Dining Dollars contract upsets employees

Jennie Kushner

Crimson Café employees and owner Rhett Madden are frustrated because of the Dining Dollars regulation that they, unlike Dominos and Buffalo Phil’s, are not allowed to accept tips.

“Students must use cash for tips,” ARAMARK’s Educational Services, Inc. Request For Proposal states. “There are to be no tips accepted on Dining Dollars or Bama Cash accounts.”

Madden said Buffalo Phil’s and Domino’s delivery drivers accept tips, making him and his employees feel excluded.

“I am upset about many things regarding the Dining Dollars system,” Madden said. “One of them is the fact that our baristas cannot accept tips.

“We feel unfairly singled out in our contract,” he said.

Madden said ARAMARK makes 21 percent of Crimson Café’s total profit. But ARAMARK is making well over half of the profits on the sales, he added.

Madden, who has owned Crimson Café since 1993, said the shop began accepting Dining Dollars in the fall of 1998.

“Business has been getting worse lately, a lot worse, because of the expensive, hiked up fees of Dining Dollars,” he said.

“We were a growing business in the beginning, we were growing every year before we implemented Dining Dollars,” he said. “We want to compete on a level playing field.”

Madden said at the commencement of the school year, more than 90 percent of his business is from Dining Dollars.

“It completely dominates our business, in the summer it’s maybe 50 percent of business,” he said.

Despite the minimum commission rate of 21 percent of net sales by ARAMARK, Madden said relinquishing the Dining Dollars program would make matters worse.

“[By quitting], you are just letting them have the market,” he said. “We have to compete with other locations that accept Dining Dollars, including dining halls and the Ferg.”

Madden said if tipping was allowed, Crimson Café could subsidize the pay roll.

“If we could accept tips, it would be a win-win situation for our employees. They could earn more per hour, and we could pay them $5.25 an hour plus tips, rather than a flat rate of $7.25.

“Other off campus vendors are able to subsidize their pay rolls with tips from the Dining Dollars program,” Madden said. “I don’t understand why we are being excluded.”

Accepting tips would make employment at Crimson Café more appealing, he said.

“Being able to pay our employees is more appealing,” he said. “We could help them earn more money.”

More than 95 percent of Madden’s employees are students. Employees, like Madden, said they feel excluded by the program.

Alesha Madison, a junior majoring in business, said being able to accept tips would encourage her to work harder and would help with her finances.

“I would probably get more done and it would make me work better to have a tip incentive,” she said. “I would also be able to pay for small things, like gas, so I know it would make a big difference.”

Bradley Jones, a junior majoring in management information systems, said being able to accept tips would make Crimson Café’s business better as a whole.

“It is a big deal, we make a little over minimum wage, places that are allowed to accept tips are making triple what we make,” he said.

Jones said during a typical morning shift, employees would make $2 in cash tips because the tips have to be divided.

“Anyone who delivers makes triple that,” he said. “It is something that I would like to have. I don’t even know what that would feel like.”

Jones said the non-student customers are more inclined to tip.

“It bothers me, because there are students who have requested to tip their barista for making their drink, and I have to tell them they can’t,” he said. “Customers should have the choice if they want to tip.”