How Nowsta Saves Simply Fresh Events 6 Hours a Week
with President and Owner Matt Phelan
on scheduling and payroll
A local caterer with happy employees
Simply Fresh is a fast-growing, family-owned catering company in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Founded in 2015, it now employs 150 staff and caters over 300 events a year throughout the D.C. metro area. Its focus is on outdoor weddings, but Simply Fresh also handles parties, corporate events, and disaster catering.
How has Simply Fresh been able to grow so quickly? President and owner Matt Phelan attributes it in part to the company’s team-oriented culture. “I’ve never had a new chef work an event with us and not come back amazed, saying, ‘Everyone’s smiling, there’s no screaming or yelling in the kitchen when things go wrong.’ We have a culture of saying ‘How do we fix this?’”
This is no accident. Matt and his team have worked deliberately to build a company employees are excited to work for. “It’s extremely important to us that we continually invest in our staff, as we understand the commitment and effort it takes to produce top-notch events.” Matt regularly gives his team access to leadership and management courses, industry conferences, and community outreach efforts in partnership with local charities. All this, plus simple gestures like feeding the team lunch every day, contribute to a culture of camaraderie at Simply Fresh.
But while Matt had no trouble keeping his employees happy and motivated, he was losing time and money to inefficient workforce management processes. Seeking to remedy the situation in late 2016, he became one of Nowsta’s earliest customers. He hasn’t been disappointed. Read on to learn how Nowsta has cut Simply Fresh’s time spent on employee operations by 75%.
The biggest issue for Simply Fresh was that it relied on time-consuming, manual processes for scheduling and time tracking.
We’ll start with scheduling. In order to build the roster for each event, Matt would call or text staff asking them to work, then add them to a spreadsheet maintained in Google Sheets when they said yes. He often had to have follow up conversations with staff — not just to confirm they could work, but also to fill them in on key event details.
Matt recalls, “We were growing rapidly, but it took so much time to confirm when people could work and make sure they knew what uniform they needed for each event and how to get there. It was a headache. Someone would text afterhours saying, ‘Hey, I’m working the wedding this weekend, which uniform do I need?’ I’d reply, ‘Well, which wedding?’ and have to look it up.” All in all, Matt says he spent four hours a week scheduling employees and making sure they had the information they needed.
Time and attendance tracking was also difficult. Matt’s event managers would sign staff in and out on paper timesheets or not at all, which created lots of work after each event. “When it was time to run payroll, we’d have to manually do the math to confirm everyone worked the hours recorded on the sheet and see if anyone had hit overtime. It was a lot of work,” says Matt. He estimates he lost another four hours a week to payroll and the hours approval process leading up to it. He needed to submit everyone’s hours to his payroll provider on by Monday morning, which was difficult considering weekends are Simply Fresh’s busiest time. “Payroll day used to be an absolute pain in the neck for me.”
When Simply Fresh bought its new kitchen in 2016, Matt considered using the electronic timeclock that came with it. But between the special ink and paper it required, plus the need to reset it if power went out, he decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. Still, he could tell that his staff were also getting fed up with the paper timesheets.
“You can’t imagine how many people would get hung up on the fact they couldn’t clock in electronically. We’d tell them to write it down on the timesheet and they’d say, ‘What do you mean write it down? I want to make sure I get paid.’ In all my years running a business, I’ve never underpaid someone — I want my employees to be happy,” says Matt. It was a frustrating situation for both him and his staff.
Matt was looking for a better way to manage his workforce when he met the Nowsta team at the 2017 Catersource conference. After a demo, he became one of our first customers, and was impressed right away by the team’s support during the onboarding process. For instance, Matt’s catering sales software initially couldn’t integrate with Nowsta, meaning he couldn’t seamlessly upload his existing event schedule to the platform. Instead of waiting for a fix, the Nowsta team manually imported his schedule so that he could start using the platform immediately. “I’m not even a huge customer,” says Matt. “It was great to work with a team willing to make things work.”
Nowsta quickly streamlined Simply Fresh’s scheduling process. Instead of calling or texting each employee individually to see if they can work, Matt can simply plug them into an open shift on Nowsta, triggering an instant notification to the employee on the Nowsta mobile app. From there, staff can accept or decline the shift by tapping a button. Staff are responding more quickly, and when they do, there’s no longer any need for Matt to update a spreadsheet — Nowsta automatically updates the calendar whenever a staff member accepts a shift. Matt now spends just 30 minutes a week on scheduling.
Not only that, but he’s saving money thanks to Nowsta’s overtime warnings. Whenever Matt schedules someone approaching the 40-hour limit, Nowsta warns him and lets him know how many more hours they can work before they cross the threshold. “It saves us significant money, especially with minimum wage here having gone up from $8.50 to $12.00 in the last couple of years,” says Matt. He estimates Nowsta’s overtime warnings save him 5-10% on labor costs.
Time and attendance is also much easier. Simply Fresh staff now clock in on Nowsta’s tablet time clock, or have a manager clock them in on our mobile app. Nowsta automatically calculates everyone’s hours for each event and notifies Matt if there are discrepancies between them and the schedule. Now that he doesn’t have to do any math or manual data entry, Matt estimates he can run payroll for his 150 staff in just 90 minutes — less than half the time it took him with paper timesheets.
Matt can even use Nowsta to track hours for employees he hires from staffing agencies, which makes it much easier to pay invoices. “That was another piece of paper I had to keep updated before Nowsta,” Matt remembers.
Best of all, Matt says his staff love Nowsta. Most of the team is on the younger side, so they’re already used to having an app for everything else — Nowsta brings the workplace more in line with the world they’re used to. “As a three-year-old company, having an app feels like we’ve made it big,” says Matt. Many of Simply Fresh’s staff also work jobs for another caterer in the area. When that company joined Nowsta too, Matt reports that staff were delighted to see they could see upcoming shifts for both of their employers side by side on the Nowsta app.
Matt also senses more trust between him and his employees now that they can check the hours they’ve worked each pay period any time they want on the Nowsta app. “The more information that’s out in the open, the better,” says Matt. Obviously, this wouldn’t be possible with paper timesheets. And in fact, Matt was one of the clients who suggested to the Nowsta team that we make this information available to employees. “That’s another thing I like about Nowsta. They’re willing to listen and make changes.”
Between scheduling and time tracking, Nowsta has reduced the time Simply Fresh spends on employee operations from eight hours a week to just two — a 75% reduction that equates to over 300 hours saved a year. He also saves 5-10% on overtime costs thanks to Nowsta’s overtime warnings.
But more important to Matt is the stress he’s missing out on with Nowsta. “Even if you were saving me no time, the amount of stress that’s removed would make it worth it. I don’t have to go line by line down the timesheet, entering it into the computer, trying to read everyone’s handwriting — it’s all the little things you don’t normally think about that we don’t have to deal with anymore.”