New Orleans waiters race is a balancing act _lowres

Advocate photo by KYLE ENCAR -- Mike Lane of Houston's and Brian Ricard, of Antoine's, race each other down Decatur Street towards the Joan of Arc statue during the French Market Annual Bartender and Waiters Race. in 2014.

Waiters and bartenders with trays in hand will take to the streets Sunday, but not for a new outdoor restaurant. They’re celebrating Bastille Day with a nod to the service industry.

The French Market will host its sixth annual adaptation of the race that has been run, or speed-walked, for nearly 85 years around the world. The race will begin at 4 p.m. Sunday at the intersection of St. Ann Street and Decatur Street.

“This is a Parisian tradition, born around the 1930s, to honor and celebrate the unique skills and talents of waitstaff, which were and are so crucial to any hospitality industry,” French Market Corp. Marketing Director Amy Kirk Duvoisin said.

Three heats of 10 participants will speed-walk down Decatur Street, balancing trays loaded with drinks and food. The rules are very specific: There’s no running, no touching the items on the tray, no changing hands. And the servers must balance the tray with one hand from below, in the true professional style. Whoever finishes the race first with nothing spilled is the winner.

Waiters races have a history in New Orleans, which Duvoisin heard about when she joined the French Market Corp. in 2009. Before Hurricane Katrina, various hotels and hospitality organizations would hold the event on Canal Street.

“I brought it back with a twist,” Duvoisin said. “The route was first on Decatur, then at the French Market itself. Then we outgrew that and moved it back to Decatur last year, and we added bartenders because they are inherent to our hospitality industry.”

Waiter Marc Giangrosso has worked at The Bourbon House, Luke, The Bombay Club and Lillette. He’ll return to the race this year for another try.

“(The race) is harder than it looks,” Giangrosso said. “The street is much less even than most dining room floors. The camaraderie is very evident, and I have a great time last year.”

French guitarist Raphael Bas and saxophonist Pascal Valcasara will begin warming up the crowd at 2 p.m. in Dutch Alley. The race is at 4 p.m.

More information can be found at www.frenchmarket.org.