At the University of Montevallo, in Alabama, students participating in Falcon Flex, the campus’s cash equivalency system, can now use their points off campus, too. At the start of the fall semester, six local commercial restaurants—with more in the works—began accepting the points instead of cash. “We’re a small town, so a lot of the town is based around the university and the student population, and this is just kind of a way to give our kids more choices and help support the community as well,” says Scott Giddens, director of dining services with Chartwells at the university.
Offering students off-campus options was an idea that university administration had been considering for some time, starting right after Chartwells was selected as the foodservice provider in 2013. “Over the course of the first year, we worked through some different ways to do it, what the impacts would be and what we thought the students really would like and hit on the idea of doing it this way,” Giddens explains. “After that, it was just as simple as working with our meal technology folks and identifying the merchants that we wanted to invite.”
Students use their existing identification cards at the participating restaurants, which can be recognized by the “Falcon Flex Taken Here” window clings provided by the university. Outlets include Huddle House, Domino’s and Lula B’s Frozen Yogurt. The restaurants typically use their existing POS systems to process the Falcon Flex transactions. However, rather than dialing into a major credit card company’s server, the system dials into the university’s server to process payment. “There’s no paper checks,” Giddens says. “It all just moves around electronically.”
With the university’s interest in strengthening ties to the community a high priority, dining services wasn’t overly concerned about the implications of beginning to break down the walls between on- and off-campus food options.
“We’re learning as we go along what the impacts are,” Giddens says, “but I think we felt that it was a manageable concern, and at the end of the day, the win would be for everybody. I think we’re seeing that. We’ve had good traffic on campus and off campus to start this year.”
In addition to new off-campus options, students have new choices on campus, too. “We opened a new outlet as well, and it’s competing very well. [The commercial restaurants] kind of give more branded concepts to our portfolio, just off campus and owned by somebody else,” he says.