Miami Beach

Misleading specials and $55 cocktails could be a thing of the past on Ocean Drive

Miami Beach is regulating sidewalk cafe operators who don’t advertise prices or try to trick customers into ordering expensive food and drinks.
Miami Beach is regulating sidewalk cafe operators who don’t advertise prices or try to trick customers into ordering expensive food and drinks.

Miami Beach is cracking down on restaurants that prey on tourists with misleading sales tactics and overpriced drinks.

New city rules require restaurants to display prices for all food, drinks and specials, as well as any service charges, on menus at sidewalk cafe tables. The rules, incorporated into an existing city ordinance through an amendment that the Miami Beach City Commission passed unanimously on Wednesday, impose stiff penalties for restaurants that don't comply, enabling the city to revoke permits for sidewalk cafe tables and take away violators' business licenses.

The regulations come in response to complaints that some Ocean Drive restaurants trick customers into ordering expensive food and drinks at outdoor tables or fail to include prices on menus, hitting unsuspecting tourists with hefty bills. At a few restaurants on the popular South Beach street, a single cocktail can cost more than $50 and food specials can stick tourists with checks in the hundreds of dollars, the Miami Herald has found.

The rules aim to "improve the way some bad apples have been treating our customers on Ocean Drive," said Commissioner Mark Samuelian, who sponsored the amendment. "We’re trying to ensure that the customer has clarity on what they’re going to pay,” he added.

Business owners who spoke at the commission meeting said they supported the new rules, but were concerned about a provision that requires restaurants to submit menus to the city when applying for a sidewalk cafe permit. They said the requirement could prove onerous for restaurants that make frequent menu changes or offer daily specials. In response, the commission changed the wording of the amendment to make it clear that restaurants only need to submit a representative sample menu.

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The Miami Beach City Commission has given initial approval to new rules regulating sidewalk cafes. C.M. GUERRERO Miami Herald file 2017

An earlier version of the ordinance would also have required restaurants to display consumer protection laws on information cards at the outdoor tables, but this provision was removed over concerns from business owners that the cards might scare off visitors.

The new rules are part of an effort to improve Ocean Drive, Samuelian said. The future of the popular street has been the subject of heated debate in recent years. Last November, an effort to roll back alcohol sales from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. was rejected by voters.

"The Ocean Drive Association is dedicated to ensuring that our guests have a wonderful experience," association chairman Mike Palma said in an email. "By working with the City and Commissioner Samuelian's ordinance we are addressing the bad operators that use bait and switch tactics. We will continue to work on efforts that elevate and enhance this iconic global destination."

Miami Beach recently shuttered one of the Ocean Drive restaurants whose customers complained about being overcharged. The city closed La Baguette in January after an underage alcohol sting resulted in multiple citations, including for failing to disclose menu prices at sidewalk cafe tables. A city-appointed arbiter ruled last week that La Baguette must remain closed for a total of six months while the restaurant comes up with new city-approved menus and addresses alcohol-related code violations.