Registered Student Organizations

Alcohol Policies

The sale and service/serving of alcohol beverages on campus is governed by Federal laws, Wisconsin Statutes, University of Wisconsin System Administrative Codes, and UW-Madison regulations. The following information is only a general guide for student organizations. It is not a complete, exhaustive list of laws, rules, and regulations.

Should we serve alcohol?

An RSO should first ask how the consumption of alcohol contributes to the goals for the event/activity. Alcohol beverages should never be the purpose or focus of a student organization event/activity. Because a substantial portion of the student body is under the legal drinking age of 21 and cannot legally consume alcohol beverages, it may not be appropriate to permit service and consumption of alcohol beverages at an event/activity where a significant number of those present will be underage. Serving alcohol may actually detract from your event/activity.

  • Serving alcohol in an isolated “beer garden” in order to separate “of age” and “underage” students could actually be counter to your goals of encouraging collaboration, networking, and creating opportunities for students to meet others, rally around a shared interest, and have fun together.
  • If you decide to have alcohol served at an RSO event/activity, you must provide alcohol service in a socially responsible manner by also offering non-alcohol beverages and food, as required by University regulations.
  • Security officers may be required at functions where alcohol beverages are served with the cost charged back to the group.
  • In planning an event which includes serving alcohol, remember to add into your budget the cost of non-alcohol beverages and food, along with security costs, if security is required. These requirements add to the cost of your event/activity. It’s important for an RSO to consider if this is how they want to spend their scarce programming budget. Note that most funding sources do not include alcohol as an allowable expense.

On Campus

Individuals or student organizations and groups may not sell alcohol beverages on University property. The Wisconsin Union and University Housing must handle all sales of alcohol beverages for student groups. Sales are defined to include any charge made directly or indirectly for service of alcohol beverages. Selling or serving alcohol outside of Memorial Union, Union South, or University Housing facilities requires special permission from an appropriate school/college dean. The best starting point for student groups inquiring about the sale or service of alcohol beverages is the Campus Events Service Office, or 262-2511. They will help you sort through proper procedures dependent upon the specific indoor or outdoor campus space you wish to use.

Alcohol beverages (wine, wine coolers, beer, hard liquor) must be served by university personnel (specifically staff of the Wisconsin Union or University Housing for student organizations) and must comply with applicable State and University regulations. At the discretion of the University, access to beverage service may be restricted in a variety of ways. Special arrangements such as “beer gardens” which require extra personnel for checking IDs, etc. are at the expense of the student organization.

At the Wisconsin Union, alcohol service is available through Union catering. Any event with alcohol service organized by an RSO where a significant number of participants are expected to be under 21 years of age, is required to have a “beer garden.” A beer garden is an isolated area of the room (or a separate room) where only participants 21 years of age or older will be admitted. Participants’ ID cards will be checked at the entrance to the beer garden, and participants will not be allowed to take drinks outside of the beer garden area. The Student Organization putting on the event is responsible for all charges involved: ID checkers, wristbands, bartenders, etc. Bar service ends 30 minutes prior to the end of the event, 30 minutes prior to the building closing time, or 12 AM, which ever comes first.

The Wisconsin Union, at its discretion, reserves the right to refuse the privilege of alcohol services to groups. Security officers may be required at functions where alcohol beverages are served, and the cost will be charged to the student organization. Alcohol bars may be closed early at the discretion of the Wisconsin Union management due to unbecoming behavior.

If you are choosing to have alcohol served in a beer garden at a large event such as a dance in the Memorial Union or Union South, refer also to the Large Social Events information at

Off Campus

Off-campus sales or service of alcohol beverages by students or student organizations in Madison fall under the jurisdiction of the City of Madison as described by various ordinances, as well as State Statutes. Student groups wishing to sell alcohol beverages off campus need to obtain a Special Class B Picnic Beer License from the City of Madison, City Clerk’s Office, (608) 266-4601. Application forms and Picnic Beer Handouts including guidelines are available online at


When serving alcohol beverages on or off campus, the student organization has a legal responsibility to abide by the following regulations:

  • Have a licensed bartender on the premises at all times
  • Ensure that persons consuming alcohol at the event/activity are of legal age (21 years of age)
  • Refuse service to those who appear intoxicated to the point of impaired functioning

Violations may result in criminal charges and will result in University action against the sponsoring student organization most likely through the Committee on Student Organizations (CSO). Note that since a student organization is not able to be ticketed, any fines assessed via law enforcement agencies will be given to the leaders of the student organization. In a similar manner, individual students who provide alcohol beverages to underage students will face disciplinary action. In any such cases that result in injury, damage or disruption, the student who provides alcohol will face probable suspension from the University.

