National Waiters’ Day – with Waiters’ Races

‘Service now included’ is both the marketing phrase for an initiative with the power to transform Britain’s disabling attitudes to service – and propel a new ethos to national attention.

National Waiters’ Day – on 23rd June,will celebrate – and thereby promote – one of our oldest service industries which, at the top, is the best there is and in the general experience has room to develop. Australian and Poles who have come here to work have shown us – and let’s hope we’ve noticed – what good service is about and the difference it makes to the experience of eating out.

The Queen, no stranger to service,  has offered her best wishes for the event and high profile backers include lead organisers, The Springboard Charity – which takes a lead in helping young, unemployed and disadvantaged people improve their prospects for economic well-being; The Prince’s Trust; The British Hospitality Association and catering legends, Michel Roux Jr and Danny Meyer.

Every year British waiting staff carry an estimated 4 million tonnes of food, billions of plates and billions of drinks to dining tables.

This inaugural national day to celebrate the frequently overlooked contribution of waiters of both genders to the British dining experience will take place  23rd June 2013 and is being announced today, at the 20th Annual Hotel General Managers’ Conference in London, by Fred Sirieix, founder of the event and creator of ‘The Art of Service’.

The term ‘waiter’ originated in Middle English in the 1300s.  Originally hand picked by royalty, waiting staff formed a crucial role in serving and defending kings and queens. Today, as British gastronomy takes a seat at the top table, widespread attention falls with interest and appreciation on British waiting staff.

  • Last year, the UK hospitality industry served more than 8 billion meals, or one in every six meals consumed in the UK.
  • Restaurants and cafes serve around 20% of all food eaten outside the home in the UK.
  • A quarter of a million outlets provide 2.4 million jobs, almost 10% of the workforce, making the hospitality industry the UK’s fifth largest employer.

Now, following the busiest month of the year for the restaurant trade, a team led by ‘The Art of Service’ guru, Fred Sirieix, General Manager of Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows and Anne Pierce, Chief Executive of the Springboard Charity, is planning an annual celebration of the contribution that front of house staff make to the dining experience of millions of British and international guests every year.

The Waiters’ Race

National Waiters Day will feature a programme of events including a grueling Waiters Race.  Waiters will be tasked with running with a fully-laden tray through an outdoor course in London.

Waiters Races have been run throughout the world for over a century. The most famous is the French ‘Course des garçons de café‘ but the earliest race on record appears to be one held in London in 1901.

Their origin is still uncertain, but what we do know is that they were aimed at improving the recognition of the waiting profession with participants racing against each other–tray in hand.

In France, traditionally, French restaurants a- nd the Parisian Cafes in particular, built a worldwide reputation for the quality of their service and were seen to contribute significantly to the French tourist industry and thereby to the French economy.

This led the authorities to establish the Waiters Race to give Parisian waiters the opportunity to demonstrate their agility, balance, and professional skills to the public.

Today there are waiters races all round the world – and the South American one is an obstacle race.

The one scheduled for London on 23rd June aims to be the biggest ever, run in its first year in conjunction with Taste of London – BUT towns are being encouraged to run their own local races.

Imagine the streets of any of Argyll’s major towns with a waiters’ race in full flow, loaded trays to the fore, cries of ‘Coming Sir’ in the air.

Oban’s Craigard would test their balance of the trays, never mind their thigh muscles; the long run around Campbeltown’s sea front would be a high visibility stamina challenge; they could run on to the ferry at Dunoon and carry the message to Gourock and back; Helensburgh might feature laps of Colquhoun Square;  and Rothesay could certainly Brandish Bute. And then there’s Balamory.

Think of the publicity.

Think also of food from Argyll.

This initiative is inspired. It is a high profile opportunity simultaneously to celebrate and motivate first class service, to let waiting staff know we notice what they do and how appreciative we are of their skills and care.

Other events run under the developing programme are likely to include celebrity chefs returning to their roots and working as waiters and waitresses in the restaurants they worked in before they found fame.

Fred Sirieix says: ‘Despite the stresses and strains of the job, professional front of house staff keep smiling and do a fantastic job of coordinating one of the most complex and time-sensitive tasks in the world.’

Anne Pierce, CEO of the Springboard Charity says: ‘Waiters and waitresses are hugely skilled.  They need to be knowledgeable about cooking, ingredients, wine, accompaniments and more – and are often involved in table-side cooking.  Add to that the physical skills required – from elegantly opening bottles of wine to carrying precarious loads through human obstacle courses – and you have a trade executed by truly remarkable people.’

A website for the event is live today, set up as a focal point for all events throughout the UK.  This will be updated regularly. The event is an envelope for an event effectively building its programme from today.

The challenge is for the industry, for individual businesses and for towns  interested in their image of service and the marketing opportunities this event offers to get their creative juices shaken and stirred with spirit and see Argyll steal the thunder in a genuinely novel event of real value.

As well as the website, linked above, regular updates on the programme will also appear on Twitter, using the hashtags #NationalWaitersDay and #WaitersRace .

Coming anyone?

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