warmed up with stretches and squats in front of City Hall, carefully repositioned croissants and glasses on their trays and tightened their aprons as pop music blared from loudspeakers.

Then, they were off.

On Sunday, for the first time in over a decade, Paris revived a tradition: an annual race of cafe and restaurant waiters. About 200 men and women swerved, jostled and jogged 1.2 miles through the city streets, which were lined with cheering crowds. The rules were simple: No running, and reach the finish line with laden trays intact with a croissant, a glass of tap water and a small coffee cup.

The race, which was first held in the early 20th century, had been on hiatus since 2012 because of a lack of funding. But Paris officials saw an opportunity for the city to shine before hosting the Summer Olympics, which kick off in July. It was also a moment to illustrate that sipping coffee at a cafe or wine in a bistro was as integral to the capital’s cultural heritage as its most famous landmarks.

“When foreigners come to Paris, they don’t just come for the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower,” said Nicolas Bonnet-Oulaldj, the deputy mayor in charge of commerce. “They also come to eat in our cafes, at the Bouillon Chartier, the Brasserie Lipp or the Procope.”

André Duval, center, said he remembered the days when waiters ferried wine — not water — across the finish line. Credit…Dimitar Dilkoff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Paris was home to more than 15,000 bars, cafes and restaurants last year, according to city statistics.Credit…Miguel Medina/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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