Eye-to-eye with waiters

samfloy~30 November 2019 /Denmark

I was chatting on the phone with my friend this week and he asked what it’s been like settling into life in Denmark. Does it feel weird etc.?

My response was that I’m getting an average of one “huh, that’s interesting” moment a week.

This week it came from being out at dinner with my girlfriend and her parents.

We sat down at our table and the waiter (probably mid-20s) came over, took our order and almost immediately started a chummy conversation about the different options on offer that day.

Friendly waiters aren’t anything new, but the one thing absent that you might experience elsewhere was deference.

He was very charming and made everyone laugh, but it also felt that he’d have no issue telling us “don’t be an idiot, that wine doesn’t go with this dish” rather than “an excellent choice, sir”.

Fair pay

Waiters get a decent salary for working in bars/ restaurants (£12-17/ hour) which means everyone working there is pretty comfortable.

What’s more, because a lot of Danish students don’t finish their studies until their late 20s, many have part-time jobs (often as waiters). As such the person serving your dishes is likely to have high education, and so would probably be at ease talking about particular subjects that might come up with the diners.

In our case, we were off to the ballet afterwards and our waiter mentioned a performance he’d seen recently which he’d recommend.

The Danish attitude towards tipping that I’ve learnt is “why bother?”.

Indeed, in this guide to tipping (and everything I’ve experienced eating out with Danes) is that you only tip in exceptional circumstances. Our guy didn’t get a tip.

I’m not totally sure what’s going on with the dynamic, but some combination of getting paid regardless of what the diner thinks of you (i.e. you’re not “working for the tip”) brings with it a sense of self-assurance when it comes to the serving.

Almost as if it’s “these people don’t validate my worth” means there’s greater equality between diner and waiter.

That servers are potentially university undergraduates means there might be a sense of “intellectual equality” between the parties, though when I was a student with a part-time waiter job, my colleagues and I still played the subservient role.

My sense is there’s something else at play here, though I can’t quite put my finger on it.

One remedy is to conduct research by going out to dinner more, but the flip side of well-paid waiters is that eating out easily costs +50% of what I was used to in London and so won’t be a particularly sustainable practice…


In other news…

I thought this was an interesting story about Gabon (in Central Africa) striking a deal with Norway to get paid to preserve its rainforest. 


This post originally featured in the weekly newsletter I write. If you’d like to sign up to receive it every Saturday (usually there’s some interesting links, thoughts etc.), you can do so below: