ISU Dining will be the first campus retailer to go cashless

ISU Dining's 20-plus campus locations will stop accepting cash payments on Monday, May 15, the first Iowa State unit to go cashless. With just 1.6% of last year's revenue from cash receipts -- and that figure never rising above 2.5% in the last five years -- associate director for business services Stu Essex said most of its customers won't be impacted by the change. More than 70% of ISU Dining's revenue is in meal plan sales, so those customers are swiping their ISU Card to eat.

Accepted forms of payment on May 15 will be credit cards, debit cards, student meal plan and employee charge plan (both on the ISU Card), and smartphone options such as Google Pay or Apple Pay. Essex said dining leaders are investigating options for selling ISU Dining cards at non-dining campus retailers that accept cash, for example, the university bookstore or the dining office.

"We're going to work with people who want to eat on campus. There will be alternatives for people who don't have a bank account," Essex said.

For example, he noted it can take newly arrived international students several weeks to get U.S. bank accounts. Essex said dining leaders work proactively with staff in the office of international students and scholars during orientation to provide international students options, such as preselling dining center meals, until they get a U.S. account.

The catering unit in ISU Dining will eliminate cash transactions on June 1, though catering customers still will be able to pay with a personal check.

Why cashless?

Many food and entertainment venues in Iowa and across the country are setting a cashless precedent. Essex noted Des Moines' Wells Fargo Arena, Principal Baseball Park and Adventureland amusement park are cashless. And various units (dining, athletics) at universities around the country are cashless. The key reasons are to:

  • Provide a quick, easy experience for customers. Essex said credit card transactions at a register are up to 40% faster than cash transactions.
  • Eliminate risks inherent with handling and storing cash, including both theft and the germs carried on coins and bills.
  • Create efficiencies in operations to focus on quality food and customer service. At 20+ locations around campus, multiple times every shift, ISU Dining employees count the cash in their registers. At the end of the day, when all cash returns to a central location, it's counted again. That turns out to be a lot of hours each week spent counting cash for a tiny fraction of revenue, especially in a time when hiring and retaining employees is challenging, Essex said.

Essex noted some large cities, such as New York City, have codes that prevent businesses from going cashless. The practice is considered discriminatory in a locale where large numbers of residents don't have bank or credit card accounts. Given ISU Dining's downward trend in cash revenue, the decision to eliminate cash is less impactful, he added.

Did you know

In addition to credit or debit cards, faculty and staff have their own options for eating on campus.

  • Full-time university employees may sign up for ISU Dining's faculty-staff charge plan to have dining purchases deducted from their next paycheck. There is no cost to start it and no obligation to use it. With it, employees receive a 20% discount on the door rate at the four dining centers on campus, but can use it at any ISU Dining location.
  • Essex said the leadership team is studying meal plan possibilities for faculty and staff.