UMass to allow four student businesses to accept Dining Dollars next year

By Anthony Rentsch

Earthfoods Cafe is one of four student businesses which will accept Dining Dollars next year. (Collegian File Photo)
Earthfoods Cafe is one of four student businesses which will accept Dining Dollars next year.
(Collegian File Photo)

The University of Massachusetts will allow four student-run businesses to accept Dining Dollars for the 2015-16 academic year, ending a year-long debate over whether student businesses could ultimately accept the meal plan.

According to an recently updated Memorandum of Understanding signed by Ken Toong, executive director of Auxiliary enterprises, Annemarie Seifert, associate vice chancellor of student affairs and campus life and Meghan Smith, a student-run business representative, Greeno Sub Shop, Earthfoods Cafe, Sweets N’ More and Sylvan Snack Bar will begin accepting the mean plan option in the fall.

The memorandum was initially created seven years ago to allow these four businesses to accept YCMP meal exchanges.

Dining Services has agreed to reimburse these four student businesses at a rate of 92 percent of the cash value for each transaction up to $355,000 of gross sales, according to the memorandum. All sales after that will be reimbursed at 63.3 percent of the cash value. The agreement states that the businesses will be reimbursed on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.

The idea for the reimbursement rate structure, according to Garett DiStefano, director of residential dining, was that Dining Services would cover fixed costs and not have an adverse effect on students.

In an email to students in March, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance James Sheehan expressed concern that allowing student-run businesses to accept Dining Dollars could lead to a fee increase for students.

DiStefano said that, due to the structure of the reimbursement rate, there would be no fee increase.

In addition, DiStefano said that $355,000 would be a “pretty aggressive” year for the four student businesses in terms of revenue.

In fiscal year 2013, student businesses, including the Bike Co-Op, Campus Design & Copy and People’s Market, which are not included under the memorandum, brought in $709,719, according to the Center for Student Businesses’ website.

Currently, Dining Dollars are structured as a dollar-for-dollar currency and are an alternative to traditional YCMPs, which are a fixed meal swipe of $9.50 per swipe. DiStefano said that when Dining Services debuted Dining Dollars at the beginning of the fall 2014 semester, it wasn’t sure how students would use it. He said student-run businesses wanted to incorporate Dining Dollars as they saw how it worked.

The businesses began to push for the ability to accept Dining Dollars almost immediately.

In mid-October, Greeno Sub Shop petitioned for the right to accept Dining Dollars and, as of December, had received more than 500 signatures. The business aimed to compete more effectively with Dining Services.

Dining Services and the Student Advisory Subcommittee on Dining began looking at how meal plans affected students and student-run businesses, which led to the updated memorandum, DiStefano said.

The memorandum states that representatives from the four student-run businesses and Dining Services will meet twice per semester to discuss operations, operating performance and general business issues. According to the agreement, the businesses will also be required to submit a financial statement to Dining Services at the end of each semester.

DiStefano said that these measures are aimed at enhancing the relationship between student-run businesses and Dining Services moving forward.

The current agreement is only for one year, but DiStefano said that both parties would like to sign a long-term agreement.

Adria Kelly, a co-manager at Greeno Sub Shop and former assistant arts editor at the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, said while the agreement was good overall, there are still some improvements that could be made.

“I am very satisfied with how the ending agreement ended up,” she said in an email. “I think it’s a great balance for both sides. It would be ideal for People’s Market, one of our fellow co-ops, to be included in the student businesses that can accept dining dollars because right now that is not the case.”

“It will bring a lot of business in the coming semesters to the co-ops.”

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Anthony_Rentsch.