Ditching the dollar: ISU Dining to go cashless starting this summer


© ISU Dining

ISU Dining will stop accepting cash as payment starting May 15 to increase their operational efficiency.

ISU Dining will stop accepting cash payments at all their retail locations and dining halls beginning May 15, the first day of the summer semester.

ISU Catering will also switch to cashless operations, but this change will not occur until June 1 to provide customers with proper notice.

Stu Essex, associate director of business services for ISU Dining, said this decision was made with the primary goal of improving operational efficiency.

ISU Dining receives less than 1.6% of their revenue in cash, so it is not efficient to dedicate resources toward handling and counting it, according to Essex.

Essex said ISU Dining is aware that some states and cities, like New York City, do not allow businesses to go cashless because they feel it discriminates against people who only carry cash. However, Essex does not expect this to be a significant issue because of how low their cash revenue is.

“There’s clearly not a tremendous amount of cash being used today [for ISU Dining transactions],” Essex said. “When we look at the entire population, it would suggest that it’s not going to really deny a huge population.”

ISU Dining also reached out to several universities and central Iowa businesses that have already gone cashless. Essex said most of these organizations, which include the University of Iowa, Adventureland and Wells Fargo Arena, have not faced significant challenges.

Muhammad Moinuddin, a staff member for the Office of Admissions, is not worried about the switch because many people pay for campus food with their student ID.

“It’s not a big deal to stop accepting cash because all the students have their ID,” Moinuddin said. “It doesn’t make a big impact because it is already established. Everybody has an ID.”

Other campus members, like Na-Omi Dan Karami, are worried about international students who only come to the U.S. with cash. International students make up 8.4% of Iowa State’s spring 2023 enrollment, according to the Office of the Registrar website.

Dan Karami, an international student from Niger and a graduate student studying human development and family studies, recalls that she only used cash when she first arrived in the U.S. She said waiting one to two weeks for access to a bank account is a typical experience for international students.

“I just feel like we should have both options,” Dan Karami said. “I know not many people use cash these days, but just in case to accommodate those who don’t have cards.”

Catania Anderson, a sophomore studying animal science, prefers to use cash sometimes even though she has access to other options. Anderson prefers cash for muffins or other snack items because making several small payments on her debit card makes it harder to track her finances.

Essex said payment options aside from cash that will still be available include purchasing a meal plan, using a credit or debit card or paying through a phone with services like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay.

He suggested that students who only have cash on them at a certain moment send a Venmo or PayPal transaction to a friend who can pay for them. For long-term situations, Essex said ISU Dining is open to finding alternatives if someone only has access to cash.

“If someone only has cash and they need to eat or want to eat, we don’t want to prevent them from doing so, and we’ll find a way to work with them,” Essex said. “But, the overall operational environment is going to be a cashless environment.”

One alternative ISU Dining is considering is selling gift cards through other areas of campus that will not be cashless, such as Reiman Gardens, the ISU Bookstore and athletics.

ISU Dining has been considering the cashless model since the COVID-19 pandemic when health and safety was a greater concern than usual. Though the decision was not primarily health-related, its ability to limit the spread of bacteria and viruses is seen as a large benefit.

“You potentially reduce the health concerns that can happen from handling cash because cash is amongst one of the dirtiest objects there is,” Essex said.

ISU Dining also intends for this decision to improve the speed of their sales. Cashless transactions are about 40% faster, according to Essex.

ISU Dining also looks forward to reducing safety risks for their workers because storing and transporting cash can be hazardous and difficult to regulate. Essex said people both within and outside of dining have stolen cash in the past, including a theft of $1,500 at Hawthorn about two years ago.

“We’re not necessarily trying to just copy everyone, and it’s not to exclude any customers,” Essex said. “From an operational [perspective], it seems it’s the appropriate decision at this point in time.”