While the rest of the restaurant industry experiences a large turnover in the workforce, due to traditionally harsh working conditions, the small ochre-yellow, long standing Christianshavn cafe Færgecaféen, with captain Erik Frandsen at the helm has managed to build a healthy business where the guests return, and the staff stay. We met the former sailor to talk about creating a modern workplace while preserving old Danish traditions.
At Strandgade 50 in the heart of Christianshavn, lies what Captain Erik Frandsen himself refers to as his life's work, a building, and a ship that both bear the name Christianshavn Færgecafé. A meeting place for local Christianshavn residents, sailors, and food-loving guests from home and abroad, all of whom come enjoy traditional Danish food with a twist and to rinse their palates with homemade schnapps.
Beer has been served in the many bars in the maritime surroundings at Færgecaféen for more than 150 years, but it was only when Erik took over that the area started to be known for high quality cuisine.
“I took over Færgecafeen in 2013. Back then the place was a run-down pub. There were few guests, and it was a drinking and smoking dive. I wanted to change all that. I dreamed of making high-quality food that would attract all comers with an interest in traditional Danish food - but served with a modern spin," says captain Erik while sipping a homemade apple schnapps, which he claims is the best on the menu.
The atmosphere of the historic premises is felt immediately upon entering with Erik and his staff’s warm welcome. We meet Erik a few hours before opening time, but it’s not hard to imagine that in a few hours the place will be buzzing and full of customers enjoying lunch. You wonder how Erik managed to transform a run-down bodega into a successful restaurant.He puts his success down to three factors.
"We focus on creating a good dining experience, a good business, and a good working environment. None of the three can stand alone. You can't just be good at making money at the expense of quality and the working environment. If the working conditions are not in order, I get revolving door staff; and if the food doesn't taste good, I don't see the guests again."
A fully booked restaurant is proof of Erik’s success, with guests coming back again and again, tempted by his traditional Danish menu. And the employees? They also stick around, unlike the high turnover that characterizes the rest of the industry where kitchen staff leave a la carte restaurants in favour of working in office cantinas.
How do you keep hold of employees in a high turnover business? According to Erik retaining employees requires care and a focus on the individual worker: "One something positive to come out of corona it is that there has been even more focus on the working conditions, focus on the individual person and on retention. This applies both to us, but also to the industry in general.”
One of the initiatives Færgecaféen has launched in the wake of Corona is to put further focus on working conditions by, among other things, a flexible pension agreement at Grandhood:
"The restaurant industry is not known for high salaries, so it is important that we can offer something extra in the form of, for example, a pension. We have employees here of all ages. Some are students and part-time employees who are saving up for the big round-the-world trip, while others are here full-time and have children and a house. With the company pension agreement, I have made with Grandhood, my employees can choose for themselves regardless of employment, whether they want more pay or whether they want a pension. The students typically want everything paid out, while the elderly want to save for a pension, and I am pleased that I can offer my employees that flexibility."
Pensions are not the only area of focus in the Christianshavn restaurant, with a lot of work going in to create an even better moral amongst the staff.
“The tone in the restaurant industry is known to be harsh. That is why we have focused on the way we talk to each other. We should feel free to go in and talk to the chef, and we make sure we have each other's backs when guests are rude. We also work hard to be good at speaking up when problems arise, it provides reassurance. There must be room for everyone at Færgecaféen, and everyone must make room for everyone else.” Concludes the captain."