Creative Dining is a food & hospitality contractor and serves colleges & universities, Fortune 500 companies, senior living facilities, and camps & conference centers. The company has grown consistently over the years and is now in 14 states. In March, 2020, a number of our facilities closed due to the pandemic, and this was a test of our new cash management system.

Thanks to our move to cloud-based Sage Intacct system two years ago, we were well prepared on the afternoon of March 16, 2020 when we evacuated our corporate offices and staff started to work from home. As I reviewed our emails from that week, it was a time of great anxiety 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. The move to working from home was virtually seamless, and we even gained some new 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 Finance 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, who have been using these Dashboards for the last few years and were well-educated on our financial numbers, 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 our laid-off employees. This was probably one of the most amazing outcomes of the pandemic and our employees were amazed and grateful. Our old accounting system was QuickBooks, and there was little chance we could have had the confidence in the past to make such a generous decision during a time of crisis. But thanks to our efficient and quick financial process with Sage Intacct, we had the confidence to make this big decision.

“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”

As any food & hospitality contractor, managing cash flow is critical to staying profitable. Since we pay upfront all the labor and food expenses for our operations and then are reimbursed by our clients, the speed of getting our cash back is a high priority. Thanks to our investment in a new accounting system, we had three key areas for our success in managing cash flow:

Faster Month End Close - Before we upgraded to a modern accounting system, closing the accounting books and generating client invoices was a long and tedious process. It did not help that we were adding new accounts each year and this compounded our struggles. Staff were frequently getting burned out from the growing workload. Investing in a modern system, with a multitude of time saving modules such as automatically reconciling bank transactions, helped us dramatically speed up our month end close and then get the invoices out faster to the clients for quick payment.

Finance Dashboard - each of our 70 plus locations have access to a Finance Dashboard with real time transactions, including copies of actual receipts for all spending items. Our managers are constantly reviewing transactions during the month and correct any issues that may arise. By the end of the month, there should be few, if any, issues and the client invoices can then be processed and sent out quickly for payment

Finance Dashboards for Senior Leaders - All of our senior leadership have access to these same Finance Dashboards for each unit and they can also evaluate performance in real time. In addition, all outstanding client invoices are listed on the Dashboard, and if an invoice remains unpaid the senior leader can download the invoice and either email or hand deliver to the client for a friendly reminder. Switching to this process allows our key managers to discuss overdue invoices with the client, who they already know and have relationships with, rather than the accounting department. Adding this personal touch to the collection process has resulted in a dramatic improvement in overdue invoices.

Overall, we survived the pandemic by having the good fortune of switching to a modern accounting system a few years before it arrived. We are consistently recording zero invoices due over 90 days and less than 1 percent due over 60 days. Many of our clients are also experiencing stress during the pandemic, but working together and sharing financial information has resulted in positive outcomes during the most challenging of times.