Red the Steakhouse is a very special kind of restaurant. It's one of the upscale eateries that have made SoFi — the once-ghetto, now-chichi area south of Fifth Street — the center of the Miami Beach restaurant universe. Executive chef Peter Vauthy takes pride in selling Wagyu steaks that have pedigrees longer than an Oxford graduate's and sell for upward of $20 an ounce. The restaurant's modern décor of dark brown, white, and red blends well with the traditional steak-house service. The ambiance is ideal for dates and business meetings alike.

I'm shadowing Chris Carr, a 26-year-old guy who has made waiting tables his career. He looks like Will Smith from his Fresh Prince days. Tall and thin, he's 90 percent swagger and 10 percent little boy. This place is more precision and less volume. Chris shows me how to dip each preset wineglass into hot water until steam engulfs it, and then wipe it down so there are no smudges from the dishwasher. All silverware must be exactly a thumb's length (from tip to joint) apart.

At 5:30 p.m., the staff gathers for a family meal. It's lasagna — oily, cheesy, and hot, the kind of meal waiters like and hostesses skip. The chef goes over some specials and then notes it's likely the last week of king crab season. But there's still a monster left in the cooler if someone wants to impress a date. One intact crustacean was sold earlier in the week for more than $200.

At 6 p.m., the doors open, but Chris tells me things won't pick up until at least 7:30. He has been with Red since it opened about three years ago. Originally from New Jersey, he moved to Davie to attend Nova Southeastern University. He took a job at a restaurant to make some pocket money and when he heard Red was hiring, he moved to Miami and took a chance on the brand-new steak house, even quitting school against his parents' wishes.

Chris explains the tip-out situation. This is a high-volume, expensive place where a New York strip steak can go for $48. A lot of players dip into the tip pool — 5 percent goes to the bar, 3 percent to the bussers, and 1.5 percent to runners, who help serve the food to patrons. "It doesn't matter," he says. "One big tipper can make the night."

One such tipper is Rosie O'Donnell. A frequent diner, she comes in early with her family and tips generously — sometimes the equivalent of the check. Because dinner for her party can range upward of $500, one visit from O'Donnell or another A-lister pays the rent for the month.

At 7 p.m., the room is still virtually empty. One couple is dining, but not in Chris's section. The music is soft, and a $2,000 Baccarat crystal decanter of Louis Trey cognac sits alone on a cart, lit candles surrounding it like a shrine.

Four men ages 20 to 50 in crumpled suits, looking like they've come straight from a business meeting, are seated at 7 o'clock. Chris takes their cocktail orders and then tells me of the Red waiter's recipe: Take drink orders and water preferences. Six minutes later, describe specials (make sure you've memorized them). Chris talks up the meat: "The steaks are certified Angus Prime. Every one is served at the perfect temperature."

They all order steaks. As they eat, an older couple is seated. They're in from New York. The man is a president at Chase Manhattan Bank. He tells Chris their concierge recommended Red. As the waiter takes drink orders, another couple is seated.

Chris tells me the second couple is on a first date. They're sitting side-by-side on the long banquette. "I suggested they sit that way," Chris says. "I saw them pull up in a McLaren AMG. They're going to tip big. I can feel it." For Chris, this is a game of Monopoly in which the player with the biggest bank at the end of the night wins.

At 8 p.m., a four-top of IBM staffers comes in. There's a clear leader in the group who orders starters for everyone. Two $200 bottles of wine are requested, along with drinks. One man wants a piece of fish, and the leader at the table disapproves. Seafood is a sign of weakness in whatever test this dinner has become.

Chris moves like Gregory Hines, practically tap-dancing from table to table. In fact, his spiel is like a dance. Women are beautiful and are meant to be flattered. Men should be upsold with pitches like "The sommelier just purchased this vintage today, and I'll give it to you for just $125" and "I suggest lobster mac and cheese."

I initially think that approach might be a bit much, but I'm wrong. His gentle but persistent pushing of crab, straight from the Bering Sea to your table in Miami Beach, his insistence that the extra $50 for lobster in the macaroni and cheese is well worth it, are not wasted on this table. He is offered a job at IBM. Chris is excited. I'm certain the offer, like the side dish, will be forgotten tomorrow.

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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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