Food Industry

After Years of Ocean Drive Restaurant Ripoffs, Miami Beach Now Legislating Menus

After Years of Ocean Drive Restaurant Ripoffs, Miami Beach Now Legislating Menus
Photo by Ed Webster / Flickr
On the Yelp page for Ocean Drive restaurant La Baguette, there are more pictures of receipts than there are of food. Sometimes they're captioned with crying emojis or all-caps warnings like "STAY AWAY." They're always full of absurdly high prices: $55 for a margarita, $40 for a draft beer, $155 for paella.

The now-shuttered sidewalk café has long been the poster child for complaints about scammy restaurants on Miami Beach's craziest, most argued-over promenade. For years, tourists have griped that they've been stuck with hefty bills after ordering items whose prices were left off the menu of Ocean Drive establishments.

After one too many people paid $120 for an appetizer, Miami Beach has finally stepped in with a dramatic solution — issuing guidelines for menus and requiring city approval for every one of them. Restaurants now must list prices, along with terms and conditions for specials. Service charges have to be spelled out in at least 14-point font. The name of the restaurant also has to be prominently displayed.

In the upside-down-world of Ocean Drive, these were things that actually had to be spelled out. Customers frequently complained that they were blindsided by bills after being enticed by a hostess hawking two-for-one drinks or other deals. In some cases, the prices for specials weren't on the menu and came out to hundreds of dollars, though everything else on the menu was priced in about the $20 range.
click to enlarge CITY OF MIAMI BEACH
City of Miami Beach

"We're trying to ensure that the customer has clarity on what they're about to pay and that they know," Commissioner Mark Samuelian said when the measure was discussed in an April meeting. "That is the basic principle."

Just a few bad actors have ruined the reputation of all of Ocean Drive's restaurants, he and other commissioners say. The new menu rules were created with the support of the Ocean Drive Association and the Chamber of Commerce.

Now, city leaders say they're starting to get the problem under control. In January, City Manager Jimmy Morales ordered La Baguette to close. He cited employees selling alcohol to minors, allowing customers to take alcohol off the property, and not properly disclosing prices. The restaurant will remain closed until it comes up with a menu that meets the city's new requirements.

Commissioners in April voted in favor of the ordinance proposed by Samuelian to require city approval and set rules for sidewalk café menus. During a commission meeting on Monday, they approved menu design guidelines. 

The city will start enforcing the new rules in the mixed-use entertainment district on October 1 and in all other zoning districts on January 1 to allow sidewalk café owners time to submit menus to the city for review.

Don't worry: Those giant slushy drinks with two beers sticking out of them are still perfectly legal on the new menus.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Brittany Shammas is a former staff writer at Miami New Times. She covered education in Naples before taking a job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. She joined New Times in 2016.
Contact: Brittany Shammas