Cater to You is a managed dining service company specializing in providing the highest quality, nutritious meals to 17 private schools in the New York City area. All meals prepared by CtY are made from scratch using fresh and seasonal ingredients acquired from local farms, bakeries, and other small producers. Aside from the healthy school dining services, the company also facilitates catering for thousands of special events annually to a large network of private schools, as well as corporate and individual clients.
For most of its 25-year history, Cater to You was able to manage data collection and reporting with a combination of spreadsheets and accounting software. But as the company continued to expand its reach, contracting with more schools and vendors, the tracking of information became more cumbersome and difficult to manage. Maintaining consistent ordering processes and controlling costs was becoming especially challenging. The absence of connectivity between accounting data in QuickBooks with ordering and inventory data in Excel was creating more work and inefficiency for the administrative team.
CtY chefs were spending more and more time handling time-consuming phone orders and sending and receiving lengthy e-mail communications that were slowing down the ordering process and causing costly interruptions to the daily workflow.
Recognizing limitations of existing data tracking tools and the inability to keep up with their unique business model and ambitious growth plans, CtY senior management made the decision to deploy a comprehensive database solution. The system they required would have to meet the current database needs of the organization as well as easily expand and be adaptable to meet future growth and change.
After careful comparison of several commercial dining service systems against a completely custom solution built by IT Solutions, CtY chose the custom option for the extensive flexibility, long-term savings, and ability to own the system outright. IT Solutions built a complete purchase management system on the FileMaker Pro platform that provides CtY with centralized food ordering and cost control. FileMaker became the platform of choice for its highly customizable framework and ability to modify and add features as needs arise.
Adhering to IT Solutions’ Agile development process, the team worked closely with CtY COO Maarten de Vreede and his staff to program an intuitive system that manages timely data on all food costs across a variety of vendors as well as other key information about inventory, pricing, and discounts. By integrating the main FileMaker system with the company’s QuickBooks accounting software, ITS produced a fully integrated order fulfillment solution. CtY employees have appropriate levels of access to the system to better do their jobs, yet still work under a central source for managing all critical data.
A secure, online portal provides easy access for vendors to login and enter up-to-date information related to inventories, pricing and discounts. The system is hosted on the local network and provides different portal views for vendors, chefs, and clients. An additional portal has been set up to place orders for special events. Alert features have been added since initial rollout to keep key CtY staff informed at all times about status of information. Additionally, users have access to a variety of dynamic reports for tracking, analyzing, and improving operations and workflow.
The centralization of data has nearly eliminated inefficiencies in workflow and erroneous data associated with shuffling through various Excel spreadsheets. The online portal has dramatically reduced time-consuming phone calls and e-mail exchanges that were slowing down the ordering process.
Real-time accessibility of data along with status alert features and the ability to generate internal reports has led to faster decision making and accurate communication internally and with both clients and vendors. Soon after the system was rolled out, not only was CtY able to increase productivity and get costs under control, but they identified many opportunities to negotiate pricing, and were able to reduce vendor costs by nearly 20 percent.
Finally, FileMaker’s ability to add on and expand functionality has future-proofed the investment for years to come. Only minimal ongoing maintenance and licensing fees are associated with this solution – much less than what would be required to maintain a commercial application year after year. Cater to You maintains total administrative access to update the solution, add/modify reports, etc., as business needs dictate.