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Pitt’s off-campus program rebounding after pandemic dip

The University of Pittsburgh’s off-campus program is gaining momentum once again, with students and other members of the campus community taking full advantage of the university’s partnerships with local merchants. A change in Pitt’s meal plan programs last year that allocated 25% of dining dollars to be available for use at off-campus vendors saw the “Pitt Eats Local” dining program build strong connections with local businesses and entice students into the surrounding community.

As reported by The Pitt News, the Pitt Eats Local initiative launched last April press as an “investment strategy” to create a strong network of connections with businesses in Pitt’s surrounding area. To date, the program has attracted a roster of 31 vendors that accept campus card tender.

“We wholeheartedly embrace the partnership with local vendors,” said Quintin Eason, vice president of operations at Pitt’s food-service vendor Compass Group. “Participation in the program has grown and received positive reviews from the students.”

A recent Pitt Board of Trustees meeting reported that the Pitt Eats Local off-campus program has infused an estimated $772,000 in dining dollars to local restaurants since going live.

When the fledgling dining dollar program began in August 2020, it initially helped students navigate COVID-related dining challenges, and helped local businesses survive through the accompanying economic down turn. Now, with pandemic restrictions easing, and the Pitt campus returning to something resembling normal operation, local vendors connected to the off-campus program are once again benefitting from the university partnership.

Sandra Wittig, general manager at sushi concept, ATARASHI, told Pitt News that the off-campus program has rebounded to the point that the restaurant is serving more Pitt students now than than in years past. Moreover, the sushi restaurant has seen a huge increase in the number of students paying in dining dollars as compared to last year.

“Last year during COVID, the number of Panther card transactions a day resembled the low numbers we see during holiday breaks,” said Wittig in a Pitt News interview. “Now we are seeing lunch rushes where entire groups of 10 plus students in a row are using their Panther card to pay.”

Aside from dining dollars, Pitt students can also use their Panther funds — an alternative to debit or cash — at both on and off campus merchants. Panther funds can be loaded onto student ID cards online or in person at Panther Central where the card office is located. There is no minimum limit that a student can deposit into their account.

The town-and-gown relationship at Pitt seems to be bouncing back considerably as students, the university, and the surrounding community are all discovering ways to navigate reopening and a return to business as usual.

“Our student customers are probably the most patient and understanding visitors we have,” said Wittig. “A lot of students paying with their Panther cards leave us tips as well.”

Wittig and other merchants are happy to be a part of Pitt’s off-campus program.

“We love seeing groups of students together,” Wittig said. “And we’re glad that we can be a part of the Pitt dining dollars program.”

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