Shauna Chapman is the only other server on duty this Sunday. Freshly 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 kid than the graduate student she is. She is shy but optimistic about her recent 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, four men and a woman, who just got off the night shift. Pete takes their food orders. This is the first of many times today that I'll hear a raucous struggle as some guest wants to substitute potatoes for tomatoes ($1 extra) or get a refill on their cup of coffee (75 cents). Sure, the no-substitution rule is handy for wait staff and chefs, but it irritates the patrons.

After about 45 minutes, the check comes, and the firefighters tip generously, 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."

Illustration by Jen Hsieh
Illustration by Jen Hsieh

An older man comes in with a much younger woman. It's hard to tell whether she's a daughter, niece, or girlfriend. He's dressed in khakis, a black Lacoste polo, and driving loafers. She's wearing a Rolex while Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses hold back her shiny, highlighted hair. The man gets coffee and a crab omelet; Miss Rolex 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. 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, people mostly 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 almost a dozen names are on the wait list. Pete and Shauna look less tired than bored. There are four hours to go.

Three retired men walk in, and there's a buzz. Rodney, the owner, says the man in the yellow is the former CEO of Roche Pharmaceuticals. With him are two other men of the same age, mid-60s. One says he's just come back 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 good 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 Solo 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 extinguishes his cigarette on the window in anger. 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 coffees, they pass around a black-and-white grainy picture. It's a sonogram of their first child. "This is the first naked picture of my daughter," jokes the proud father-to-be over 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 average security guard and nearly equal to a low-ranking beat cop.

Pete tells me he's worked at just about every high-end restaurant in Fort Lauderdale since coming to Florida nearly three decades earlier. Though he admits he could make more money working a dinner service, he considers O-B his place. "It might not be my restaurant, but it's my vision," he tells me. "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."


Red the Steakhouse is a very different kind of restaurant. It's one of the upscale eateries that have made SoFi — the once-ghetto, now-chichi area south of Fifth Street — into 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. It's a restaurant that's just right for dates and business meetings.

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8 comments
ted anthony inserra
ted anthony inserra

WHAT a great article, thanks Laine for that inside look in the rerstaurant business.  It is a well written article from the server point of view, very interesting!!

danton
danton

So I'm on a Mary higgins Clark book, and just returned a M.c Beaton one.This one is called Santa Cruise.The other one I just returned was called farewell to christmas.

VivlianWozz
VivlianWozz

Another restaurant cliaimed to use freshmozz arella cheese,where it's dishes were actually made with economycheddar.the "fresh pasta"advertieshed on another meau tumed out to befrozen.--Agedate. ℃⊙M--a nice and free placefor younger women and older men,or older women and younger men,to interact witheach other.

R. D. M.
R. D. M.

no one over 25 should be a waiter, get a real job and add something to the world.  

and as far as tipping, if your lifestyle hinges on whether I give you $5 or $10, you need another job

former waiter
former waiter

I don't tip at burger king, mcdonalds, or pretty much anywhere its self serve.  and food trucks are self serve.  there is no 'service'  you order food, and you pick it up.

-I don't tip for pickup at pizza hut either.

Why would anyone working on a food truck expect tips?  Do you tip at Macy's?   

FQS9000
FQS9000

Nice article, but it isn't a big surprise that working hard and knowing your job pays off.  It is also no surprise that some jobs pay better than others.  BTW, I never tip at fast food joints and TIPS stands for 'To ensure Prompt Service'.  Tipping fast food guys apparently gets you nothing unless you have big honkers.

danton
danton

I was just thinking of JWOWW and AMY FISHER....at least AMY has a porno.

danton
danton

so, last tuesday I moved a moving truck for 40 dollars, on thursday I did windows for 20, and yesterday I did trash removal and swept a gas station lot and removed cobwebs for a pack of ciggarettes and 5 dollars and 1 24 oz. natural light.Is that awesome?

 
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