Shauna Chapman is the only other server on duty this Sunday. Fresh out of a bad relationship, she recently left Boston, the only hometown she's ever known, to return to school in South Florida. Her deep dimples and dark blond ponytail make her look more like a high school girl than the graduate student she is. Shauna is shy but optimistic about her move and new job. "This is the first time I've lived away from Boston, but I'm excited to live somewhere that's warm in the winter," she confides as we prepare napkin rolls for the day.

Breakfast service starts with five Fort Lauderdale firefighters who just got off the night shift. Pete takes their food orders. This is the first of many times today when I'll hear a heated discussion as some guest wants to substitute potatoes for tomatoes ($1 extra) or get a refill on a cup of joe (75 cents). Sure, the no-substitutions rule is handy for the waitstaff and chefs, but it irritates the patrons.

After about 45 minutes, the check comes and the firefighters tip well, about $25 on their $100 check. "Generally the tips are quite generous," Pete says as he sweeps by to pick up the check and the dirty dishes in one graceful move. "No one really gives less than 20 percent."

An older man comes in with a much younger woman. It's difficult to tell whether she's a daughter, niece, or girlfriend. He's dressed in khaki slacks, a black Lacoste polo, and driving loafers. She's wearing a Rolex watch and Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses, which are perched on her shiny, highlighted hair. The man orders coffee and a crab omelet; she goes for a skim latte, an egg white omelet, and a fruit bowl. "Her salon bill is probably more than my rent," Pete quips. For a $40 check, they leave $12. Again, not bad.

A young couple comes in with a toddler and asks for a booster seat. The restaurant has none, so the couple sits the boy between them in a booth. Pete tells me there are no child seats on purpose; kids are messy and they're not really encouraged here. The couple orders eggs and a pancake and asks for a substitute: "Is there anything besides potatoes?" Yes, grits, but not fruit — that's extra. In this little breakfast house, most people go with the flow when they're told they can't get their way.

It's now about 10 a.m. The tables are all filled, and there are almost a dozen names on the waitlist already. Pete and Shauna look less tired than bored. There are four hours to go.

Three retired men walk in and suddenly there's a buzz. Rodney, the owner, says the man in yellow is the former CEO of Roche Pharmaceuticals. With him are two men of the same age, mid-60s. One says he has just returned from the Bahamas, where he loaned his yacht to Columbia Sportswear for a photo shoot. It seems he traded his ship for a day of model-watching. The men are jovial, stay for a while, and leave a decent tip of about $15 for a $54 bill.

We're well into the morning and there's an hourlong wait. Every time a party leaves, the table gets bussed almost immediately. The restaurant plays like a good piece of music. A group that had the foresight to bring their own bloody marys in red plastic party cups sits outside in a makeshift waiting room. At the outside tables, a young couple with a fluffy Pomeranian in a pink T-shirt grows impatient for food. "We're hungry," the man bellows.

I try to diffuse the situation, but the guy follows me inside and angrily extinguishes his cigarette on the window. It could easily escalate, but Rodney calmly asks the man to leave. Maybe he's embarrassed to be seen with a dog in a pink shirt, but he just exits.

The shift is almost over, and two more couples come in. Over cups of coffee, they pass around a grainy black-and-white picture. It's an ultrasound image of one couple's first child. "This is the first naked picture of my daughter," the proud father-to-be says between sips of his latte.

After a seven-hour shift, the checks are tallied up. My split of the tips is $180. That translates to about $25 an hour from grats alone. In Florida, waiters also make a minimum wage of $4.65 per hour from the house. If I were working full-time, that would equal about $55,000 a year — double the salary of an average security guard and nearly equal to that of a low-ranking beat cop.

Pete tells me that he's worked at just about every high-end restaurant in Fort Lauderdale since coming to Florida nearly three decades ago. Though he admits he could make more money working dinner service somewhere else, he considers O-B his place. "It might not be my restaurant, but it's my vision," he says. "I tell Rodney every day: 'It's your money, but it's my restaurant.'"

Then Pete confesses the real reason he's serving breakfast: "Could I make more money at night? Fuck yeah, but then I'd be doing coke, chasing women, and getting into trouble."

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32 comments
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V_S
V_S

"Sure, the no-substitutions rule is handy for the waitstaff and chefs, but it irritates the patrons."

Well, to hell with the patrons. If they don't like it they can go somewhere else. Right?

With a management philosophy like that, it's no wonder that the tips are disappointing. My guess is the business will be gone in a year.

Chakalaka
Chakalaka

Great article, i'm shocked as how much a waiter can earn or not earned, however I say that the tip is really based on the service not really the amount on the receipt.

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Tony A
Tony A

I used to think my average 20% tip was pretty good. Now I think it's become a standard. I am going to tip more. I am also going to adopt the $5 minimum rule someone posted above.I never tipped at a food truck which will change immediately as I try to find the Pincho Factory truck on my way home!

Anthonyvop
Anthonyvop

WOWNo wonder service is so bad in Miami. If the majority of the servers are like the people in this article then it is easy to see.

Usually when somebody leaves you a small tip it is because the service sucked. Normally I tip 20% If service is good I tip 25% and up. Bad Less than 10% and on a few occasions nothing. Don't like it? Too Bad. Remember you are easily replaced so work on the attitude. I also check if the tips are pooled. If they are then it is 15%. It is a reason why it is called a gratuity and I seem no reason to reward anyone for doing nothing.

VinoJon
VinoJon

There was sex in the title but none in the article. What gives?

Urban Bitch
Urban Bitch

Great article and very accurate! I've worked "in the biz" since I was 15 in all different levels of restaurants and you've captured the spectrum very well. My personal rule is that I never tip less than 20% unless it falls less than $5 in which case I tip $5. For some strange reason, I never applied this to food trucks. Thank you for giving me perspective into a job that definitely deserves a tip! Also, I noticed your Greenstreet section was rather brief. Was this because the general manager wouldn't let you shadow her servers? I've heard that woman is absolutely nuts and runs that restaurant like a slave ship.

JB
JB

Good read!

Aaron
Aaron

very good work, liane, I will be reposting to the ps561 facebook page, it is clear you put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into writing this. Very bourdain-like. thank you!Aaron

Fryerphuk
Fryerphuk

Very good insight on the server side of the restaurant world. As in any profession, your appearance, ability and work ethic usually determines income. I was surprised that a guy slinging omelets can pull down more than the Red server.

Yak
Yak

While reading this article, I felt as though I was a fly on the wall eavesdropping at each of the restaurants. You must do another, this time at the douche bag establishments like Prime 112, Joe's Stone Crab, etc.

Riki
Riki

Great work, Laine! You really put a lot of time and energy into this piece. Really proud of you! Guess I don't have to worry about you quitting your day job. :-)

ted anthony inserra
ted anthony inserra

Laine you did a great job capturing the inside working of a restaurant, as a "IN THE BIZZ", the public really has no clue on the inner working's of a restaurant.....the people are the best, most interesting, and fun you will ever meet. We spend more time with each other, weekends. holidays, events, than we do our families. The "family meal" is a great tradition, you opened up a small window into the only business i have ever known, and would not have it anyother way, i enjoyed your article!!

Former Chef...
Former Chef...

Liked your article, you have a good flowing style, very informative... My question is, how did you remember all the details without stopping your duties to record/write it all down...?If you really want an experience, try working behind the line in a very busy kitchen. I cooked for over 20 years and the characters I've come across and worked with, could be a novel.

In my humble opinion, I think you could write such a book...

Anonymouse
Anonymouse

what exactly do you mean by "if the majority of the servers are like the people in this article" bit? they all seem to be hard working people doing their best to get by. i don't see what your gripe is about them.

however, any good server can spot an asshole a mile away. good luck with your next service.

Eddie
Eddie

Why should we reward you with excellent service while you're sitting there doing less than nothing (i.e. keeping track of whatever infractions have been transgressed upon you)? How can you ever have a pleasant restaurant experience when your time is spent overly judging the service in order to make the 'correct' calculation of what percentage tip to leave?

Magic Mayhem
Magic Mayhem

You sir, are a dick. I’m sure you never tip anyone 25% because nobody can achieve the high level of service that your ego requires.

GoodPoint
GoodPoint

I don't go to food trucks often, but I'm going to have this article in mind too

Laine Doss
Laine Doss

Bourdain-like? You, sir, made my day.

Laine Doss
Laine Doss

I used a small tape recorder and talked into it every chance I got - which was often as I bussed tables and ran into the kitchen to get water/bread/etc.

Anthonyvop
Anthonyvop

So now I am an asshole for expecting good service and not rewarding poor service?Then you are just another of the entitlement/trophy generation.

Anthonyvop
Anthonyvop

Why should I get excellent service?

Because I am paying for it.Give me Excellent Service you get an Excellent Tip. Give me adequate service and you get an adequate tip. Give me poor service and get a.............................(Are you ready?)...............A poor tip. It is called the free market. It has worked for centuries and no other system has come close to being as fair.

Drake Mallard
Drake Mallard

Why should we have to give you extra money because you are doing your job? Its not my fault that restaurants don't pay their servers enough to make tipping a necessity. if you don't like your job and aren't making enough off your hourly rate get a new job.

Anthonyvop
Anthonyvop

Why?Because I am paying for the service! I work hard for my money and I expect prompt and gracious service when I spend it.It is called the Free Market. I live it. There are some restaurants that I refuse to return to because of consistently bad service. So many people harp on about the "Dinning Experience" So do I and if the service is poor or the staff has attitude I will take my business elsewhere.

Anthonyvop
Anthonyvop

Let me guess......You are a waiter!

Another Aaron
Another Aaron

Yo Laine! This was the best article put out by New Times in a long long while. Thank you! Now all I can hope for is that the others follow your lead. We need more of this, not polarized anti-Miami vitriol; you dove into it and produced a gem, reaffirming my belief that we truly hate what we don't know/understand (like some of the other writers and the city of Miami). I don't mean to bash the others, I'm just truly impressed with your work, especially in comparison to what I've come to expect from the New Times. Thank You Based God and Laine Doss.

Anthonyvop
Anthonyvop

Wait. Let me get this straight.

I am suppose to accept inferior Service and encourage their poor performance by rewarding them just because they made a bad career choice? Nobody forced them to take the job. I am under no obligation, moral or otherwise to finance their life.

I can tell by your posts you are of the entitlement/Trophy generation. You probably believe that a Job is a right and that pay shouldn't be tied to performance. I wouldn't even be surprised that if you had a job it is with a Government agency or similar like a College....or as a waitress.

Anonymouse
Anonymouse

no, you're an asshole because you are aware of the circumstances these workers are in and still choose to visit their establishments of labor only to judge them if they do not act according to your demands or whatever skewed perspective derived thereof.

gratuity, in restaurant terms, is the mother of all misnomers. these people could not make ends meet without it and your food would not be affordable if your average restaurant had to pay the load of their service workers anything above minimum wage.

you seem like an intelligent individual and surely must know this yet still dangle a faulty tipping method over them.

btw, you did not answer my question. what exactly do you mean by "if the majority of the servers are like the people in this article" bit?

 
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