Formal Dinners | Holly Goes Abroad

One of the questions I get asked most about studying abroad is How is the food? Fortunately, food at Oxford is excellent! Today I’ll be talking about formal hall, a three-course meal in your college’s dining hall at which you have to wear your gowns (black cape things) and sometimes even gowns (long dresses). I’ve eaten at formal hall a handful of times now, so I’m definitely ready to gush about it!

Formal dinner in Chapel Hall at Mansfield College

Each college does formal hall a little differently. At Mansfield College where I currently study, we have formal hall every Wednesday and Friday; however, it’s pretty expensive compared to a regular meal so people usually only go every once in a while. Other colleges, such as Merton, have formal hall every night (this is a pretty good indicator of which colleges have more money). People always joke here about making a bunch of friends from other colleges so you can go to their formals, but they’re only half kidding: going to formals at other colleges is a blast!

Formal hall at Merton College

When I first time I ate at formal hall I was taken aback by its fanciness. I had to ask people what silverware to use first, which glass to put wine vs. water in, how to open the weird glass bottles of water they place in the middle of the table, etc. A tutor speaks in Latin before we eat, resembling a sort of dining cultish chant (okay, that’s a little exaggerated– it was pretty strange, though!). Most importantly, the food is delicious!

Personally, the most impressive aspect of formal hall is the way they handle allergies. When you sign up to go to formal you write down any dietary restrictions you may have, which ultimately get written on a little card like the one shown above. You place this card in front of you during the meal to let the server know and they will adjust your meal accordingly. I’m always so surprised when they bring out a dessert that I can actually eat with my nut allergy because usually that’s the part of the meal that I have to skip. My favorite dessert so far has been apple pie…. how did they know I was craving autumn desserts?!

Formal hall may be expensive, but it’s definitely worth it for special occasions. Where else can you feel like you’re dining in the Great Hall at Hogwarts?

Click here to check out other posts in my Holly Goes Abroad series!

Have you ever been to formal hall at Oxford? What’s the fanciest meal you’ve ever eaten? Let me know in the comments section below!




11 responses to “Formal Dinners | Holly Goes Abroad”

  1. Aah that’s so cool! The dining halls are so beautiful, it must be so exciting to eat there. Also seems great that they handle allergies well. *nods* I think one of my friends went to a formal dinner at Cambridge with her siblings but I don’t remember much of that except that apparently it was super fancy haha.


  2. I once ate a very fancy 21 course meal at somewhere I’d better not mention. It tasted great going down – unfortunately it didn’t stop coming back up for almost three days.


  3. That’s so very cool, I think I would both love and be VERY intimidated if I ever had to go to one of these formal dinners. It has to be quite weird, at first, everyone well dressed and this…it’s kind of an event, when you think about it, isn’t it? thank you for sharing, I love this – and so thoughtful, the little card with your allergies!


  4. I haven’t heard of these formal dinners before, but it sure does sound fancy! haha I would be as lost as you the first time! The tutor talking in Latin doesn’t surprise me, though: here, before each big activity/presentation/whatever, there’s also someone who announces what we’re doing … in Latin. xD


  5. I had no idea this was a thing. Sounds pretty cool! I guess it’s too expensive to go every week, but you’ll only study abroad once, so I’m glad you’ve been a few times. 😊


  6. I get more and more jealous every time I read your Oxford posts. How cool is this? You get special nights of fancy!


  7. Formal hall does sound rather interesting and fun, and it is so cool how they handle dietary restrictions.


  8. This sounds super fun but also scary! i’ve only ever eaten one meal at oxford and it was an informal breakfast, but my cousin was telling me about how her college has formal halls every day (It’s one of the rich ones I guess haha).


  9. Oh my goodness this sounds so fancy and cool haha. I think I’d be very awkward if I had to go to one of these, but I guess it just takes some getting used to! I love that this increases the feeling of being at Hogwarts haha. Also it’s great how they deal with people’s allergies!


  10. I’m loving reading your Oxford updates! I toured the school and town when I went on a travel course to London and it was so beautiful and so different than universities in the US (at least universities on the West Coast!) I love the way they handle food allergies/intolerances- I have some myself and it can be a stressor when dining out with pre-arranged menus!


  11. […] Formal Dinners | Holly Goes Abroad […]


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