By: Noam Feifel  | 

The Politics Behind Every Bite: Undue Tax Charged at All Omni Dollars Restaurants

The local restaurants around Yeshiva University’s Wilf campus have seen an increase of attention and scrutiny in the past few weeks since news surfaced Golan Heights had overcharged students and that YU and Golan would be severing their relationship.

Although initially it was only reported that Golan ceased to accept students’ Caf Cards for purchases made in the restaurant, it seems the split involved a clean break. Both the restaurant and the university have now confirmed that all business between the two parties, such as having Golan cater certain events on campus, has been discontinued.

Golan declined to comment on how the recent cessation of business with YU or students using the Omni plan has affected their business.

“Golan chose to no longer work with the University on the Meal Card. Catering is part of that relationship” commented Director of the Yeshiva University’s Administrative Services Department, Joe Cook.

The fallout began when students reported that Golan was wrongfully charging them tax on transactions paid with Omni Dollars, which are supposed to be tax exempt. A recent update to student services enabled students to monitor their transaction history online through “eAccounts,” which confirmed the suspicions of the students.

But this update hasn’t affected only Yeshiva University and Golan. Ever since Caf Card users obtained the ability to review their transaction histories, students have reported that other restaurants besides Golan have been charging tax unduly  to students when using Caf Cards.

A senior in Yeshiva College, who wished to remain anonymous, noticed he was being overcharged when reviewing his transaction history, specifically on an order he had placed at Chop Chop, the local Kosher Chinese restaurant. “I get the same thing at Chop Chop every time I go,” he said. “So I quickly noticed that something was off when this one particular time, my order cost more than it usually does. I happened to have saved my receipt, and a look at it confirmed what I thought. It may have been unintentional, but it seems like this issue exists beyond just Golan.”

When informed of the instance, Matthew Chan, Chop Chop’s manager, responded, “my priority is the students. I do as much as I can to give to the students from YU. I offer promotions online to get discounts here, sponsor and host a weekly Chabad learning program, and above all, view YU students as my family.” He continued, “A rare mistake can happen when ringing up a customer, but of course I would refund them. I always provide receipts so that customers can review their order on the spot.”

Mr. Chan recalled a story where he accidentally charged a customer for a drink that wasn’t purchased. “When I saw the error, I refunded him in cash!” told Chan. “I really have the students’ best interest in mind.”

Mr. Chan also noted that he has seen an increase in sales since Golan stopped accepting Caf Cards.

Lake Como Pizza and Grandma’s Pizza have also been accused by YU students for taxing their orders on Caf Card purchases. Both Seth Rudin and Asher Amsalem, who manage Lake Como and Grandma’s respectively, assured that if tax was charged when it should not have been, it was surely a mistake, and that they would be happy to refund the money with the student providing a record of the error.

It seemed that all parties involved were moving to resolve this issue as soon as possible. In an e-mail to the student body, University Dean of Students Dr. Chaim Nissel explained “We have received a few reports from students who were mistakenly charged sales tax for purchases made with Dining Club- Omni funds.  If you were unjustly charged sales tax from any of our local eateries, please bring your receipt back to the restaurant and speak to the manager who will refund any sales tax collected.”

Strikingly, the four local kosher restaurants have had tax-related gaffes. This may be due to the slight discrepancy of policy between YU and MTA student Caf Cards.

MTA, Yeshiva University’s high school for boys,  which is located adjacent to the Wilf Campus in Washington Heights, also provides Caf Card use to its students. But while YU and MTA student purchases with Omni Dollars are both subject to a commission by YU, only MTA students, and not YU students, are to be taxed when using these funds. The cashiers at the restaurants may fail to distinguish between the two brands of students, ultimately leading to confusion and execution of incorrect tax procedures.

A young-looking college student may be erroneously perceived as a high school student, and therefore could get wrongly taxed. On the flip side, a more mature-looking MTA student may give off the impression of a YU student and could get away without paying taxes.

In any case, although Golan has opted out of the joint “Omni Plan” partnership with YU, the deal remains intact with Chop Chop, Lake Como’s Pizza, and Grandma’s Pizza.

Mr. Rudin of Lake Como stated regarding the Omni Dollars deal, “While the university does take a big cut from us, it is most important to keep our strong relationship together with YU. It makes much more sense not to pull out and to remain on good terms.”

Mr. Amsalem of Grandma’s Pizza declined to offer his opinion of his restaurant’s partnership with YU.

Mr. Cook of YU stated that no negotiations are currently taking place regarding a potential restructured deal that would be more appealing to the restaurants and that would possibly give Golan renewed interest in doing business with the university.

With the addition of Eizenshtein Bakery to Amsterdam Avenue, the local Kosher restaurants around Yeshiva University have had an eventful month. Wherever you next go out for a bite to eat, and however you pay, take a moment to recognize how fortunate you are to only be required to sit down and enjoy your food, and not be involved in the turmoil and politics behind every bite you take.