The Great Debate of Our Age; Working as a Waitress- London vs. Copenhagen

By: Amy Greer

Let me preface this by saying; this is the last time I will work as a waitress. I'm 24, enough now.

Since coming to Denmark, I've been re-evaluating my entire life about 5 times per week day. I'm just your typical recent graduate, mid-20s looming, searching for a purpose, or at least a solution to pay the rent on time. I can't keep resorting to waitressing jobs as I stave off the reality staring me in the face: I should get a real job.

I don't mean to brag, but nobody works the casual end of the labour market like I do. It's not exactly a choice, or even the best choice for me, but with Irish and British economies how they are I've just gone with the flow and taken whatever work I can get.

Despite working my toosh off in college, I haven't managed to find a job related to my studies that suits my trajectory just yet, which kind of has something to do with why I'm in Denmark in the first place, taking a break and studying woodwork. I intend to start some voluntary work, get some 'real world' experience, but of course I need a paying job too.

In Denmark, if you don't speak Danish and aren't lucky enough to work in finance or business for a multi-national of some kind, the odds of getting a skilled job are slim. So many newcomers face months of unemployment and drained savings, or they just bite the bullet and get an unskilled job. I am no stranger to the latter, so I reluctantly figured some more of the same wouldn't hurt me.

I want to talk a bit about working in hospitality in Copenhagen, and how it differs from London, where I have the bulk of my waitering experience. Basically, London and Copenhagen are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to casual, or, as I like to call it, 'precarious' work. The minimum you can expect to be paid for a simple catering or waitering job can be as much as twice what you can hope to earn in London.

In London it is usual to lose a large proportion of tips to the TRONC system, which is an accounting system for taking that sneaky service charge (12.5% is standard on bills in London, watch out), siphoning off huge chunks of it, heavily taxing it, and cheekily presenting it to you as adequate compensation for 14 hour shifts and working every Sunday of the God-given year. In restaurants in Copenhagen tips are usually distributed amongst all staff evenly. Management, accountants and random HR personnel do not take a cut.

Labour legislation is a lot more stringent, and there is a mentality of fairness, cooperation and straight-forwardness that permeates work here. In London you will most certainly get called in to work at 6pm on a Friday evening, made to suffer with double weekend shifts for a month if you request a weekend day off, and face uncertain death if you call in sick because you are legitimately sick.

The 'Zero hour contract', fiddling you out of holiday pay, sly additions to your contract that are unfair and disempower the worker, the non-existence of unions, all commonplace in London. Life is certainly easier for the humble waiter in Copenhagen.

I know I've been slightly tongue in cheek here, but if I have to work evenings and weekends, I want to be doing something I enjoy. I'm fortunate enough to know these jobs are only a temporary stop for me, but for many, hospitality is their forever-job, the end of the job hunt. And it's no lie that waiters are some of the lowest earners in the formal labour market.

It is important to work in an environment where you get respect, have pride in your job, and, most important of all, get paid a reasonable, comfortably livable wage. For that reason, I am so glad that if I have to wait tables right now, I get to do it in Denmark. I'd like to say 'long may it last', but to be honest I'm really looking forward to getting out of the industry, into one with no apron included.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingAmy Greer is an Irish expat living in Denmark. Blog description: A blog by an Irish girl who used to live in London about studying, cycling and living in Copenhagen.
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