What happens at Formal Hall?
Formal Halls at Wolfson College take place in the Dining Hall or Combination Room on Tuesday and Friday in Full Term, and on Tuesday at other times. Some Formal Halls celebrate special occasions (such as Hallowe'en or Burns Night) while our special "Music and Madeira" nights feature live performances of classic music.
Formal Dining provides an opportunity for members of the College community to engage in wide-ranging, interdisciplinary conversation in a leisurely atmosphere. One of the most interesting aspects of Formal Hall is finding yourself sitting next to someone from an entirely different background, field or profession.
The three-course dinner runs over the course of an hour and a half, and is followed by coffee and chocolates, and then fruit and port. The entire occasion lasts from 19.15 to around 21.45, after which some attendees choose to retire to the College Bar.
Formal Hall menus are available online and in advance. Dietary alternatives are available.
Making a Booking
Formal Hall bookings are made via the Dining Portal, using the credit on your University card. For guidance, please download our Dining Portal user guide (pdf). Further information regarding dietary requirements and costs, as well as students’ free formal hall allowance, is detailed below.
- Booking and dietary requirements
College members can view the available dates and make their Formal Hall bookings via the Dining Portal. Bookings close at 12 noon the day before the dinner, although some dates will become fully booked before this time.
When making a booking, members are requested to select any dietary requirements from the list provided. College members also may book up to three guests and enter dietary requirements in the same way.
If there are not enough spaces at the Formal Hall, you can be added to a waiting list. If a space becomes available, the person at the top of the list will be booked onto the dinner and will be sent an automated email confirming. Please note, you need sufficient funds on your Dining Portal account to be added to the waiting list, as well as at the time a space becomes available.
Please ensure that you carefully read the dress code and dining instructions in the next section. College members are required to follow these instructions and ensure their guests do the same.
The cost of Formal Halls are as follows:
- Students - £25.20
- Non-students - £37.50
- Guests - £37.50
There is a small additional charge for the special menu on Burns' Night in Lent Term, which costs £29.70 for students, and £40.20 for non-students and guests. The WCSA Hallowe'en Dinner is for students only and costs £25.20.
Please note that student status is calculated according to the date of degree approval and not the date of graduation. Thus, any Formal Halls taking place after your degree has been approved will be charged at the non-student rate.
- Wine options
Wine is included in the booking price and served as follows for those wish:
- a glass of reception wine at the pre-dinner Drinks Reception
- two glasses of wine with the Starter and Main Course, which are chosen to complement the menu (with an alternative available on request)
- a glass of sweet white wine with the Sweet
- glass or two of port at Dessert
You need to check the box in the Dining Portal to confirm that you would like wine on the evening you have booked.
Non-drinking diners need to ensure that the "Formal Hall Wine" box remains unchecked. They will need to collect a 'no wine' card which is available from staff at the Drinks Reception, and place it under their wine glass at the start of the meal. The price of Formal Hall is reduced by £9.00 for diners who follow this process and do not drink wine on the night. If a diner decides to drink wine but did not select it at the time of booking, the cost will be charged to their College account. There are no other non-wine drink options during the meal, aside from water. At the drinks reception there is a soft drinks option of orange/apple juice or water.
Vegan wine is also available on request.
No outside drinks or alcohol may be brought to any Formal Hall.
- Free Formal Hall
All Wolfson students are able to attend one Formal Hall free of charge, so that everyone has the opportunity to try this special Cambridge tradition.
The first Formal Hall you book during the academic year (from the start of Michaelmas term to the end of Easter term) is provided free of charge. If you attend more than one Formal Hall, it is always the first occasion that you will receive for free.
Certain Formal Halls (such Bridgemas, Burns’ Night, and Guest Nights) are not eligible for free credit, neither are Formal Halls attended out of term.
The cancellation deadline is 12 o'clock noon, the day before Formal Hall. If you cancel before this time, the credit will be returned to your University Card account, but if you cancel after this time you will still be charged.
If you do not cancel your place and do not attend the dinner, you will be treated as a ‘no show’ (see the policy below).
You are not permitted to sell, pass on, or gift your place to anyone else, even if they are another College member.
Following the cancellation policy allows more members of the Wolfson community to experience Formal Hall and supports the College in meeting its sustainability objectives.
- No Show Policy
College members who have booked a place but do not attend without cancelling are classed as ‘no shows’. Members who are ‘no shows’ on two or more occasions in one term (including the subsequent vacation) will not be allowed to book until the beginning of the next term. If the member is a ‘no show’ on the final Formal Hall before the next term, they will not be able to book until the beginning of the following term. Places that have already been booked, including guest places, will be cancelled.
