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Credit: Ilana Wurman

Unlike PennCash and Dining Dollars, which don’t have much use outside of Penn’s campus, Drexel University’s equivalent — Dragon Dollars — are accepted at numerous vendors in University City. 

Restaurants on and off Drexel’s campus, including New Delhi and Shake Shack, accept Dragon Dollars. In fact, the currency is accepted at all Drexel campus dining locations, in addition to over 50 privately owned restaurants and retailers in University City. The Fresh Grocer, White Dog Cafe, and Saxbys Coffee are some of the vendors that accept Drexel’s special currency. 

Drexel’s website describes Dragon Dollars as creating a “cashless campus environment” for students, which essentially serves the same purpose as PennCash —  a “pre-paid debit feature available on your PennCard which reduces the need to carry cash on campus.”

Despite their shared purpose to make spending money on campus easier, the two currencies have a wide gap in the number of non-University owned vendors that accept them. 

Unlike Dragon Dollars, PennCash only works at select on-campus establishments — some of which include Tortas Fronteras at the ARCH, The Energy Zone at Pottruck Center, and Houston Market. 

The widely accepted Dragon Dollars have become the envy of many Penn students. For years, they have expressed frustration that PennCash is not accepted by any outside vendors. 

College freshman Declan Schoen said he wished Dining Dollars would spread to more businesses. 

“I do think it’s odd that on-campus restaurants don’t take Dining Dollars,” Schoen said. “Like Williams Cafe, that’s where my first class in the morning is, and it would be really nice if I could use Dining Dollars to buy my coffee there instead of having to go somewhere else or spend cash.”

Schoen added that he would appreciate being able to use Dining Dollars at other locations as well. 

“If they took Dining Dollars at Wawa, I would be out fast, but it would be beautiful,” he said.

Retailers, additionally, have expressed interest in working with Penn to bring PennCash or Dining Dollars to their establishments.

Koreana manager Emma Harper said she would like to bring a payment system for Penn students to Koreana, in addition to the already-in-place Dragon Dollars system.

She said she liked having Dragon Dollars as an option at Koreana because it is “convenient for the kids.”

“Some of the kids, their credit card doesn’t work, so they have the meal plan and they give us a card so they don’t have to run out to get cash,” Harper said. 

Harper added that she and Mike Choi, the owner of Koreana, have been in contact with Penn about working together, but have not heard back from Penn. 

“Three or four months ago they asked us if we’d be interested in accepting their meal plan,” she said. “My husband called back but they never responded to it. We left messages but nobody answered.”

Barbara Lea-Kruger, Director of Communications and External Relations for Penn Business Services said she was “pretty certain” that no one from Penn Dining or PennCash contacted Koreana, but that “I can’t tell you for certain if anyone else did as it is a big University.”

Harper noted that she wasn’t stressed about Penn’s unresponsiveness. 

“If they give us, we take; if they don’t, it’s ok. Go with the flow,” she said.

Lea-Kruger said that because all establishments that accept Dining Dollars must be run by Penn Dining, preexisting restaurants cannot make Dining Dollars an option. 

She said part of the reason for that policy was to incentivize students to stay on campus. 

“The reason we have dining plans is to promote community, to make it convenient to students,” she said. 

Director of Penn Dining Pam Lampitt pointed to Penn’s relationship with Bon Appetit Catering as the reason for Penn’s selection of Dining-Dollars-accepting locations.

“As BA is our contracted operator, we work closely with them and the relationships that they have developed with world-renowned chefs or restaurants that meet the same standards as BA and Penn upholds,” Lampitt said. “BA provides suggestions to Penn and mutually a decision is made to bring them to campus.”