Press "Enter" to skip to content

Two Chow Lines at Black Hills State; 23 at SDSU—What’s the Right Ratio?

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):

meal plans 1,266 1,614 1,932 1,162 4,359 7,515
sites 2 3 3 4 12 23
plans/site 633 538 644 291 363 327
Fall 2021 student headcount 3,539 3,219 2,418 3,340 9,464 11,465
students/site 1,770 1,073 806 835 789 498
plans/students 35.8% 50.1% 79.9% 34.8% 46.1% 65.5%
staff (2019) 405 331 407 377 1,421 1,799
staff/site 203 110 136 94 118 78
(students+staff)/site 1,972 1,183 942 929 907 577

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.


  1. grudznick 2021-10-11

    While it is nice to have many chow lines, it is the quality and quantity of the chow itself that is of the most importance. Do you have statistics on which of the chow lines are open for breakfast and any menu insight? These are our children, and we need them to have solid breakfasts so their minds are engaged fully as they troop off to the classes and laboratories (I mean laboratories at SDSU, USD and SDSMT, as the other schools clearly don’t have laboratories #4Science like those big three do.)

  2. Bonnie B Fairbank 2021-10-11

    Umm, I’m having a hard time getting exercized about this. Probably because I’m a geezer with no college “eddication” and brown-bagged it my entire educational and working life. Yup, reverse whatevs. Grudz would probably call me feckless.

  3. Donald Pay 2021-10-11

    Grudz, I know it’s been looooong time for you and me since we were in college, but students generally skip breakfast. Maybe they pick up some fruit on their way to class. I only used the food service the first semester freshman year. After that I was off campus. My wife or I would make our own meals. We didn’t start eating right until my wife took an organic food class. That made a big difference in our health.

    Yeah, choice is a big way to encourage students to buy a meal plan. That works to keep high school students in high school for lunch, rather than hightailing it to McDs.

  4. Porter Lansing 2021-10-11

    Chez Portier sez, ” Breakfast isn’t the most important meal of the day. Despite what you may have learned from a silly rabbit or alcohol addled grudznick, breakfast doesn’t necessarily have a leg up on any other meal.

    Breakfast’s reputation is a scam, promoted years ago by Kellogg to promote his breakfast cereal.

  5. Jerry 2021-10-11

    Hey Grudz, it may be a USD medical science trained doctor that one day cleans out your biscuit and gravy clogged arteries.

  6. Mark Anderson 2021-10-11

    I used to eat broccoli and cheddar soup as often as they had it at the commons at USD but I did end up having six bypasses so the health aspect wasn’t around then. It was however very tasty.

  7. grudznick 2021-10-11

    Mr. Lansing, you cannot debate that grudznick prefers breakfast as my meal of choice. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day to me.
    Tell me I am wrong, young sir. You owe grudznick a fine cooked breakfast by your own masterful hands. With all the trimmings.

  8. ArloBlundt 2021-10-11

    Well, at USD probably 800 students eat at sorority and fraternity houses…I worked in kitchens in both..breakfast in the fraternity was “grab it and growl”, a huge urn of industrial grade coffee, an eight place toaster, peanut butter by the vat, and a quart jar of something that might have been jelly…lunch and dinner at the sorority was a complete meal and very good, the ladies ate well…no one ever awarded the food at the fraternity a gold star, the best I can say is that helpings of whatever it was were generous..there were also multiple restaurants, taverns, and pool halls around campus and I knew guys who lived on chili dogs, pickled eggs, and 3.2 beer…of course at night there was pizza delivery from the Varsity and in general the pizza was very tasty and relatively cheap. Food was definitely a pure sustenance affair and I don’t remember anyone starving…going out to an actual “dinner”, having a dining experience, was rare, a special event.

  9. grudznick 2021-10-11

    Living on chili dogs, pickled eggs, and 3.2 beer, plus the obligatory pizza, is fine from 10am until 4am. But between 4am and 10am civilized people need real breakfasting options, and sleeping on the floor of Carey’s or the Char Bar until you can get those free pickled eggs for breakfast is just not the best way we should be raising our children, Mr. Blundt.

  10. Bob Newland 2021-10-11

    Grudznutz, you are a worthless piece of rabbit turd.

  11. ArloBlundt 2021-10-11

    Grudz…believe me…..nobody ever slept on the floor of Carey’s bar, in my day. The Charcoal Lounge, in those days, considered itself high class and did not stoop to serve pickled eggs. The pickled eggs at Carey’s Bar were kept in a gallon size glass jar and were made by Russ Carey’s wife. They were ambrosia. In my day, they cost ten cents.

  12. Richard Schriever 2021-10-12

    Considering this is part of an RFP, I will assume that those food facilities include every individual serving location in the various athletic venues and not student meal plan places exclusively.

  13. jad 2021-10-12

    It would be interesting to know how much these food service companies donate to the athletic departments and general scholarship funds.

  14. O 2021-10-12

    Why would anyone sleep on the floor of Carey’s when one could walk a short way to R Pizza and have oneself delivered home with a hot pie in hand?

  15. John 2021-10-12

    Another opportunity was lost to update higher education delivery in South Dakota. The charter sought and received tinkering at the margins, not reform.
    Apparently it’s too hard to think big in South Dakota government.

  16. Porter Lansing 2021-10-12

    The Charcoal Lounge in the late 60’s – early 70’s aka Vietnam Era had policies in place to keep grudznick out.

    No wonder he has a bitter outlook on life.

    His desire for breakfast at 4:00 am is indicative of his alcoholism and blacking out by sundown, every afternoon.

  17. Richard Schriever 2021-10-12

    No doubt the grudz was one of the obnoxious crowd that frequented the Zip House/Bun Palace. Opened at 10:00 PM and closed at 4:00 AM Specially constituted to served the inebriated. Having worked there on occasion, I can attest to the general obnoxious gasses passed.

  18. Mark Anderson 2021-10-12

    Well Richard Schriever, they also served the hottest chili on record. Remember it well. It appears that nearly everyone here went to USD. I know you went to State Cory but thats OK, still love remembering those Nicks, grease fried hamburgers, still have my hat from there.

Comments are closed.