In a story last week on the Board of Regents’ call for food service bids, Bob Mercer noted the number of dining sites at each of our six public universities and the number of students buying meal plans:
Each university has its own set of food sites: BHSU 2, DSU 3, Mines 3, NSU 4, USD 12 and SDSU 23. Those include a variety of national franchises, too, and the campuses have a variety of payment plans and other options, such as Hobo Dough at SDSU.
They also have different 3-year averages for students with meal plans: BHSU 1,266; DSU 1,614; Mines 1,932; NSU 1,162; USD 4,359; and SDSU 7,515. And they have a variety of arrangements for catering and concessions at athletic contests and other events [Bob Mercer, “S.D. Public Universities Seek a Food Service Contractor—or Maybe More Than One,” KELO-TV, 2021.10.05].
23 food sites at SDSU? Really? I’m trying to think back 30 years to when I daily sought sustenance on the SDSU campus, and I can recall…what, only five places to get chow on campus? Medary Commons, the Student Union, Jack’s downstairs (ah, pizza by the slice!), the little dining room upstairs (where Madame Redhead held our French conversations), Larson Commons (where I think I might have eaten once)… was that it? And now, 23 places to fuel a learning body? Campus enrollment has doubled since my Jackrabbit days, but chow options have quadrupled. I’m not sure if that’s progress in convenience and student service or a consumerism-driven excess of instant (and inevitably, with campus food, more expensive) gratification.
Naturally, those numbers incline me to make a spreadsheet to compare dining availability across campi (alas, I’m mingling fall 2021 student counts with fall 2019 staff counts, but those are the most recent figures I can find on the Regents’ website):
|Fall 2021 student headcount||3,539||3,219||2,418||3,340||9,464||11,465|
Counting all students and staff as possible eaters, Black Hills State by far appears to face the greatest prospect of crowded lunch lines, with 1,972 potential customers per dining site. Dakota State and Northern have roughly comparable student and staff counts, but with one more dining site at DSU and two at NSU, those campi have 1,183 and 929 possible customers per site. Mines and USD land close on either side of NSU’s ratio. SDSU’s possible customer per site ratio is far lower at 577.
Looking at meal plans purchased rather than headcounts may provide a better measure of demand for campus dining sites. Students who don’t purchase meal plans will include online students, who may never visit campus for a meal. And profs are all too busy grading papers and plotting Marxist revolution to trudge over the Union for costly capitalist lunch; they’re all huddled over their Tupperware and tuna fish with their radical leftists colleagues in the faculty lounge working on critical race theory lesson plans.
At BHSU and NSU, only a few more than a third of students appear to buy meal plans. SDSU gets just about two thirds of its students to buy meal plans. Mines appears to be the meal-plan marketing champ, with nearly 80% of students buying meal plans.
Looking at per-site demand based on meal plans changes the rankings a bit. Mines has the most meal-plan purchasers per dining site, 644, just a little higher than BHSU’s plan/site ratio or 633. DSU is at 538, USD and SDSU are in the 300s. On this metric, NSU is the champ—or, the most over-provided, under-utilized campus dining sites, with just 291 meal plans per site.
I’m not sure if there is some optimal number of dining sites for a given population of students and faculty. These figures could suggest that SDSU, USD, and NSU may have more dining sites than the market may support. Or these figures could indicate that Mines, DSU, and Black Hills State need to catch up with their bigger counterparts in providing more dining locations to serve their students.