Students ‘Finesse’ Free Food using Community Chat

Created as a group chat among five friends to share news of free food and giveaways on campus, Finesse Nation has grown to include nearly 3,000 UTD students. Photo by Anna Phengsakmueang | Photo Editor

‘Finesse Nation’ group chat of nearly 3,000 members shares information about ongoing deals, giveaways on UTD campus

Nearly 3,000 UTD students collaborate daily over a group messaging platform to notify each other of deals and giveaways around campus. As the secret chat gets more crowded, the founder is looking to other platforms to expand the money-saving operation.

As part of a chat called Finesse Nation, these thrifty college students organize using GroupMe, a free messaging service. There, people post coupons, discount codes and photos of free food they find around campus.

When asked in a Mercury survey about their “favorite finesses,” anonymous responses ranged drastically, from t-shirts to a bottle of vegetable oil. Many mentioned free medium slurpees from 7/11, which was a popular trend within the GroupMe after a user posted a reusable coupon. 

The administrator and founder of Finesse Nation describes it as “a way for students to find deals and free things around campus and outside of campus.”

Using the screen-name “Dr. Finesse,” the founder remains anonymous. Users are left with only occasional GroupMe notifications to piece together who he is and what his motives are. He promised, but never gave, a face reveal. 

Dr. Finesse said he began the original chat without any idea that it would become the freebie behemoth that it is today. It started as a group of five friends that would text each other when they saw free things around campus.

 “We realized there were a lot of events that gave away free food, but we needed someone to let us know because you can’t be everywhere at once,” Dr. Finesse said. “I thought, let’s just add more people.”

More people meant it was easier to find deals around campus. Between the spring semester of 2016 and today, the chat has grown exponentially.

“I didn’t really need to advertise it at all. The rumor got around that there is this chat that gives away free food,” Dr. Finesse said. “It just blew up.”

Most members’ interactions with Dr. Finesse involve him, along with the admins, kicking out members who spam, which has led to some criticism. A Mercury survey of 70 group members found that 45% of users said admins were too harsh. Noah Lawrence, a senior with a biology and healthcare double major and an admin in the chat, said they have had to become stricter as a result of increased spam.

“We tried to be lenient,” Lawrence said. “Free stuff is time-sensitive, so if something free on campus pops up, they want to be able to see it right away and then not worry about it. People would abuse that. There was more notifications and more spam, so we started hammering down on things and instantly removing people.”

Lawrence was promoted to admin after meeting Dr. Finesse in a class. The other admin, “Junaid,” is also closely tied to Finesse Nation.

“I was super active when there were 300 or 400 people, so he made me an admin and then the other admin is just my friend,” Lawrence said. “It has pretty much just been us two.”

GroupMe traditionally limits group chats to 200 members. Previously, group chat admins could request for larger groups and this was easily granted, but the process has recently become more difficult. Dr. Finesse said he is looking for a long-term sustainable platform for students to access deals around campus. 

In addition to over 3,000 members of Finesse Nation at UTD, Dr. Finesse has started Finesse Nation chats at other colleges, including one with almost 2,000 members at the UT Austin and one as far away as the University of Illinois in Chicago. 

He said he is currently working with a computer science student from University of Texas at Austin to pursue the creation of a Finesse Nation app.

The UT Austin student, who also wanted to stay anonymous, got involved in Finesse Nation after talking to Dr. Finesse about a hyper-affordable grilled cheese food delivery system he was running out of UT-Austin.

“There is a need that needs to be fulfilled,” he said. “When I joined, there were already a couple group chats out. I saw there was also a need to expand beyond the GroupMe to other platforms. GroupMe has a lot of issues with spam and too many people speaking (at once).”

The app, which is scheduled to roll out in the next couple of months, will capture the spirit of Finesse Nation, while adding new opportunities for local businesses at UTD and UT-Austin to specifically advertise deals to students, Dr. Finesse said. While the app is still in beta, Dr. Finesse said he plans on keeping the GroupMe active. 

“I don’t want students wasting their time trying to pay for food, when they need to study, when they can find free food on campus, when they can find deals around campus,” Dr. Finesse said. 

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