| | Print

Let’s start by saying that sometimes accepting University Dining Dollars isn’t an option. In some college communities, there are limited numbers of businesses who will be accepted into college dining programs (and the ones accepted, don’t leave).

According to the University of Buffalo, “The number of merchants to be added to the program at any given time will be dependent on technical resources available.” For those small businesses who do have the opportunity, it’s worth paying attention to the benefits and experiences below.

Many small businesses are looking to get more business and there are constantly new innovative marketing opportunities popping up online. As with most opportunities though, the competition in this arena has grown in the past several months.

For those that are lucky enough to be located in college towns, there is another way to make strong inroads into the local economy and can build a loyal and well-networked following without investing too much cash to build their clientele.

How dining dollar programs work in other communities

“In the beginning of the year, most of our sales are done from dining dollars,” said Rhett Madden, owner of Crimson Café and University of Alabama graduate who was part of the University’s Dining Dollars program before Aramark closed it. He accounted 80% of all sales to Dining Dollars and paid a 21% fee on every sale.

When I asked Chip Orcutt, Controller, UB Campus Dining & Shops at the University of Buffalo, Orcutt noted that for their program (which has open enrollment), “there is an administrative fee based on gross sales.”

The University of Akron requires merchants to install an analog telephone line, at the expense of the business, and then a $200 setup fee before they can accept University cards. Merchants agree to pay a varying percentage of gross sales, and the University pays on a monthly or bi-weekly basis.

It’s not all cut and dry though. Edward Peel, Departmental Systems Administrator at The University of Akron told me that, “All merchants are set up to accept the ‘All Campus’ funds and those that are able to provide a complete meal to students may accept ‘Dining Dollars’.”

How dining dollars can give a swift kick to your bottom line

Accepting university dining dollar cards can help give struggling restaurants and shops in college towns a significant boost to their bottom line and there are a few ways to really bring in business while keeping the expense of recruiting new customers to a minimum.

College students are a great source of revenue to many local establishments, and actively courting students that have university cards is any easy way to go.  When students do frequent your shop, they are likely to come in groups, increasing your overall sales and bringing new potential customers to your door.

Some of the clear advantages and ways of courting university card holders:

  • Students travel in groups, one satisfied customer is likely to return with several of their friends.
  • Place a small flyer or sign in your shop window letting students know that the university card is accepted, being friendly towards university card holders will help your bottom line.
  • Offer a small discount, whether it’s 10% off for students on certain days of the week or daily specials for those with university cards.
  • See if you can put up a couple of flyers across campus, focusing on the campus living areas – students living on campus often have restricted access to transportation or time, they are a great source of income to local businesses.
  • For restaurant owners, offer off-peak specials to build business, especially during the week.  Think ½ price appetizers 1-2 hours before close on certain week nights, free soft drink with sandwich purchase, or a Monday madness deal to bring in new customers.  Satisfied customers will come back during peak times and pay full price if they like what they’ve tried through your deals.
  • Offer complimentary WIFI to customers with university cards or discounted delivery to card holders.

If you look at some of the services and purchases that students are willing to pay for, you’ll easily find a way to reward the university card holders for frequenting your business.

When in doubt, take a stroll around campus and see what other businesses are doing to court the card holders, I’m sure you’ll find a good way to make the card holders feel welcome at your establishment and by accepting and marketing to the university card holders, you’ll be building a stronger foundation for your company.

This all depends, of course, on whether or not you’ll be accepted into the programs in your area. Many colleges restrict the number of venues they’ll add to their roster in order to keep profits high at the businesses they’ve already enrolled. Either way, it’s worth inquiring at local colleges, especially ones that do not currently have an off-campus dining program and may be considering it.

If you’ve had success or just have some questions about accepting university cards at your business, let’s discuss in the comments below.

Process payments + gain customer insights with Upserve

Written by   |  
As part of Upserve’s family of more than 10,000 restaurants, The Chef is Restaurant Insider’s secret weapon in the kitchen. As a restaurant expert in all things marketing, menu building, management, training and more, restaurateurs trust The Chef and the award-winning Restaurant Insider to dish out the ingredients needed to make your business a sweet success.