Unlike many universities, all food purchases in University Housing at UW-Madison are entirely à la carte. That means you have the flexibility to eat what you want, when you want it, at any of our dining markets, coffeeshops, and convenience stores in six Housing locations across campus.
We even let residents take food back to their rooms, although the beautiful seating areas and opportunities to eat with friends in our dining facilities might be too tempting to leave.
As a resident during the Academic Year, using your Wiscard (student ID) for payment in Housing dining locations gets you a 30% discount on prepared food and a 20% discount on pre-packaged food, compared to non-resident prices. (These discounts do not apply to Summer Term residents.)
In addition, all enrolled UW-Madison students are exempt from sales tax on food purchases when paying with Wiscard, saving you an additional 5.5% at most campus dining locations.
Resident Meal Plan
All new residents for the 2018-19 Academic Year will be asked to select a meal plan tier for food purchases for the year, based on your eating habits. That amount will be part of your Housing bill and will be deposited into a Resident Food Account on your Wiscard, which is used exclusively for on-campus dining. This money is nontransferable.
If you eat more than this amount, you can add money to your Wiscard at any time and continue getting your resident discount on food.
Which tier is right for me?
Approximate # of Meals/Week**: ~9
- Resident pricing
Approximate # of Meals/Week**: ~13
- Resident pricing
- $100 bonus dining dollars
- 5 free Bean & Creamery beverages per semester
Approximate # of Meals/Week**: ~20
- Resident pricing
- $200 bonus dining dollars
- 10 free Bean & Creamery beverages per semester
- Unlimited free fountain drinks
- 20% discount on care packages
*For the Academic Year. Nontransferable.
**This is an estimate, based on discounted prices in Housing dining markets over a 32-week Academic Year. Actual amounts will vary based on eating habits, food choices, and additional food items purchased beyond meals. Food purchases at Wisconsin Union locations do not receive discounted resident pricing.
Any changes to your meal plan tier must be made before the last date for adding or dropping a class on the fall academic calendar, which is typically in mid-September.
Frequently Asked Questions
How the Meal Plan Works
Is this an a la carte dining program?
Yes, all food purchases are made a la carte, giving students the flexibility to eat what they want, when they want it, including the ability to take food to-go. Student feedback has shown us that this model is strongly preferred over the all-you-can-eat options seen at many other institutions.
How do I know what tier to choose?
Students should base their selection on their eating habits and how many meals they anticipate having on campus per week. Students may consider choosing one of the higher tiers if they expect to eat on-campus multiple times per day, plan to stay on-campus over most weekends, tend to eat larger meals, or often spend additional money on late night snacks, coffee, groceries, etc.
When do students select their meal plan tier?
We plan to open the selection of meal plans in February. Students will have the option to change their meal plan tier up or down in the first few weeks of the school year if they find that they are spending more or less than they expected.
Do students receive resident pricing on food?
Yes, students living in University Residence Halls receive discounted residential pricing on all food in all University Housing locations when using their Resident Food Account/Wiscard for payment.
What can be purchased with the Resident Food Account?
The Resident Food Account can be used to purchase food, beverages, and grocery items in any University Housing or Wisconsin Union location on campus. It cannot be used for books, laundry, printing, clothing, events, tech supplies, etc. Those purchases can be made through the separate Wiscard account.
What are the incentives to choose a higher-level tier?
All meal plan tiers include discounted resident pricing on food in all University Housing locations. With the Tier 2 plan, residents also get $100 bonus dining dollars and five free Bean & Creamery beverages per semester. With the Tier 3 plan, residents get $200 bonus dining dollars, ten free Bean & Creamery beverages per semester, unlimited free fountain drinks, and a 20% discount on care packages.
Meal Plan Costs
How was the $1,400 amount set for the Tier 1 plan?
$1,400 is the baseline for an average of nine meals per week based on student meal choices, which gives flexibility to students who may not dine on campus every day or who travel home on a regular basis, while still encouraging good eating habits. The number of meals required at Big 10 and UW System schools was evaluated for comparison, as well as typical resident food expenditures. The plan also factors in typical spending on beverages, groceries, and snacks at campus locations outside of meals.
What if I spend all of the money on my food account and need more?
Students and parents can easily add money to the account at any time through the Wiscard website or by visiting an in-person deposit location at Union South, Slichter Hall, or the Gordon Dining & Event Center.
How do the costs of UW-Madison's meal plan and housing compare to other campuses?
UW-Madison offers the lowest-cost room and board plan in the Big Ten and is the only school in the Big Ten to maintain a purely a la carte program. All Big Ten and UW System schools have required meal plans for on-campus residents ranging from $2480 to $6200 ($3255 to $6200 in the Big Ten).
How do students pay for the meal plan?
Payments for the Resident Food Account are divided up evenly among the four quarterly bills from University Housing for room and board. For a student on the Tier 1 plan, these food payments would equal $350 per quarterly bill.
Can I use financial aid to cover my food purchases?
With our meal plans, the money for food purchases is included in the quarterly room and board bills, which can be paid with financial aid. For residents paying with financial aid, the money for food will still be loaded on their Resident Food Account in advance before the start of the semester.
