Hall food: A short introduction

Not all of us are master chefs when we get to uni – but fear not!

Formal hall at Keble College, Oxford

In first year, your college hall will be your closest and most convenient source of decent food – especially if you live on your college’s main site. Dining in college is not only friendly on the pocket strings, it provides a relaxed social environment to meet new people and catch up with friends (which is a great way to break up a long day at the library).

Some factual info:

Hall dinners at most colleges come in two forms. At the first, informal hall, you line up with a tray where the food is being served and pick the courses you want. You can typically get a main course and dessert for under £3, dress casually, and stay for as long as you please.

The second, formal hall, is a three-course meal held after informal hall which typically lasts for about an hour. The frequency and ‘formality’ of these meals varies between colleges. At Lincoln and Christ Church, for example, formal hall is held most days of the week but is a relatively casual affair: gowns must be worn but you can still turn up wearing your trackies underneath.

Other colleges, such as St. Hugh’s, have less frequent ‘formals’ (as ‘formal hall’ is sometimes shortened to) for which people tend to get more dressed up. Colleges also hold formals for special events, for example Christmas dinner, which are usually great fun and get booked up very fast.

At most colleges’ formal halls, wine glasses are set out but wine isn’t served – so if you do fancy a glass (of wine or anything else) with your meal, make sure to bring your own bottle!

College catering staff can accommodate for most dietary requirements, and there will always be (reasonably) good vegetarian and vegan options available.

To pay, you can either use cash or scan your student card; it is similar to a system you might have had at school. Either pay a lump sum at the start of term or pay for what you have eaten through your battel (Oxford-speak for ‘bill’) at the end of term.

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Some, admirably, make it their goal to sample the food at every hall in Oxford. There are loads of ways to ‘hall surf’: formal hall swaps with friends are always enjoyable, while planned social and charity events at different colleges’ halls are also common. There’s even a Facebook page dedicated to formal-hall-swapping!

Top tips:

  • Check the menus! You can usually find these on college websites. (You don’t want to miss out on those delicious sweet potato fries…)
  • Inform the catering staff if you have dietary requirements/allergies.
  • Halal or Kosher meat is only provided at some colleges, so check that first.
  • Turn up a little earlier for formal. If the start time listed is 7:15pm, aim to arrive by 7:00pm. Also, bring a bottle of wine or something non-alcoholic.
  • Enjoy the occasion! If you’re dining in the ‘original’ Hogwarts hall, a.k.a. Christ Church, take in the atmosphere.

If you love food as much as I do, be sure to explore the variety of dishes on offer. Bon appétit!