At 11 p.m., the room drops into an abyss. Though the kitchen is still technically open, the night is over. Chris averages out the tips and figures he'll come home with $150. Not too shabby for three hours of hustling. Chris works as many shifts as he can, and on a busy day, he says he can make double this. Add a few high rollers a month and Chris can make about $50,000 after taxes.

Though the take-home is almost the same as at the breakfast joint, there are fewer hours and more downtime. Moreover, Chris uses the connections he makes at the restaurant to further his income stream. "I work with the bouncers at the clubs here in South Beach," he confides. "If there's a group of high rollers at one of my tables and they want to go out, I hook them up. In return, I get taken care of, let's just say."


Juan Carlos Lopez, J.C. for short, is a waiter at GreenStreet, a Coconut Grove brunch joint on Main Highway. J.C. came to the United States from Honduras 25 years ago and started bussing tables at diners. He started at GreenStreet in 1993 and has been working the brunch circuit ever since.

Illustration by Jen Hsieh
Illustration by Jen Hsieh

Indeed, J.C. is iconic. Many people are willing to wait to sit at one of his tables, even with the promise of immediate seating elsewhere."I like what I do. I like to serve people," he tells me as we wait for the server meeting to start.

J.C. tells me he has a twin brother who works at another restaurant. They live together in Coconut Grove. "I can walk to work," he says. "I have enough money to go on vacation and buy nice furniture. I just bought a new flat-screen television. There's nothing better."

Waiting tables is in some ways like being a pediatrician or a teacher: "I serve these families. They come to me. They come to J.C. I've seen babies grow up and even get married. This is my family."

Nancy is one of J.C.'s regulars. Wearing a velour tracksuit and in her mid-50s, she explains that she used to live in the Grove but recently moved to New York. After asking J.C. for an omelet and a juice, she says that she's here just for the weekend but that she visits GreenStreet and J.C. whenever she gets the chance. Nancy eats quickly and leaves a $15 tip for a $30 check.

Paul and Terry live only a few blocks away and come in every Sunday. When they walk in, J.C. brings coffee and skim milk without bothering to ask what they want. They're regulars too. For them, the familiar is comforting. Why come to the same place each week? "You always know what you're going to get," he says. They leave a $7 tip on a $35 check.

J.C. is 50 years old and doesn't look in great shape, but that's deceptive. He moves faster than other servers half his age. For him, this job is the American dream. Working five shifts a week and taking into account a good season, J.C. tells me he can make $70,000 a year.

He's worked hard at this job, making friends and steady customers. For many, it's not the food that draws people to GreenStreet. It's the people.

I spoke with dozens of guests on a recent morning. There was single refrain when I asked folks why they came: "The restaurant and J.C. are like family."

Miami has gone through so many changes in its short municipal life that continuity in any form can be a real draw — for servers and for patrons.


Latin Burger & Taco, where the Russian beauty made a run for the casino after getting her order, was one of the first food trucks on the Miami scene when it opened two years ago. The rolling eateries have advantages over traditional restaurants: They're mobile, so they don't have to pay high-priced leases. And though food charges can be steep — a macho burger goes for $6.25 and a taco trio for $10 — workers I spoke with are generally paid just a couple of bucks above minimum wage.

When I began work on the truck this fall, I quickly learned that it was far smaller than it appeared from the outside — and much hotter. It didn't help that it was about 89 degrees outside. The griddle and fryer made it feel like a small metal box heated to about 350 degrees. I was the fourth person onboard. In the back, Juan Carlos, the prep guy (no relation to the GreenStreet waiter), was preparing dozens of meat patties. Michael, the cook, had the grill fired up, and Steve, the expediter, was ready to show me what to do. I would be taking Steve's place.

I quickly learned to use the cash register and the credit card machine and was thrown into the fray. At 6:10, I was into my shift. The evening started slowly, thankfully, when a guy in his early 20s with striking blue eyes walked up. As he was waiting for his meal, he told me his name, Doran, and that he's studying to be a chef; he showed me a picture of himself with well-known Miami restaurateur Michelle Bernstein. When I handed him his food, he put three bucks in the tip jar for a $12 check.

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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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