Soon, though, a line started forming, and by 6:30, I was in the weeds. About ten tickets were lined up over the grill. And it didn't matter how quickly I took the orders; things just kept backing up.

How the hell do people at Cheesecake Factory work with 30-page menus? There was a whole lingo I had to learn for the tickets: Two Latin Macho Burgers, a Burger Beast (a mammoth exercise in mass consumption), and large fries were 2Xmacho, 1BB, 1LF.

When things slowed down a bit, a deaf kid looking a little like Kurt from Glee — young and cute — approached. Clutching an iPhone and a glittery white wallet, he made some hand gestures that let me know he was mute. Then he pointed to his phone. He had written: "chicken tomatillo and a side of avocado dressing." Pretty simple. Except I rang it up as a chicken tomatillo taco and not a quesadilla. I got some backtalk in sign language. After I rewrote the ticket, he blew me a kiss and showed me his phone, where he'd written, "Thank you you're the best." Then he left two bucks for a $10 order. That equates to a big tipper in the food-truck game.

Illustration by Jen Hsieh
Illustration by Jen Hsieh

"Aren't you hot in there?" a customer asked as she bought $30 worth of food on her Visa card and generously added a buck for a tip.

"Uh, yes, I am hot." I felt grease embedding every pore of my body. Steve told me that when I got in my car at the end of the shift, I'd really be able to smell just how greasy and meaty I am. The only thing I thought about was a shower. And about a gallon of ice water.

At 9:30, the crowd died down considerably. And by 10, we filled out the last ticket of the night. Thank God. We were out of almost everything but burgers. No more chicken tomatillo, fish, Sprite, or Jupino. This had to be a good night, I thought, as I saw people putting dollars in the tip jar all evening.

As we closed the register, I counted the tips. There was $72.50 in there, including the tips from charges. I'd rung up $1,390 for the evening's service. That worked out to about 5 percent in tips, to be divided among four people. We each went home with less than $20.

Latin Burger's owner, Jim Heins, then walked over, checked out the tips, and pulled $80 from a roll of bills in his pocket. He said he always puts in a little something himself so the guys can at least go home with enough money to fill their cars with gas.

I asked Heins what the guys on the truck make, and he told me their pay was $8 to $10 per hour, depending on experience. He also noted, with a little headshake, that that's before taxes.

As I drove home, I got a whiff of myself and thought two things: My dogs were going to love me, and I needed to take a really long shower. But first, I had to stop at the nearest Walgreens to buy about ten bottles of ice-cold water.

The next day, I woke up with no aches or pains, which was a good sign. I felt great as I walked into the bathroom. Then I looked in the mirror. My face and chest were bright pink, my eyes were swollen shut, and my lips looked like I'd had collagen injections. It was a reaction to being near the heat from the griddle and fryer all night and a souvenir from working on the truck.

My total wages for the night: a whopping $70.62, far less than I'd earned in the restaurants.

How do food trucks find cooks and servers who put up with it?

They hire guys like Steven Korosi — the sometimes expediter, sometimes prep guy on Latin Burger — who are thankful for any kind of food job.

A year ago, Korosi was couch-surfing at a friend's house after his mother died and the construction engineering company she owned closed. Steve had been working for his mom while taking care of his father, who was diagnosed with dementia, when the bottom dropped out. Suddenly he was left without a job or a home.

"I found out that Latin Burger was hiring, and I've been here since," he says. The position has allowed him to get his own efficiency close to the Metrorail. Steve has a two-year degree in music education from Miami-Dade College and hopes to start teaching one day.

In the meantime, his work might be hot, awful, and poorly paid — even compared to other restaurant jobs — but you won't hear Korosi complaining from the back of his food truck.

"I've gone through a long stretch of tragedies and upheavals," he says. "The work at Latin Burger has allowed me to focus on getting by. Hey, in this economy? I'm just happy to be making any money at all."

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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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