As companies try to entice employees back to offices, the provision of attractive amenities is a key component of the effort. For fast-growing financial firm Ent Credit Union, that mission got easier last year with the opening of a spectacular new five-story, 325,000-sq.ft. headquarters facility in Colorado Springs that more than doubles the size of Ent’s previous area facilities and is designed to house about 860 of the company’s call center, lending, IT, finance, human resources and administrative staffs. Among the features of the new building are a state-of-the-art fitness center complete with yoga studio, and a two-story cafeteria with seven food stations operated by FM Top 50 management company Creative Dining Services (CDS).
The stations include…
• Hearth 57, a build-your-own pizza/pasta station;
• Dove's Deli, offering made-to-order sandwiches and paninis;
• Front Range Grille, serving popular items such as Nashville Hot Chicken, Bison Burgers and Cajun Fries along with plant-centric ingredients for vegetarians;
• Give Back Garden, with “salad baristas” serving custom salads made to order and filled with locally grown produce from the program’s FARMSTEAD partners;
• Jet's Global, one of the most trafficked stations, featuring international flavors such as the popular Mediterranean and pierogi bars;
• Clara's General Store, offering grab and go items made mostly onsite along with some items from local partners; and
• Penrose Pick Up Post, where customers can retrieve their mobile orders from the various station menus. The mobile order app details each day’s menu, including specials and nutritional information, with pickup times set in 15-minute windows and designated by the customer.
“That way, you can order your lunch in the morning and set when you will be picking it up,” explains Ross Keller, general manager for CDS at Ent. “We get the ticket 15 minutes before pickup time to ensure quality, so it’s not made too early and then sits there.”
The mobile order option has its regulars, Keller says, but adds that most customers currently prefer to come to the cafeteria to browse the selections and order there, and then enjoy the view and the atmosphere of the new dining facility.
The cafeteria serves breakfast between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m., followed by lunch (including some limited breakfast items) between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Employees also have the opportunity to purchase meals to take home, an option that currently doesn’t generate a large number of orders, “but we do get some every day,” Keller says, adding that CDS is looking to add to the take-home menu and do some promotions of the service in the coming weeks.
“They are ordered earlier in the day,” he explains. “We create them daily and have them ready for pickup between 3 and 6 p.m.
Away from the cafeteria and located at the facility entrance is Member Perks Coffee, open mornings serving pastries, smoothies and specialty coffee drinks from a local roasting house. CDS also monitors and replenishes the break stations located on all five floors of the building and operates the in-house catering service, which accommodates both routine meetings and more elaborate events.
Items served at the Ent food stations were specially created based on employee preferences as derived from surveys and research into popular food items and local cuisine favorites, prominent among which is pork green chili, a local culinary favorite initially unfamiliar to the Michigan-raised Keller but one he and the CDS team learned to appreciate quickly.
“We have our set concepts and menus at Creative Dining, but we also we also like to do some hands-to-the-ground research and one thing we found pretty quickly here was that you have to have pork green chili because you see it on just about everything around here, even breakfast menus,” he laughs, “so we challenged ourselves and created our own pork green chili recipe.”
Keller cites pizza as another example of adapting to the in-house population’s preferences, an especially critical one as the competition for pizza business is fierce with numerous commercial pizzerias ringing the Ent complex. “We looked at surveys of the kind of pizza Ent employees like and then changed the dough we use, which led to a 50% increase in pizza sales.”
Of course, the pandemic has also caused some adjustments in what and how some things are offered. Keller cites the “salad barista” concept at the Give Back Garden station, which in ordinary times would probably have operated more as a traditional self-serve salad bar but was modified to a staff-serve model that retains the create-you-own factor customers love about salad bars.
“It’s a fun solution that might even stick” after the pandemic ends, Keller offers.
Major gatherings and socials currently also are not feasible given pandemic-imposed limitations, but CDS is doing smaller events such as a cookie baking class it conducted around the holidays or, more recently, a tasting of the various lattes offered at Member Perks.
“We are trying to do more socializing to get employees away from their offices and desks and into this beautiful building and experience it, and the café is a big part of that,” says Sara Holland, Ent Director-Total Rewards.
That socialization mission is also reflected in the cafeteria’s seating options, which ranges across two floors of the building—plus an outdoor patio with a waterfall and fire pit—and offer a combination of alternatives ranging from high-top and low-top tables to booths and couches, some by a fireplace.
“Our goal is not only to attract back our workforce for our institution, but also to make them feel embraced, empowered and engaged once they are here,” Holland explains about the company’s commitment to the quality dining program, which it heavily subsidizes to keep prices attractive. “We wanted to create an experience for our employees,” she adds. “It’s about engaging them and getting them to love Ent as much as we appreciate what they do, and the café is just one of the benefits we offer among many.”
Currently, Ent lets employees to work offsite up to two days a week, “but part of our culture is being in-person, those meetings in the hall or while you’re ordering your lunch or sitting down to eat your lunch in the cafeteria—a lot gets done in those in-between minutes.”