Creative Dining Services believes dining brings people together and so it focuses on building a sense of community through great food and an atmosphere where the free flow of ideas is always welcome. The company prides itself on engaging customers with promotions and special events while wowing them with an assortment of dishes that keeps customers coming back.
“The founding principles of the organization stem from wanting to provide fine hospitality dining services to our client base and keeping our focus on our clients,” CEO Jim Eickhoff says. “Our biggest competition isn’t necessarily other providers, it’s the choices today. Customers can go off campus to get Chipotle or go to Applebee’s because it is running a promotion. We want customers to come here because they can find something better than anything else out there.”
The Zeeland, Mich.-based company celebrates 25 years as a partner with colleges, universities, Fortune 100 companies, full-service senior living communities, conference centers, schools and camps in providing a different kind of hospitality and facility management service experience. “We serve our clients as if they are the only organization we do business with,” Eickhoff says. “We are here to serve, and in most cases our clients’ customers don’t know Creative Dining is managing the foodservice program. You don’t see ‘foodservice by Creative Dining,’ printed everywhere; you see ‘foodservice by Calvin College,’ for example.”
Fun and Interactive
Creative Dining Services creates an experience that is both fun and interactive, which comes from an internal commitment to bring joy to the workplace. “It’s all about how you treat people,” Eickhoff notes. “We bring our core values to the worksite – integrity, creativity, flexibility, sensitivity, family and sustainability – and treat our staff, customers, students and employees the way we want to be treated.”
The company emphasizes praising its employees with an incentive program it calls “Gotcha,” which highlights staff members who have been seen going above and beyond. “Our fun atmosphere goes back to how we treat the staff and it’s contagious,” Eickhoff says. “On our college campuses, we have a friendly mother or father figure greeting students at the door and learning their names. That’s how you bring excitement to the job.”
Creative Dining Services also hosts different events and promotions to get its clients’ customers engaged. Last fall, for example, the company partnered with General Mills to host various activities for students to win a Fitbit activity tracker. It also incorporates social media into its campaigns by asking students to Instagram a photo of their meal or download Creative Dining Services’ app to win a prize or receive a coupon. “Our accounts really get into our promotions and the customers have a lot of fun with it,” Marketing Director Amy Lunn says. “In a recent promotion we encouraged people to show us how they would GoPro to win one of the cameras, and people submitted crazy-fun videos of things they would do if they had a GoPro. It’s a lot of fun.”
To stay innovative in an ever-changing industry, Creative Dining Services created a web-based mobile app, enabling the dining services to communicate menu and event information directly to the customers, as well as receive feedback via a comment form. One thing the company has found is that students and employees do not want to wait in line. To avoid losing customers during peak times, it is piloting a system that allows customers to order ahead and receive notification when their order is ready.
“Pre-ordering is growing fast and furious in our market,” Eickhoff says. “If customers see a line that’s 10 people deep they won’t wait, but they will sit at a table and do homework or chat with colleagues if they have ordered ahead of time. Some receive texts to notify them their order is ready, and another system utilizes buzzers to alert customers when their food is ready to be picked up at the made-to-order kiosk.”
Creative Dining Services posts all physical comment cards on a comment board that encourages customers to write down praises or suggestions and pin it to the board. At a couple of its higher education accounts this has inspired some fun napkin-art feedback. “Instead of a box where no one knows if the suggestions are being read, we made a suggestion board where posts are pinned for the public to see,” Eickhoff says.
The company also surveys all of its locations twice per year, and implements easy fixes right away. “At one of our college locations, students asked for Cap’n Crunch Cereal and a soy milk machine dispenser – two easy changes that were implemented within a week of the survey results being tabulated,” Lunn adds.
A major focus for Creative Dining Services since 2008 has been sustainability and the farm-to-table concept. Because its clients are mostly located in suburban and rural areas and have strong ties to the community, the company visits local farmer’s markets to purchase its produce. Senior communities and schools are getting involved by building and maintaining herb and vegetable gardens. “We want to get things as fresh as possible and it doesn’t get any fresher than walking outside to a garden on the property and picking parsley,” Eickhoff notes.
Creative Dining Services has also spent the past two years focusing on its menu and allergen awareness. It created a visual program that highlights the top-eight allergens by color and a warning label that alerts customers a product contains peanuts, for example.
The company’s chefs are always researching and developing the next best menu item. “We have a very robust program here that is fantastic,” Lunn says. “It is much more than pasta and mac and cheese.”
Moving forward, Creative Dining Services plans to expand but not outgrow its ability to provide personal service to its clients. The company plans to maintain course on its controlled growth strategy, and is looking into senior living markets, Eickhoff says. “Our plans are to continue serving a high-quality dining program for our current and prospective clients,” he adds.