How is the money for food purchases disbursed to the student?
Funds are divided up between the two semesters, with half being deposited into the Resident Food Account before the fall semester and the other half before the spring semester. For a student on the Tier 1 plan, they would receive $700 in August and $700 in January.
Where does the revenue from food sales go?
University Housing is a self-funded, not-for-profit operation at UW-Madison. Revenue from food sales goes towards improving the quality of our services and facilities, staff training, wages, ingredients, keeping prices down, and ensuring that our menus and food offerings are inclusive to all students.
What happens if money is left over at the end of the school year?
Students will have the ability to carry over unused meal plan funds on their Resident Food Account to the next academic year. These funds will remain available for on-campus dining until a student graduates or officially separates from UW-Madison.
What can I get for $5?
The estimated number of meals a student gets with each meal plan tier is based on a $5/meal average at discounted resident prices. In many cases, residents can get a great meal for even less than $5:
- Made-to-order burrito and 16 oz beverage: $4.41
- Sandwich, chips, and 16 oz beverage: $4.30
- Island stew w/rice and 16 oz beverage: $3.69
- Made-to-order stir fry and 16 oz beverage: $4.65
- California roll sushi (5 pieces): $4.89
- Cheeseburger, fries, and 16 oz beverage: $4.10
- Made-to-order pasta dish and 16 oz beverage: $3.69
What can you offer a student with food allergies, vegetarian diets, or other special dietary needs?
Dining and Culinary Services is committed to meeting the needs of all of our students. We have a Registered Dietitian on staff who works with every student to ensure we can meet the needs of that student. Currently, we work with over 600 students to walk them through our Dining program and make each student and parent feel comfortable that we can meet their student’s needs. In the rare occurrence that we are not able to meet the needs of an individual student, there will be a review process for exemption. We also have one Dining location, Liz’s Market, which does not use tree nuts, peanuts, and shellfish as ingredients in any food items.
What can you offer a student with religious dietary requirements?
As with food allergens we strive to meet every student’s needs. We offer Halal options at all of our Dining Marketplaces, and our staff have been trained on how to handle these items. We also offer a selection of grab-and-go Kosher items that we procure from the Hillel House foodservice operation on campus. In the rare occurrence that we are not able to meet the needs of an individual student, there will be a review process for exemption.
Will I find enough good food to eat in University Housing?
With a large selection of made-to-order items and over 15,000 recipes created by our on-staff chefs, we pride ourselves on providing high-quality food and variety. Many of our items are locally-sourced to use fresh, sustainable ingredients. In an April 2017 survey of 2,000 residents, our food service quality received an 82% satisfaction rating. Our food and dining options are consistently one of the top reasons students return to University Housing after their first year.
Will I find healthy food options in University Housing?
Our dining program participates in the Partnership for a Healthier America, to support our commitment to providing healthy eating choices. We also offer many vegetarian and vegan options across our dining locations and have Registered Dietitians on staff who can offer free consulting with students about diet and nutrition. Nutritional information is provided for all of our items on our website and line signs, including special icons to mark healthy choices and vegetarian selections.
The Wiscard, your student ID, also serves as your primary way to pay for food in our dining markets, coffee shops, and convenience stores with the Resident Food Account.
In addition to the Resident Food Account, your Wiscard also has a general account that can be used to purchase other things on campus, such as laundry services, printing, textbooks, school supplies, course packets, and food at some other on-campus locations. If you plan to purchase textbooks, school supplies, or course packets, with your Wiscard, we recommend an additional $800 – $900 per semester to cover these expenses.
You can deposit funds onto your Wiscard online, by mail, by phone, or in person. Your purchases will be deducted from your Wiscard account at the register, and your account balance will be shown on the receipt. You can check your balance online any time at the Wiscard account management site.
Money in the Resident Food Account is not transferable. However, unused money in this account automatically carries forward from semester to semester. Students may request a refund of unused money when they separate from the University.
Money added to the general Wiscard account automatically carries forward from semester to semester as long as students, faculty, and staff are enrolled or have a valid appointment at UW-Madison, or until a Close Account and Refund Form is submitted to the Wiscard Office.
Losing a Wiscard should be handled with the same urgency as losing a credit or debit card. Immediately suspend the Wiscard, which will disable it at most locations across campus and not allow anyone else to use it. Wiscard users may also contact the Wiscard Office at 608-262-3258 to deactivate the card.
Contacting other campus organizations about the loss of a Wiscard, including the UW-Madison Police Department, Libraries, and Recreational Sports is strongly recommended. Deactivating a Wiscard will disable Housing residents’ access to their hall and floor. Residence hall desks may issue a loaner key/card to provide Housing residents temporary access to their hall, floor, and Housing dining locations for a period of four days.
A new Wiscard can be obtained at the Wiscard Office for a $25 charge. Housing residents must then have their building access restored at their hall’s desk.
Cash & Credit Card
Housing residents can also pay with a credit card at Housing dining locations, and cash is accepted at Gordon and Four Lakes. However, these payment methods do not qualify for the 30% discount on prepared food and 20% discount on pre-packaged food for Housing residents. They also do not qualify for the student sales tax exemption, and they do not apply towards the minimum dining spend.