I just spent about a week in South Beach, and judging from my experiences there, Miami must be having some sort of competition to see who can provide the worst service. Or is it just some new trend I'm not aware of? Since most restaurants include the gratuity with the bill, do the servers feel they just don't have to try very hard because they know they'll get tipped regardless?
My eating experiences started off okay: dinner at Sushi Samba on Lincoln Rd. The server was professional and made some good recommendations. When we found out that the lobster tempura roll was not available, she said that the sushi chef could make us something similar with shrimp. My party enjoyed the food - I particularly liked the yellowtail jalapeno roll and the toro was pretty good.
The next day I had lunch at the Van Dyke Café and had a similar decent experience. Good, tasty burger, friendly service and a pleasant experience sitting on the sidewalk in the sun.
However, at dinner our luck changed. We returned to Sushi Samba (we were entertaining business clients, and felt it was a dependable option). Except for the food, this time the restaurant felt like an entirely different place. Our main server was very friendly, but not especially attentive. Sometimes it took 15 minutes for the drinks we ordered to arrive. Also, while three in our party ate sushi, one opted for the churrasco plate. The sushi arrived promptly (including several appetizers as well as the maki and nigiri items that made up our main course) but the churrasco plate arrived a full half-hour after we finished the sushi. But the worst part was an incident with some edamame we ordered. We ordered a single order and were surprised when the "assistant server" plopped two bowls on our table. We told him that we only ordered one, but it was okay and we'd take the two. He just scowled, shrugged and walked away. We dug into both bowls and a few minutes later the assistant server returned and snapped "You only ordered one edamame!" and snatched the bowl away from the table after we'd dug our fingers in the bowl and eaten about 10 pods. We then watched in disbelief and amusement as he plopped the bowl on an adjacent table.
The next day we had lunch at the Cuban restaurant on Collins across the street from the Delano. Granted, I wasn't expecting the greatest service or food here (the previous year I waited at their walkup window for 10 minutes before walking away empty handed, trying to order a coffee while workers walked past without looking at me). However, it was convenient and I just wanted a decent Cuban sandwich (which I got). Our party of three stood inside the entrance near the "Wait to be seated" sign for a few minutes as servers walked past without looking at us or greeting us. Finally I stopped one and said, "We'd like to sit in your smoking section. Where can we sit?" The waitress said, "Anywhere you like." We grabbed a table near the window, which seemed relatively clean but had no silverware. A few minutes later, a waiter walked up to an empty table in the room next to us and put place settings on it. We asked if he could set up our table and he said, "Sit here." We said we liked the table we had and then he bruskly said, "Then you'll have to wait five minutes." Anyway, we finally got our place settings. Other complaints: I was given a dirty water glass and one of our party requested a sandwich without mustard, which was ignored.
That night I was invited to dinner at the Tides Hotel. Even though one of the people in my party is an employee of Chris Blackwell, who owns the hotel, we encountered lousy service here as well. The list of complaints is too long to list here, but it included things like the waitress deciding on her own to cancel my order for a glass of chardonnay because she noticed I was trying a glass of the cabernet that someone else at the table ordered. Like at Sushi Samba, our party was often ignored for long periods of time. I thought the food was good, although the blue marlin that I ordered arrived at the table rather lukewarm.
At lunch the next day I probably had my worst dining experience of the whole trip. Having done some research on cheap places to eat before my trip (I compiled a list of recommendations for a magazine I write for - Chowhound, New Times, Citysearch and other websites were my resources), I remembered a few recommendations for San Loco Tacos. Being a Californian, I was jonesing for some comfort food, but my experience was not comforting at all. After a short wait in the ordering line, I reached the front. The waitress didn't greet me and wouldn't even look at me. I told her my order (a chicken burrito with beans, serious sauce, a side of guacamole and a coke) and she wrote it down and repeated it to me. So far so good - she was a bit cold and distant but it wasn't like I was expecting her to be my new best friend or anything. When my order arrived, I noticed that my paper-wrapped burrito looked much smaller than what I am accustomed to in Cali. When I opened the wrapper, I realized it wasn't a burrito but a taco instead (the ingredients were in a small tortilla folded in half, not fully enclosed in a large tortilla), and the beans I specified (and was charged for) were missing. I walked back to the waitress and said, "I think you made a mistake. I ordered a chicken burrito." She barked, "That's a burrito!" Frustrated I replied, "This is a taco, not a burrito!" Her reply: "That IS a burrito!" When I mentioned the missing beans, she scooped me a small cup of refried beans and slapped it on my tray. The food was okay and filling, but not at all what I expected. At least now I know why the word "loco" is in the restaurant's name. I'm definitely never going to recommend this place to anyone just for the rude service alone.
Even the fancy hotels suffered from lousy service. Lunch at the Blue Door in the Delano: great lobster club sandwich (though the bread disintegrated too quickly) but the waitress was out to lunch. She failed to bring us place settings and she messed up a couple orders. Similar experience at the Loew's: I enjoyed the massive patty melt, but the waitress disappeared after my food was served. I needed another drink and waited at least 20 minutes before I could order one. At least the view of the sunbathers by the pool made the wait worthwhile.
There was one major exception to Miami's lousy service trend, and that was directly next door to San Loco at Le Sandwicherie. I dropped by here with some friends at about 3 AM after going out clubbing, and I was pleasantly surprised by both the quality of the food and the friendliness of the service. It's too bad that I got around to trying this place the night before I left. Needless to say, I'll be eating there often the next time I return to South Beach.