Chief Financial Officer, Creative Dining Services
Future of Work - Employee Experience
Dissatisfied with the quality of university food service contractors, Hope College and Calvin College in Michigan collaborated in 1990 to create Creative Dining Services. Nearly 30 years later, the company is recognized for its personalized, innovative, and high quality approach to hospitality.
With rapid growth, Creative Dining today serves more than 70 client locations across 12 states, including Fortune 100 companies such as GM, Kraft-Heinz, and Pfizer, as well as universities, senior living facilities, conference venues, and more. The Michigan-based company employs over 1,800 people and nets annual revenue of over $100 million. It’s noted for progressive programs in sustainability, allergen-free foods, farm-to-table products, waste reduction, and employee development.
Until 2017, Creative Dining’s accounting practices didn’t match the high caliber of its creative food service offerings. An outdated QuickBooks application was prone to crashes because of high data volumes, and was poorly suited to scale with the company’s rapid growth.
Creative Dining staff at client locations spent over 350 hours a week manually entering data into Google Sheets to produce P&L reports. Those reports would be submitted to corporate accounting and compared against corporate records in QuickBooks. Inevitable differences between the two data sets meant more time manually reconciling financial data for both corporate and client site staff, without confidence in which numbers were correct.
Frustration among finance personnel was high, especially as Creative Dining continued adding clients and increasing the accounting workload. Plus, the company found it difficult to hire programmers with the specialized skills needed to maintain a homegrown 10-year-old accounts payables system.
“We had grown too big for QuickBooks,” said Banaszak. “Creative Dining planned to continue growing rapidly and we knew we needed a new accounting system."
Financial information was inconsistent and out of date, and the business lacked visibility to pursue business objectives. Moreover, accounting was a back-office “bean counter” function, with little time to think about more strategic, client-facing initiatives.
Shortly after joining Creative Dining in 2016, Banaszak spearheaded a search for a modern, cloud-based financial management platform that could provide the capabilities the company needed.
After intensive research, the company selected Sage Intacct based on its rich reporting, straightforward customizability, flexibility, affordability, and ease of use. Numerous customer success stories, top ratings on the G2 Crowd software reviews website, and Sage Intacct’s endorsement by the AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) were also influential in Creative Dining’s decision.
Working with Maner Costerisan, a Michigan-based CPA and IT consulting firm, Creative Dining went live on Sage Intacct in February 2017.
Previously, Creative Dining struggled with extensive manual data entry and number crunching at both headquarters and at the 70+ client locations.
Creative Dining has completely transformed accounting by adopting a robust and flexible financial management platform. The leadership of Banaszak, who runs a nonprofit called Compassion Accounting and was previously financial controller at furniture company Herman Miller, was instrumental in success. Results include:
Improved customer service. Creative Dining staff at client locations can focus on front-of-house client needs because replacing manual Google Sheets work with automated accounting has generated massive time savings.
Real-time insights. Sage Intacct dashboards tailored to each site provide real-time visibility into key performance metrics, rather than the delays and outdated information of previous monthly reports. Drill-down to transactional detail enables them to quickly address any questions.
Informed decisions. With dashboard-driven insights, on-site and corporate staff are making informed decisions. In one example, the company adapted quickly once it saw that costs exceeded budget weeks after opening new operations in Detroit.
As Banaszak sums it up: “Before, the accounting and finance area was a bottleneck and hindrance to growth. Now, it’s a partner to growth. We have a creative back-office system to match our creativity at the front of the house.”
350 hours a week. By replacing the Google Sheets manual data entry with automated accounting, Creative Dining is saving five hours a week at each location — a total of 350 hours a week across the 70+ locations.
10 hours a week. Corporate accounting is no longer spending 10 hours a week reviewing and reconciling Google Sheets data against QuickBooks.
15 to 20 hours a week. The accounting department is saving between 15 to 20 a week by automating cash management of credit card and cash transactions, each of which was handled manually in the past.
$760K in cash flow. Real-time data on overdue invoices through Sage Intacct dashboards enabled Creative Dining to improve accounts receivable collections, generating $760,000 in new yearly cash flow.
$20K a year. Creating an invoice approval process in Sage Intacct has eliminated a $20,000 annual cost for a third-party application previously used.
2x faster monthly close. Creative Dining is now closing its monthly books in five days, vs. 10 days in the past.
20% reduction in accounting staff. Thanks to the huge time savings it’s realized, Creative Dining was able to reduce the corporate accounting team from five individuals to four by not filling a vacated position.
Growth with 20+ new locations. Creative Dining has added more than 20 new client locations since it switched to Sage Intacct in 2017, aided by the speed and simplicity of setting up new accounts.
Creative Dining runs the Sage Intacct cloud financial management platform.
To learn more about how Creative Dining's use of Sage Intacct, read more here:
The positive disruption that Creative Dining has achieved extends across the organization - right down to the food service director and administrative staff at each of the 70+ client locations.
Those on-site employees are newly empowered with financial savvy because of a creative “finance lead” initiative that Banaszak set in motion. Each member of the four-person accounting team is assigned to work with Creative Dining staff at assigned locations.
With regular on-site visits, accounting team members spend time understanding the challenges and needs of local operations. And they advise site administrators on financial performance, cost reductions, tracking data, and utilizing the Sage Intacct dashboards.
“We’ve been able to improve the financial literacy among our food service directors, many of whom are chefs who’ve been promoted over time,” Banaszak said. “That’s really helped us focus on improving profitability.”
In all, Creative Dining has roughly 150 users on Sage Intacct dashboards. As Banaszak notes, the “finance lead” initiative was made possible by the substantial time savings realized after upgrading from its manual processes.
And with time savings at each location, Creative Dining on-site personnel can focus not just on better customer service, but partnering with clients by participating in fund-raisers, hosting blood drives, sponsoring events, and offering complimentary picnics.
Banaszak is gratified by the impact on job satisfaction of his team. Frustration had been high and turnover averaged 25%. That’s reversed since staffers have a platform on which they can flex their creativity, grow their skills, and tackle new challenges. "Quite frankly, we saved the morale of our department,” Banaszak said. “Rather than having 25% turnover each year, everyone wants to stay due to the wonders of Sage Intacct and the ideas we have for the future."
About Your Organization
Creative Dining Services partners with colleges, universities, Fortune 100 companies, full-service senior living communities, healthcare organizations and conference centers to provide a different kind of hospitality and facility management services experience—one that’s fun, innovative, and focused on your community. Why? Because that’s how it should be.