Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Monday, December 10, 2018

AU Dining implements changes to Dining Dollar policies, meal plans

Campus dining office also facing ongoing issues with EagleBucks system

AU Dining implements changes to Dining Dollar policies, meal plans

When students arrived on campus in August, they may have noticed a significant change to their campus dining options. Four major campus restaurants — the Megabytes Cafe, Mudbox, American Cafe and Asian Flavors — no longer accepted Dining Dollars, the currency included in AU meal plans that can only be spent at AU Dining locations.

This is the first year since the introduction of Dining Dollars in 2011 that AU administrators have not allowed the cafe to accept Dining Dollars, said Tom Gera, who manages and owns the four dining locations.

“It was unilateral, totally their decision,” Gera, who has operated Megabytes since 2003, said. “They have told us that ‘if you wanna leave you can leave, but we don’t want to give you Dining Dollars.’”

At a Dining Advisory Board Meeting on Sept. 26, Ann Marie Powell, the director of AU’s OneCard and Dining Services, said Gera’s restaurants were never supposed to accept Dining Dollars in the first place.

Due to contractual obligations with Aramark — the company that runs most of AU’s dining options, including the Terrace Dining Room and restaurants in the Tavern — and legal policies in place about on-campus vendors, the Megabytes Cafe and the American Cafe are considered third-party locations and are not part of AU’s dining program, Powell said.

Independent vendors on campus, like Megabytes, should be regarded as off-campus vendors, Powell said. While “off-campus vendors” cannot take meal swipes or Dining Dollars, any vendor on campus that is associated with AU’s meal program and Aramark can.

Gera has his own speculations for why his businesses were denied as Dining Dollars vendors.

“I believe … they want to just give more money to Aramark and kick the small businesses and minorities out,” Gera said. “The Auxiliary Services, which are in charge of these [decisions] … want us to not be here.”

Over 300 people signed an online petition to “Keep Megabytes on Campus” in early October to show support for Megabytes, what Allison Fernandez called “one of the only decent dining options on campus.”

In response to Gera’s complaints, which The Eagle brought to Powell’s attention at the Sept. 26 meeting, Powell said they are not trying to harm Gera’s or anyone else’s businesses.

“We are not trying to put anybody out of business,” Powell said. “Dining Dollars is coming from [an] Aramark program [and contract]. We aren’t trying to give them more money.”

As the number of Dining Dollars options on campus has shrunk, the dollars’ ability to roll over has also been lost. Any extra Dining Dollars from previous semesters were added to EagleBucks this semester in an attempt at “correcting a wrong,” as Powell called it at the meeting, based on contractual terms. After this semester, however, they will no longer roll over from one academic year to another.

Multiple vendors cite issues with EagleBucks system

The EagleBucks system is also facing challenges this semester. The currency can be used at approved off-campus locations, such as Domino’s Pizza or Panera Bread in Tenleytown. According to AU’s list of approved EagleBucks vendors, there are 24 on-campus vendors and 22 off-campus vendors that accept EagleBucks.

The Eagle contacted the 19 listed off-campus vendors in September to ask if they accepted EagleBucks, prior to the addition of three more vendors. One vendor, Angelico’s Pizza, said they did not accept EagleBucks. Chipotle Mexican Grill in Tenleytown and Manny and Olga’s Pizza in Georgetown said that their EagleBucks machines were not in service. Four vendors did not answer phone calls about the matter.

Blackboard, the third-party company that manages AU’s online educational tools, is also responsible for AU’s EagleBucks program, Powell told The Eagle via email. When the EagleBucks machines malfunction or break, restaurants typically work with Blackboard, not the AU dining office.

In response to The Eagle’s findings, Powell contacted the merchants who said they were having issues with the EagleBucks program, she said in an Oct. 4 email. She said the owner of Angelico’s Pizza said their EagleBucks terminal was working and that an employee had been mistaken in telling The Eagle they did not accept EagleBucks. A manager at Tenleytown Chipotle said their EagleBucks machine was working but they have had recurring issues with their machine and network, Powell said.

But Manny & Olga’s Pizza has “never had a sale,” Powell said. The IP address they provided for the EagleBucks program was incorrect, she added, and the owner is working to find out the correct IP address. The University’s website will be updated to remove them until they are fully operational, Powell said.

“Each merchant is provided with instructions on how to contact the vendor with questions and support for their equipment,” Powell said in an email.

Of the 22 off-campus vendors now listed on AU Dining’s website, three are outside of Tenleytown: Manny and Olga’s Pizza in Georgetown, Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street and Sweet Pea’s Soul on Georgia Avenue.

“If we wouldn’t have outsourced, our EagleBucks wouldn’t go beyond Tenleytown,” Powell said at the Sept. 26 meeting.

Dalerico Skinker, a service manager at Chipotle in Tenleytown, said in mid-September that the location’s EagleBucks machine only worked for one week over the summer since he started working there six months ago. In the time that he has been a manager at Chipotle, Skinker said he has never spoken to a person at AU about the EagleBucks system because the machine belongs a third-party company.

“I’m pretty sure every student has complained,” Skinker said. “If they haven’t done anything about it by now or haven’t even tried to find some type of way to compensate the pay for it, then I don’t think they really care at all. That’s just a personal opinion.”

While AU’s dining services will not be a perfect fit for everyone, Powell said, the office continues to work with AU students.

“Will we be able to meet everyone’s needs? Probably not,” Powell said at the Sept. 26 meeting. “But we need to try.”

Powell cited new options in the East Campus POD as an example of the University’s work with students. The POD is meant to fill the gap that Whole Foods left while the dining office looks for a new supermarket to partner with.

Lindsey Rickards, a marketing manager for Aramark at AU, has also worked with the AU OneCard and Dining Services office to implement more technology in an attempt to make lines move faster and create a more efficient dining experience for students. She said that the kiosks at Einstein’s take away one line and a new app, “Tapingo,” allows for students to avoid lines entirely.

Since AU is nearing the end of their current two-year budget plan, the Dining Services office will seek student feedback in order to help them shape a new plan, Powell said at the meeting. They are working on a website that will allow students to give feedback on their experiences with AU dining options.

Before this survey system is up and running, Powell encouraged students seeking to voice their concerns about dining services on and off campus to attend the AU Dining Advisory Board’s meetings. These meetings take place on the last Wednesday of every month in TDR. The board opens the floor to questions for Powell, Rickards, Purdie and other figures such as Assistant Director of Dining Services Keesha Ceran and Director of Operations Turq Daniels.

“Student feedback will be crucial to how dining is formed during the next budget,” Powell said on Sept. 26. “Your voice should be the loudest on campus.”

Kelly McDonnell contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared in The Eagle's October 2018 fall print edition.

ggeorge@theeagleonline.com


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