Allowing near-campus restaurants to accept Flex would benefit all

Kernel Opinion SIG

Hannah Woosley

A closing epidemic is spreading among the restaurants near UK, and many restaurant owners are unsure how to change that.

Others know of a solution: UK should allow those nearby restaurants to accept Flex dollars from UK students.

Like last year, UK will currently only allow students to use their Flex dollars at on-campus restaurants. As UK students spend their money on campus instead of off, nine nearby restaurants in the South Limestone area have closed in just over a year.

The food options for students near campus are dwindling because the lack of revenue is not allowing these restaurants to remain open. Expanding students’ Flex opportunities to the areas surrounding campus would not only create more options for students for their next meal, but more revenue to allow businesses to keep their doors open longer.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse, on average, it will now take a college student a little over five years to complete a bachelor’s degree despite the claim that most bachelor’s degrees take only four. Students eat a lot of meals in those four to five years, and expanding Flex dollar opportunities would allow a student living on campus more variety rather than the same 31 restaurant options. While 31 options seem like a plethora of choices, when you really study the list of on-campus restaurants, it begins to repeat itself – two Starbucks, two Subways, a café called Common Grounds which offers coffee products and small food options similar to Starbucks, two Intermezzo eateries, five Wildcat Pantries and so on. There’s really not a lot of variety, and that gets old after a while.

UK students and Lexington residents have already lost local dining hotspots like Blaze Pizza, Jimmy John’s, Fazoli’s and many more, and it begs the question of who’s next. Another question that has been asked before can be asked again: Does UK’s flex policy hurt local businesses? In short, yes.

For example, Jamba Juice owner Jim Phelps, who also owned Smashburger before it closed, told the Kernel in February that his restaurant and others near it have “unfair competition” with UK because they’re not allowed to use Flex.

Although the same few options of eateries around campus become exhausting and boring, it’s unlikely a student already bogged down with hours of homework, studying and extracurriculars will walk to a nearby restaurant to spend their actual money when they could instead walk to one on campus and use their Flex money, which has already been paid for with their meal plan. Why would a student opt to spend extra money before they use the money they’ve already spent? UK’s reluctance to expand the Flex program is hurting our local economy.

UK’s Flex policy not only hurts their students in more ways than one, but the restaurants surrounding campus and discourages prospective restaurants from coming into the area.

It’s time to reevaluate this Flex policy and determine what changes can be made to help students, the university and the surrounding businesses that are part of the UK experience.