The Running of the Waiters

Bob Burke, bowtie in place, bullhorn in hand, knows how to put on a good show. Give the Pot au Feu owner a gun (as in the fake kind you fire at the start of a race), and things get even better. Yesterday, in honor of Bastille Day, Burke hosted his twenty-third-annual Bastille Day waiters race. Servers broke out the trays and tested their skills (and nerves) as they raced with full glasses of red wine down Custom House Street in front of an adoring, er taunting, crowd.

The winner must cross the finish line first and — there’s always a catch — must not spill more than one glass of wine in the process. As Burke says, “It’s not just a race for the swift, but for the sure of hand.” He ups the ante by subbing top-heavy martini glasses for wine glasses, making the race more difficult, which is, of course, the point. Also ratcheting up the difficulty factor is that the runners can only use one hand, palm side up, to hold the tray. If one finger even creeps over the rim, the server is disqualified. (Yes, this did happen; the judges are brutal).

Burke’s friendly competition for a cause — proceeds go to the Providence Journal Summertime Fund — drew competitors from Bacaro, Federal Reserve, Pot au Feu, Capital Grille, Ruth’s Chris and L’Attitude. In the end John Lester, a three-time winner, took the crown. It was as if Burke’s opening remarks were prophetic: “May the best person (from Pot au Feu) win.”