The Specials is an ongoing series of interviews with the unsung heroes of hospitality — from managers, waiters and sommeliers to dishwashers, farmers and foragers.
Marie Dencker is the manager at Medvind, a restaurant located in Hantsholm, a coastal town in northwestern Denmark.
My first job was like restaurant bootcamp
I went to Oslo after high school and got a job waiting tables at the biggest restaurant in Norway. It was a crazy place to work. There were 600 seats inside, 200 outside and three kitchens. The pace was relentless. You had to have so much in your head and always felt like you were behind. It’s still the hardest restaurant job I’ve ever had — but I learned how to do everything the right way and have taken that on to every job since.
As a student, I waited tables on a ferry
I got a degree in public health and during the summer holidays, I worked in a restaurant aboard a ferry between Denmark and Norway. We were on our feet for many hours and worked 14 days in a row, so the job taught me a lot about stamina. As we were in international waters, we didn’t have to pay income tax, so having that job meant I didn’t have to work much during the university year and could focus on my studies.
Surfing is what lured me to the other side of Denmark
Last year, a friend of mine moved to Thy. We like to surf and because the surfing’s great there, I visited her a few times. Another friend told me that Emilie [Qvist] was going to open a restaurant in Hantsholm. I was like, that’s interesting. I’ve worked in hospitality before, I want to move to Thy. I’ll give her a call and see if she needs anyone. She offered me the manager’s role, so I quit my job in Copenhagen and moved to Thy three weeks before Medvind opened.
The first impressions of a restaurant are crucial
My approach to running the front of house is mostly to do with how guests are received and the vibes they pick up when they enter the restaurant. The vibes between my colleagues have to be very good because the guests can feel that. They should feel like we’re having fun because if we look like we’re having a good time, the guests will have an even better time. We make sure that everybody says hi to the guests when they come in. We all do that, including Emilie in the kitchen, so that everybody feels welcome.
Keeping things under control is the key to having fun
That may sound like a contradiction in terms because control doesn’t usually equate to fun — but I think it provides more room for it. For everybody in the restaurant to have fun, they need to know what's happening. Everything needs to be under control. It can't be chaotic because then everyone working in the restaurant will feel that and be stressed. When you know that everything is under control, you can relax and have a good time.
I’ve thought a lot about how to be a good boss
Right now we have two waiters, Ida and Kirstine, who are both amazing. Ida has been a bar manager and a waiter for many years but Kirstine has never waited tables before. They both look to me for answers and I want to feel I can provide them. I also want them to feel that when they get up in the morning, knowing they have to go to work at Medvind, they feel excited and look forward to it — and that has a lot to do with how we treat each other. I don't try to change who they are. I try to welcome it instead.
I recently did a course on feminine leadership
There's a lot of masculine energy in the hospitality industry. It’s all about execution — “you have to do this, then this, then this” — and the best employees are the ones who can work 16 hours in a row without complaining. I don’t want any of my employees to feel that way. I try to go about it a different way and allow them to have a bad day, to cry, and to feel the way they feel. Of course, the masculine energy is there when we're busy and we have to execute, but I like that as well.
At Medvind, we attract a lot of women with our energy
We’ve had so many people wanting to work with us this year because they could see on our social media channels how much fun we have. It definitely makes a difference that we’re all women. Something magical happens when women come together and create a space where being a woman is allowed and is considered. There's a different energy, different humour. I hope that more people will be inspired by Medvind and how we’re showing that working in this industry can be different and that you can have a lot of fun.
I’m a qualified sexologist now
I took my final exam in April and start full-time at the end of Medvind’s summer season. A sexologist is a therapist who talks to people about their sex life, sexuality, gender, and so on. Essentially, it involves talking to them about things they probably don't talk to that many people about — things that are off-limits or taboo.
Training as a sexologist has made me a better manager
When I first meet clients, I don't know anything about them. It's the same in a restaurant. I don't know who our guests are beforehand but I try to treat everybody the same but different. I’ve also learned a lot about interpersonal relationships and sharpened my sense of how guests are feeling. I have a pretty sharp eye for diners who are looking uncomfortable, body language-wise, and can sense if I need to talk to them in a different way or do something different. Making people feel seen and validated is a big part of the job. You can always make unhappy guests happy by making them feel seen.
As told to Superb. The interview has been edited for clarity and concision.