Food Industry

"America's Worst Restaurant" Hit With Class-Action Lawsuit Over Unpaid Wages

Ocean Drive
Ocean Drive Wikimedia Commons/Chensiyuan
A federal judge has approved a class-action lawsuit led by Roberta Didoni alleging Ocean Drive's Columbus Restaurant failed to pay servers minimum wage while taking cuts from the waiters' tip pool and forcing them to pay for credit card chargebacks — the unpaid tabs of patrons who walked away from their tables.

"A number of these people weren't even paid an hourly wage; they just worked for tips," says Didoni's attorney, Robert W. Brock II, of the Law Offices of Lowell J. Kuvin.

According to court documents, Didoni also regularly worked in excess of 40 hours a week.

Attorneys and owners of Columbus Restaurant did not respond to requests for comment.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, restaurants are permitted to pay tipped workers below minimum wage as long as their total hourly pay combined with tips meets or exceeds the federal minimum wage. Only then can an establishment decide to implement a service charge and take a percentage to cover expenses such as credit card fees.

It remains unclear how many workers have joined the lawsuit. However, an order by U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga filed September 20 indicates Didoni said in an affidavit that she knew "of approximately 40 other servers at the restaurant who were subject to the same policies and procedures she was."

Such issues are nothing new for Ocean Drive.

"Many of the restaurants on Ocean Drive push the envelope as far as how little they can pay their tipped employees, and according to our clients and our beliefs, Columbus is one them," Brock says.

Improving the iconic thoroughfare of pastel art deco structures has been a major initiative for the City of Miami Beach as reports of violence, price-gouging, and out-of-code facilities have run rampant. This past January, City Manager Jimmy Morales closed La Baguette following claims that employees were selling alcohol to minors, allowing customers to take alcohol off the property, and not properly disclosing prices. Earlier this summer, the city commission passed legislation issuing guidelines for Ocean Drive restaurants' menus and requiring their approval by the city. Among the stipulations are clearly listed prices, along with terms and conditions for specials. Service charges must be spelled out in at least 14-point font, and the name of the restaurant has to be clearly displayed.

Meanwhile, problems at Columbus Restaurant don't seem to be anything new. In 2013, the website the Daily Meal dubbed it the worst restaurant in America, when it was named Colony Restaurant, atop a list compiled and based on consistently poor internet reviews that seemed to show a lack of good service, sanitation, and food.

Two years later, a video emerged on YouTube of a British tourist claiming he and his wife weren't given prices and then intimidated into paying $300 for paella, a couple of drinks, and a beer.
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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson