The hospitality industry is alive and kicking in Siem Reap with schools like Sala Baï and Paul Dubrule turning out graduates every year – but of all the eager staff poised to bring diners that cappuccino or Angkor beer, who is the fastest waiter in town?
That question will be answered on July 14, when the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort holds Temple Town’s first ever waiters’ race, to coincide with Bastille Day.
Originating in France at the beginning of the twentieth century, the course des garçons de café was started to raise the profile of the humble waiter.
“At one stage, being a waiter was not a reputable job,” says Sofitel general manager Fabrice Ducry. “Waiters wanted to bring a little bit more awareness to their status with the course des garçons de café.
“All the garçons de café in Paris would have the traditional black trousers, white shirts, aprons, leather shoes and then they had the service cloth, tray, glasses, a bottle and they had to race around the city with that. It is a very French tradition that has actually now been adopted by a couple of cities – I think in New York they do one as well.”
Ducry says his team was coming up with ideas to celebrate the French national holiday of Bastille Day, and the waiters’ race was suggested.
“July in Siem Reap has a tendency to be a bit on the slow side, and we thought why don’t we open up our doors and bring in and have fun with all the restaurants and hotels in town,” says Ducry. “I discussed it at the Cambodia Hotel Association and everybody was keen.”
He adds that by involving the Cambodia Hotel Association, he saw immediately that the hotels all had a competitive nature and they would push their best waiters to perform at max levels during the race, simply so they could claim they have the fastest waiters in town.
Proceedings begin at 8.30am on Monday July 14, and as many as 80 waiters and waitresses will set off on a 3km circuit from the Sofitel, tray in hand.
Ducry says contestants will be judged both on speed and amount of beverage spillage by the end of the race.
“All the participants will have to carry a tray with glasses. Normally there are some official guideline rules but, at least for the first race, we’ll skip those,” he says. “Usually the tray needs to be held with one hand, you’re not supposed to hold your glasses. Here we said we’ll fill the glasses, and they can carry their tray the way that they want. As long as they manage to get it back as fast as they can and as filled as they can, it’ll be pretty much loose rules.
“It’s going to be judged on a combination of minutes on their race, and the liquids that they still have left in their glass.”
The route will take the speedy serveurs on a loop from the Sofitel to the Royal Gardens, and return along the river.
Sofitel marketing communications executive Gaelle Bigeard says Siem Reap’s service staff have been lining up to enter the contest.
“We have filled more or less half the spaces already,” says Bigeard. “We’ve had answers from Le Meridien, Raffles and Shinta Mani. It’s mostly Khmer people, and mostly men for the moment. We have 80 places.”
But whether the participants choose speed over spillage is up to them, Ducry says.
“It’s a strategy that people have to take,” he says. “Some will say they’ll try to slow down but make sure that all their liquid is still there when they arrive at the finishing line, and some will decide to just go for it and be the first one to cross the line.”
Prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place, plus a prize for the least liquid spilled, and one for the fastest runner.