University seeks to expand Flex

University dining officials are edging closer to a deal that would add Bulldog Burrito and perhaps other local restaurants to Yale’s Flex program.

Yale Dining Services is working to expand the Flex dollars meal program to the restaurant “as soon as possible,” Dining Services Executive Director Don McQuarrie said Thursday. Dining officials met with Bulldog Burrito owner Jason Congdon last month to discuss the Elm Street burrito shop’s addition to the Flex program — a meal plan which allows participating students to spend up to $100 per semester at local restaurants via the dining services’ network. University officials are waiting to complete negotiations before drafting a formal contract to finalize the agreement, McQuarrie said.

“We had a nice talk with Jason over the break,” McQuarrie said. “We had a chance to visit the restaurant, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity for a partnership with him, as soon as we get the details ironed out.”

Congdon said he is eager to see a written proposal from McQuarrie, one with a lower cost than the 18 percent commission rate the University currently charges for all Flex transactions.

“I’m getting a lot of requests for Flex, more in the last few weeks, and I’d certainly like to accommodate the students who want more food offerings,” Congdon said. “I’m optimistic and confident that the proposal will not be the same, because Bulldog Burrito will not participate under the current rate.”

Congdon said he hopes the new rate set for Bulldog Burrito will be used as a “template” for all Flex contracts and may encourage more restaurateurs to participate.

McQuarrie declined to comment on the specifics of changes to the commission rate, but he confirmed that the rate agreed upon with Congdon will become the program’s standard charge.

Yorkside owner George Koutroumanis said he had not been told of any impending change to the rate, but he said any change would cause a substantial readjustment of his restaurant’s profits.

“Lower would be great,” he said. “Higher would be devastating.”

McQuarrie said the Flex program is one of his priorities, but he has a broader perspective on the issue.

“We’re hoping to get these things worked out as quickly as we can, but they have an impact on all dining services at the University,” he said.

Local restaurateurs have cited the commission rate and lack of promotion as the primary reasons for choosing not to participate in the Flex program, which currently includes only two restaurants — Naples Pizza and Restaurant on Wall Street and Yorkside Pizza and Restaurant on York Street. Since Au Bon Pain declined to renew its Flex contract in October 2003 for financial reasons, the program has included fewer restaurants than it had since its inception in 1995.

Congdon said a small group of other restaurant owners are planning to begin accepting Flex dollars. But McQuarrie said he is not in talks with any other business, though he said the University would consider other restaurants for the program based on student interest and financial implications for Yale Dining Services.

“We’re always interested in ideas or partnerships that can broaden the program, but we want to make sure that we have good relationships with these restaurants and that the agreements we come to are fair for everyone,” McQuarrie said. “The issue is sharing revenue with restaurants off-campus, and that’s revenue that YDS may be counting on. You want to make sure that you strike a careful balance.”

Manny Barbosa, a New Haven resident purchases his dinner at Bulldog Burrito. Bulldog Burrito and other restaurants may join the Flex program soon.
Michael Blank
Manny Barbosa, a New Haven resident purchases his dinner at Bulldog Burrito. Bulldog Burrito and other restaurants may join the Flex program soon.

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