Starting next semester, Duke students who take their professors out to lunch at the Commons will be able to give tips. 

The most popular FLUNCH venue—with about 60 percent of FLUNCHs—is the Commons, said Deb Johnson, assistant vice provost of undergraduate education and manager of the FLUNCH program. 

But though the Commons wait staff—comprised mostly of students—relies on tips for the majority of their income, the FLUNCH system has not allowed students to include a tip without making a separate transaction with their own money or food points.  

A new system, however, will automatically give a 10 percent tip to the wait staff. 

“They have just rolled out this change that will allow the folks in dining to set the FLUNCH tender key to automatically add a 10 percent tip to the total,” Johnson said. “[The initial system] was never about an unwillingness, it was about a process that worked that didn't involve a lot of touches by people to make it happen and that was consistent [from student to student].”

FLUNCH—a combination of the words faculty and lunch—is a program where undergraduate students can share lunch with one of their professors without having to use food points. Every Duke student has two FLUNCHs through which they can spend $100 per semester. FLUNCH's can be used at the Commons, JB's Roasts and Chops, the Skillet, Divinity Cafe, East Campus Marketplace, Dame’s Express or the Freeman Center.  

Johnson said that the group behind the change in policy included staff from the Duke Dining, DukeCard and Undergraduate Education offices, including herself. When staff first met to discuss the problem, Johnson pointed out a problem with the payment system—students who had tried to tip through FLUNCH ended up accidentally using both of their allotted FLUNCHs for the semester. 

Additionally, tips could not be added automatically at the Commons without making them automatic at the other venues, where there is not wait staff and tips are not necessary.

The issue was brought to Duke Dining's attention last spring by a student waitress from the Commons, Johnson said. Cat Jeon penned a Facebook post in the "All-Duke" group urging Duke students to bring tips whenever they FLUNCHed their professors. Her post said wait staff there made just $2.13 an hour, so they cannot bring home a sufficient wage when they do not receive tips from FLUNCHs. 

The waitress also reached out to junior Kristina Smith, a member of the Duke University Student Dining Advisory Committee. Smith then informed Duke Dining of the situation. 

"As soon as this request was brought forward, Duke OIT worked quickly to put in a request with the university point of sale company to create a software upgrade to allow the tip process to work with the FLUNCH transaction," said Robert Coffey, director of Duke dining services.  

Now, neither students nor wait staff have to worry about adding a tip, unless a student wants to leave a greater tip using food points, flex or cash. The group will conduct various tests throughout the remainder of the semester to make sure the system is viable.

Smith said that she hopes the system will fully go into place by the Spring. 

“Students want to tip on FLUNCH at the Commons and haven’t been able to do so," she said. "I’m hopeful that with the test [of the new tipping system], the people in Dining and those who run the DukeCard can get it worked out."