More Information

Refer to University Alcohol Policies for additional information.

Refer to the UW Police Department Crime Prevention website for information on Alcohol Abuse & Drinking Issues on the UW-Madison Campus, which lists explanations of laws and penalties.

Current Alcohol Policy/Law and Recommended Guidelines

For student organizations sponsoring events/activities where alcohol is being served, please be aware of the following policies or laws and recommendations:

  • Taken from the Registered Student Organization Code of ConductStudent organizations that serve or permit possession of alcoholic beverages and/or other drugs, including controlled substances, at student organization functions, on or off campus, may be disciplined if violations of alcoholic beverage laws or of university regulations occur at student organization functions if the violations involve members and/or guests.
  • City of Madison/State of WI Law: Unlicensed Tavern Law: Money cannot be exchanged for alcohol or any “required” type of service at an event where alcohol is being served ie. “cup parties,” requiring people to use the coat check, etc., unless the establishment has a liquor license.
  • UW-Madison Facilities Use Policy P-8 II.E: Advertising on campus or advertising using University resources may not include specific reference to alcohol as a part of the event. References to alcohol are prohibited in either printed word or graphic image.

Responsible Party Management Recommendations

For some student groups on campus, the items listed below, among others, may be required by your governing council (i.e., Interfraternity Council) or your departmental sponsor (i.e., School of Pharmacy). If applicable, please check with the appropriate entity (national organizations, schools/colleges/departments, governance councils, etc.) to insure you understand the policies that govern your particular organization.

  • Do not use “common containers of beer” (i.e., kegs, party balls, etc.), unless at a 3rd party vendor. Alcohol served in individual servings tends to slow down consumption. Studies have shown that people tend to drink more when they are drinking from a keg vs. individual cans/bottles. There is also the tendency to over consume as there is the “we have to finish the keg mentality” vs. simply saving bottles/cans for the next social event.
  • Do not provide bulk collective homemade drinks (i.e., Wapatui). This practice is very dangerous. Participants do not know the level of alcohol in their drinks. People intending to drink responsibly do not necessarily know if they are or not.
  • Non-alcoholic beverages (besides water) should be available and if at a 3rd party vendor, less expensive than alcoholic beverages and comparable in size. Having options for non-drinkers and designated drivers lowers the risk of unsafe drinking levels. It also provides more of an opportunity for drinkers to switch from alcohol to non-alcohol alternatives.
  • Reasonable quantities of food relative to the size of the group should be provided. Food helps slow down the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.
  • When holding events, including general or executive meetings, at a liquor licensed establishment, do so only if everyone is 21 years of age or older or the establishment meets the definition of a restaurant (less than 50% of sales are from alcohol) or holds an 18+ Center for Visual & Performing Arts license (under 21) through the City of Madison. By making sure everyone can attend legally, it doesn’t require or encourage members under the age of 21 to violate the law to attend a meeting or event.
  • Unless everyone is 21 years of age or older, consumption of alcohol should not occur at general or executive board meetings. In order to minimize risk, student leaders should declare a very clear beginning and ending time for the meeting. Doing so can significantly reduce the risk and liability to a student group if an incident should occur after the “official” meeting time had ended.
  • Events or activities where consumption of alcohol is the purpose, consequence, or reward of the event or activity should not be allowed. It is generally acknowledged that drinking games and using alcohol as a reward can encourage over consumption in a short period of time. Drinking games are designed to have people drink when they win/lose, not when they want to.
  • Alcohol should not be used as an incentive for participating in recruitment events or as prizes in contests. When alcohol is used as an enticement, it increases the liability to the organization that is providing alcohol.