Off-campus restaurants say taking dining dollars not worthwhile

Dining dollars help determine business success.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.—Since 1996, businesses in Tuscaloosa have been partnered with Bama Dining and the Action Card Office to allow students to use their ACT cards as a form of payment. However, the partnership has proved beneficial for some businesses and harmful for others.

Rhett Madden, the former owner of Crimson Café on the Strip, said accepting dining dollars severely hurt his local business.

“I took dining dollars for over 13 years and had to reposition the business into a nighttime business because we could not make a fair-trade profit accepting them,” Madden said. “With dining dollars, we had to pay a 21 percent commission off every single dining dollar we accepted. We tried for a semester without dining dollars to see if we could make it work without them, but we couldn’t get enough non-dining dollars business because of the $30 million per-year daytime student food business monopoly it creates.”

Madden said his business could not keep up with the competition from on-campus food vendors because so many students eat on campus. He said other schools that do not have required meal plans for freshmen, the University of Georgia in particular, have many more off-campus coffee shops that are thriving.

“I finally just ended up selling the business, getting a job and starting over after being self-employed for over 18 years,” Madden said. “It was a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and I am very glad it is all behind me now.”

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