As a formal occasion, there are several guidelines at Formal Halls that Wolfson members and their guests are expected to follow. Please watch our video on Formal Hall procedure for a handy summary of these rules, and consult the sections below for further information.
- Running order
19.15-19.30 Pre-dinner Drinks in the Combination Room 19.30-c.21.00 Grace, Starter, Main Course, Sweet, closing Grace c.21.00 Coffee in the Dining Hall c.21.15-c.21.45 Dessert: Fruit or cheeseboard and port
- Instructions for diners
Diners should arrive at 19.15 for the pre-dinner Drinks Reception, which usually takes place in the Combination Room (above the Porter’s Lodge). You must bring the University ID card from your booking to sign in when you arrive. If you do not have a University Card, please go to the Porter's Lodge to collect a temporary pass.
There are coat racks outside for bags and jackets. Diners are requested not to arrive before 19.15 to prevent unnecessary queuing on the stairs. If you are delayed and anticipate arriving late, you should attempt to send word to the Porters, and report to the Butler on arrival. Please note that it is not always possible to admit latecomers.
On arrival, those with dietary requirements should make themselves known to the Butler, to receive their requirements card. Show this slip to a member of the serving staff, and leave it on the dining table throughout the dinner. Similarly, those not drinking any alcohol may request a “no wine” card to place beneath their glass at the table.
Dinner starts promptly at 19.30 and is announced by the Butler. Diners enter the Hall in an unhurried way, with a minimum of strategic choosing of places, and move up to ensure that there are no empty places. Diners remain standing behind their chosen chair and wait for whoever is presiding to say Grace. The gong is sounded and, when all are silent, the President or Presiding Fellow says Grace.
As these dinners are formal occasions, it is expected that diners and guests remain seated throughout the meal. If it is necessary to leave at any point, please exit and return as discreetly as possible. Please note that this dispensation is not intended for taking cigarette breaks.
After Sweet, the gong sounds again and all diners stand for the closing Grace. Coffee and chocolates are then served in the Dining Hall.
There is no further Grace so diners may be seated immediately, again moving up to ensure no empty places. The port is passed continuously around the table in a clockwise direction. Diners leave the Hall at approximately 21.45 to allow staff to clear.
Electronic Devices (mobile phones, cameras, tablets etc) are not permitted during Formal Halls. No photographs are to be taken on these occasions.
- Dress code
There is a dress code at all formal dinners: diners should wear formal business attire, e.g. jacket and tie or equivalent. The dress code is defined without reference to gender identity or expression.
For College Members, wearing a gown is optional, and guests who are members of the University may also wear gowns if they wish.
Persons who do not meet the dress code, including appearing in jeans, training shoes, beach footwear, shorts and/or hats or caps, will be refused entry.
If you are unsure of the requirements - please consult the Butler before the event as the College may be able to assist. Members must ensure their guests are aware of, and comply with, the dress code.
College Members may bring up to three non-Wolfson guests to Formal Hall, booked through the same online system. The minimum age to attend a formal dinner is 18.
All guests attending any Formal Hall must be accompanied by their Wolfson host. As host, you are responsible for your guest(s), so inform them of the dress code and customs and procedures beforehand. Once at Formal Hall, guide them through the evening, introducing them to the President or Presiding Fellow should the occasion present itself.
As above, please notify us of any special dietary requirements for your guests when booking, and ensure that they collect their Special Dietary Requirement slip before dining.
- Guest nights
College Guest Nights take place once a term. Like Formal Halls they are a formal dining experience, however, they also offer a Champagne reception, an additional course, and members may bring up to 3 guests each. There is also a seating plan. To book, please use the online booking system with guests' names and salutations noted.
The cost is £41.25 for students, and £52.20 for Wolfson Members and guests. There is a reduction of £12.90 for those who choose not to drink throughout the evening. Non-drinking diners need to ensure that the "Formal Hall Wine" box remains unchecked. They will need to collect a 'no wine' card which is available from staff at the Drinks Reception, and place it under their wine glass at the start of the meal.
- Sitting as a group
Groups are defined as 10 or more people wishing to sit together. The organiser of any group of 10 or more wishing to sit together must seek the permission of the Conference & Events team (via email to firstname.lastname@example.org), at least one week in advance, who will advise if it is possible on a specific date and the relevant steps to book. No single group can exceed 20 people.
Members should book online with a name assigned for the group booking, keeping in mind that each Member can book up to three guests (thus keeping to the ratio of one member to three guests).
The table nearest the Gallery is designated as the Groups Table; if it has already been fully allocated to group bookings, then you will not be able to book your group for that date.
Once you have received permission from the Domestic Bursar, arrange to see the Butler well in advance of the Formal Hall and she will show you the seating arrangements.