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Refectory with cafeteria

The cafeteria of a university is referred to as a cafeteria (shortened from mensa academica “university lunch table ” from Latin canteen “table, table”; plural canteens or canteens ) .


Canteens - often in connection with cafeterias - primarily cater for students and university staff with warm lunches, and sometimes even dinner. University canteens, with up to 12,000 meals served each day, are among the largest communal catering facilities .

In some countries, canteens are subsidized by the state in order to financially promote participation in university studies . For a surcharge to compensate for subsidies, almost all canteens are also open to guests who come from outside the university. In Germany, most of the canteens are run by the student unions under public law , which bundle social support for students. There are 58 independent student unions that operate around 700 catering facilities; these are correspondingly different. In Austria, most canteens are run by a national operating company. In many other countries, the canteens are run by the universities themselves or by profit-oriented caterers .


According to the company, the “Prinz Karl” cafeteria in Tübingen , which opened in 1900, is one of the oldest canteens in Germany. Its name is derived from King Karl I of Württemberg , who studied in Tübingen.

The term mensa gratuita called in earlier times free meals , that is funded mostly by foundations, free meals for certain needy students. These were given out in inns or with private individuals; today, the corresponding support is usually given as vouchers for the general cafeteria.


Example: Schnitzel Cordon bleu with french fries and chocolate pudding as dessert (cafeteria Stadtmitte, TU Darmstadt )

Depending on the cafeteria, several menus , consisting of a starter, main course and dessert, or individual dishes such as main course, side dishes, salad, etc. are offered to choose from. Usually there is a particularly inexpensive tribal meal and one or more elective meals . Since around the 1980s, the canteens in Germany have greatly expanded their selection thanks to more modern production methods. In the past, a menu with side dishes was usually bundled together, today it is usually possible to put it together freely. Vegetarian menus, a salad bar and various desserts and drinks are standard in most canteens today. In larger canteens there is often a subdivision between the menus and a "theme park" where special dishes are available at various stations, such as: B. pizzas , Mexican or Asian dishes.

Another recent development is the amalgamation of what used to be clearly separated dining halls and cafeterias. Especially at smaller university locations, hot and cold food and drinks are offered in a common sales area and consumed in a single guest area. The neologisms “Mensaria” or “Menseria” are sometimes used to illustrate this merging .



Main course with dessert in the university cafeteria for € 3.95 (student price, 2016)

A complete menu in a German cafeteria usually costs less than 4 euros due to government funding and student union fees, and prices are often between 2 and 3 euros. University employees and guests pay graduated surcharges; Menus seldom cost more than 5 euros. Food outside the menu, such as salads, desserts and sweets, as well as drinks are subsidized less or not at all and can be bought at normal commercial prices.


In Austria, canteens are not subsidized by the state. Individual main courses (including a side dish, but without a drink, salad, soup or starter / dessert) that are not part of a menu can cost up to 6 euros.


In Switzerland the prices are very different. In 2010, the University of Zurich offered lunch including a starter and dessert for CHF 5.40 (the equivalent of around 5.10 €), while the price at the University of Lucerne was CHF 8.70 (8.20 €).

United States

In the United States , "Room & Board" (= dormitory and cafeteria) are billed at a fixed price at universities. American students only show an authorization card when they go out to eat. In addition to tuition fees , this cost factor plays a central role in student financing and sponsorship in the United States . Canteens in the United States provide full board, so they offer three meals a day. The dormitories often have no kitchen rooms.

Web links

Commons : Canteens  - collection of images
Wiktionary: Mensa  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ University gastronomy , on
  2. Student unions in the number table 2006/2007 ( memento of August 6, 2009 in the Internet Archive ), brochure of the umbrella organization of the German Student Union, p. 30 (PDF; 739 kB).
  3. Mensa & Cafeteria Prinz Karl , on, accessed on June 9, 2020
  4. ↑ For example at the University of Mainz : Free tables , on
  5. Large price differences for cafeteria food , on, accessed on June 9, 2020
  6. Foreign exchange calculator with the ECB foreign exchange. In: Accessed April 1, 2020 (German).