Spotlight Interview: Jeff Banaszak, CFO at Creative Dining


Jeff Banaszak is CFO at Creative Dining Services, a food and hospitality company with 2,000 employees in 14 states serving hotels and conference center operations along with other industry sectors. His responsibilities include finance, purchasing and technology. Prior to joining Creative Dining, Jeff held executive positions in finance with Herman Miller and a school system in New Mexico. Jeff is a nationally recognized leader in cloud-based technology and has recently been featured for the redesign of the Creative Dining finance system. Jeff shared his experiences with Creative Dining’s deployment of new technology capabilities, including a cloud financial management solution that streamlines hotel back-office processes and enhances financial visibility and now also works in partnership with a state-of-the-art menu planning and mobile ordering platform.

How did the pandemic impact your business? 

In March, 2020, a number of our facilities closed and one year later, we are still down about 30% in volume.  All of our college and university accounts are open, but many students are only taking classes remotely and food service volume is down. Most of our business and industry accounts are closed or partially-open and these accounts are the main factor for our reduction in volume. Thankfully, we have picked up several new accounts during this period. We have also had some accounts reach record levels of service, including Pfizer and Kraft.

How did technology help you navigate the challenges brought on by COVID-19?

Thanks to our move to the all cloud Sage Intacct system two years ago, we were well prepared on the afternoon of March 16, 2020 when we evacuated our corporate offices and all staff started to work from home. As I reviewed our emails from that week, it was a time of great fear and uncertainty as we were all experiencing for the first time a very real pandemic.  One thing we did not have to worry about was our accounting system, which is the foundation for our large organization with over 70 locations in 14 states. The move to working from home was virtually seamless, and we even gained some efficiencies.

The day after the office was evacuated, our senior staff set up a crisis center in our largest conference room and I pulled up our Sage Intacct Dashboards on the large monitor, and we went to work managing the crisis. Thanks to our ability to use real-time financial information to make quick decisions, we were able to manage the crisis as well as possible. It also helped that our managers have been using these Dashboards for the last few years and were well-educated on our financial numbers, who then were able to educate our clients better. The end result was that we were able to negotiate quickly with our clients and find mutually beneficial solutions to navigate the pandemic.

Our intricate understanding of our company finances also allowed us to offer free health care for four month to all of our laid off employees. This was probably one of the most amazing outcomes of the pandemic and our employees were amazed and grateful. Are old system was QuickBooks and there was little chance we could have had the confidence to make such a generous decision during a time of crisis. But thanks to our efficient financial process with Sage Intacct, we had the confidence to make this big decision.

What specific benefits did you see that technology helped with in the past year? 

I’ve always been a great fan of Sage Intacct, as the cost is very reasonable compared to the amount of features provided. In our organization, we process invoices for approval via Sage Intacct, along with providing Dashboards for each of our locations. These two key functions provide massive efficiencies and are particularly useful during a time most managers are working at home. This year we moved to a 100% electronic payment of invoices and the days of printing paper checks is coming to an end. Finally, our close process takes about five days each month, but once we started working at home and were communicating so well, we found out we could close the books in four and even three days now.

How will Creative Dining Services leverage Sage Intacct as hotels and conference venues as well as corporations return to normal life?

The use of mobile ordering of meals to go is growing rapidly in our industry and we have partnered with a new vendor that is providing us with a state-of-the-art menu planning and mobile ordering platform. We were planning to roll this out before the pandemic hit, but we accelerate this effort and it has grown to be a huge competitive advantage for our company.

Why is implementing technology in the hospitality industry important, especially in a post-pandemic world?

The key trends are touchless payment, self-ordering at registers, and mobile ordering via phones.  The additional need for safety has joined the on-going labor shortage, so the future is moving forward much rapidly. Having solved our finance platform with Sage Intacct for the foreseeable future, we can now focus on other areas and Creative Dining is well on the way to meeting this future.

Any thoughts on where the hospitality industry is headed post-pandemic?

The pandemic accelerated the key trends in our industry — the user-centric move towards touchless payment, self-ordering at registers, and mobile ordering via phones. The emphasis on safety during the pandemic pushed these solutions forward even more rapidly.  One issue that was highlighted during the intensity of the pandemic months, is the value of a good technology partner. The promise of a new application does not always align with the reality of this application in the field. Having a good partner to both help implement this application, and help it perform to expectations, is critical.

Finally, we are seeing a lot of in-house food providers start to outsource food for the first time ever.  Again, labor shortage is a key driver, along with the need to heighten safety standards. A secondary issue is the need to upgrade and implement a modern Point of Sale (POS) system. A lot of organizations understandably don’t have the experience and expertise to make these purchases, and look to food and hospitality contractors to provide this leadership.