Student drinking habits intensify during first week back at school

Students drink more during syllabus week than during other weeks of the year according to Manhattan bars and liquor stores. (John Benfer | Collegian Media Group)

Sticky floors, loud music and the smell of booze fill the air as local businesses welcome back students — and their spending money — with open arms during the first week of classes after a month away from Manhattan.

According to local business owners, alcohol consumption goes up during the first week of classes at Kansas State University compared to an average week.

“That week is probably about the same as our graduation week,” Kevin Neitzel, owner of The Fridge Wholesale Liquor, said. “There’s just not a lot of school stuff going on. They don’t have the responsibilities of homework usually, so they’ll party five nights a week.”

Neitzel compared his “syllabus week” sales from the spring semesters in 2017 and 2018 to numbers from 2019. He said 2019 was the busiest of the three.

The stores in Aggieville see a spike in traffic, too.

“Coming back from break, I feel like a lot of my friends want to go out more this first week,” Cassidy Anderson, senior in agribusiness, said. “More people are like, ‘Oh, let’s go out Tuesday for $2-you-call-its at O’Malley’s,’ and they want to go and get all the deals because everyone is back together again.”

Shelby Stair, senior in animal sciences and industry, said she goes out every two weeks. She also bartends at Mojo’s Beach Bar.

“I definitely notice people spend more than they normally do the first week,” Stair said.

Stair also said she sees customers come in earlier during syllabus week.

“During the school year, people usually seem to not come out until 11, but they’re coming out at like eight o’clock,” Stair said.

The K-State men’s basketball game last Tuesday might have funneled a few more people to the bars, but the colder weather may have prevented others from going out, Stair said.

Neitzel said he avoids comparing the first weeks of the fall and spring semesters because the warm weather coupled with football season drives his liquor store’s sales higher than basketball season does.

Dan Milligan, owner of Fat’s Bar in Aggieville, agreed that nicer weather brings more people out to the bars. He also talked about how the age transition in the junior class makes a difference to his business in the springtime.

“We’ll see more students throughout the week throughout the second semester because the junior class as a whole is finally turning 21,” Milligan said. “That is a difference from fall to spring. There’s more of the junior class that is of legal drinking age.”

Neitzel said these trends of higher alcohol consumption during the first week back to class has been the same for at least two decades. He started working at The Fridge 21 years ago when he was a K-State student himself.

“That part hasn’t changed at all,” Neitzel said. “The only things that have changed really [are] how many options there are now compared to when I was in school.”

Neitzel said Keystone, Natural Light and Bud Light “Ritas” are the top three sellers among young people who visit the liquor store.

Despite drinking alcohol being popular entertainment, residence halls did not see increases in alcohol-related incidents at the start of the spring semester.

“I looked at our numbers going back since I’ve been here, and we’re actually not seeing a larger number of incidents in the first week of class,” Bre Hardy, area coordinator for residence life, said. “I will say there is a larger number in the fall semester than there are during the spring semester, maybe overconsumption or breaking some of the policies that we have.”

K-State’s Department of Housing and Dining directly hosts more programming in the fall designed to curb alcohol-related activities and build healthy habits for students to counter this trend.

“I think that’s something that our profession takes pretty seriously,” Hardy said.

Hardy said they understand that new students are most impressionable in their first six-to-eight weeks on campus.

“We want them to be smart about those decisions that they’re making,” Hardy said. “We want to have those conversations with them, understanding that even though we don’t want people to drink under the age of 21, it’s going to happen. So we have to be realistic when talking and working with students.”