THE WELCOME VERSUS UNWELCOME TOURIST
By Fred Brauer
WELCOME TO FLORIDA! The Sunshine State!! Every year approximately 60 million people from around the country and the world see this sign as they enter our beloved state with visions of powder white beaches, palm trees, shimmering blue water and tasty tropical cocktails dancing in their heads. Most years, Florida can claim “The #1 Tourist Destination in the World” prize!
Having been a resident of Florida for a little over a decade and, an employee in various service based industries, I have had the opportunity to observe the tourist population in action year after year. The vast majority of those that visit Florida every year are decent, responsible, fun loving people and, we’re glad to accommodate them!
As pleased as we are that you chose our state to spend your valued vacation in, there are a few things we would like you to remember and be respectful of while you are here. This is our home. We live here 365 days a year. Unlike most other states in the USA, we have many issues that pertain directly to the tourist industry such as the environment, traffic and driving and hospitality.
When visiting Florida, especially in the winter months, please, be courteous and alert behind the wheel …....and the handle bars!! One of the biggest pet peeves Floridians have is drivers from all over causing havoc on the roads. Remember, you’re on vacation, slow down, relax! You’ll get there!! Don’t tailgate like the beach is going to disappear before you get there!! I lost count years ago of the rear end collisions, involving cars with out of state tags, that I have seen on Florida roads! We have 2 main interstates in Florida, routes 75 and 95 that run north to south. The speed limit on these roads is 70 mph, with most vehicles traveling much faster than that. In all honesty, most people on 75 & 95 travel at an average of 75 to 80 mph. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT get onto 75 or 95 and drive 45 mph...especially in the left lane!! Maybe back home in Battle Creek, Michigan you’re used to driving 45 mph all the time, but, Floridians are using 75 & 95 to get to work, daily. When you go too slow, you jam up traffic and people start lane hopping to get around you. You cause accidents behind you! If you must drive below the speed limit...get in the right lane and stay there.
Bicycles and bicycle rentals, especially on the beaches, are very popular in Florida. This is a great way to travel around the beach areas cheaply without worrying about parking or slow moving auto traffic. Bear this in mind. Florida ranks #1 in cyclist injuries and fatalities every year!! Yes, the bicyclist always has the right of way, however, this does NOT mean that you can peddle it wherever you please whenever you please as if there is an invisible “tourist shield” around you!! Right of way means nothing after you’ve had 4 Pina Coladas and peddle through a red light or stop sign and get run over by a Porsche!!
You have come to a place that has some of the most beautiful beaches and parks in the
world! There’s a reason for that. We clean them, constantly and, it costs a lot of money to do so. Every year Florida removes tons (yes literally tons) of garbage from its beaches. One year, Sarasota and Manatee counties, on the Gulf Coast of Florida, actually collected all the cigarette butts from several beaches in both counties during one week in March. The final tally for that one cleanup effort was over 3,000,000 cigarette butts collected in 4 days!!! Try to picture a pile of 3,000,000 ciggy butts on your lawn at home! Not pretty is it? There’s an old saying, “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints”. There are all kinds of wonderful creatures in our waters, shellfish, urchins sand dollars etc. Don’t take live ones!!! We know there are fascinating creatures in the water that you have never seen, but when you remove them and take them back to your rental or hotel room, they die and you have contributed to damaging the fragile ecosystem. Remember, millions of people visit that beach. What if every one of them does that? There is plenty of literature to inform you of what beach treasures you CAN take.
After a day of sun and fun, most likely, you are ready for a nice dining experience! We are ready for you and we work very hard at providing you with the best dining experience we can. After working as a server and bartender in Florida for many years, this is something I know a lot about! Granted, everyone, at some point, has had a bad meal, a bad server or an overall horrible dining experience. It happens. There are some things I wish to point out. First and foremost, remember, you may not find your favorite dish made just the way it is “back home”. Trust me on this! I was born and raised in Maryland. I haven’t had an authentic, real “Maryland Crab Cake” since I left Maryland. When in Rome?? You may also have a hard time finding a real “Philly Cheese Steak” or “Russian Caviar”. Then again, when I visit Pittsburgh, I don’t expect to find an authentic “Grouper Sandwich”! You get my point.
Tip your server!! If you got good service, pay for it, please! The average “paycheck” for a server in Florida is around $100. That’s not much! Server hourly wages are set for tax purposes and are well below standard minimum wage. Servers work for tips, and, they work hard. They work very hard! Every kitchen in every restaurant I ever worked in hovered around 90 degrees and typically, restaurants fill with customers in a matter of minutes at dinner and lunch time. The term “multi-tasking” doesn’t begin to describe the effort required to make hundreds of swarming, hungry, thirsty dinner guests all happy at the same time! Yes, your dining experience is very important to us, just remember, you’re not the only guest in the place. “Quality” food and beverage takes time. You will not get a broiled seafood platter or a medium well filet mignon served to you 10 minutes after you order it during a dinner rush! You are also not likely get a Gold Margarita with a Grand Marnier float and salted rim delivered to your table 3 minutes after you order it! If your server DOES serve everything prepared to your satisfaction, in a timely, friendly and gracious manner....tip accordingly. Minimum gratuity is 15%. If you can afford a $100 meal, you can afford a $15 tip.
Florida relies heavily on tourism and, we have a lot to offer to tourists. Quite frankly, it’s beautiful here. That’s why I live here. As I said in the beginning, the vast majority of our visitors are very nice, wonderful, responsible WELCOME visitors.
We do get UNWELCOME visitors, however. This is our home. We live here, all year. If you come here and and cause accidents on our roads, drop pounds of garbage in your wake, disturb and damage the ecosystem, cause havoc and damage in our restaurants and hotels and motels and have a negative impact on our environment, the money you do spend becomes irrelevant. You end up costing us money and that makes you an UNWELCOME visitor.
Most of Florida is picturesque and beautiful. We work hard and spend a lot of money to keep it that way. “Take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints”. Have a great time, enjoy yourself, respect our home while you’re here and we will be more than happy to welcome you back again and again!!