Pouring wine at FormalHall

What happens at Formal Hall?

Pouring wine at FormalHall

Formal Hall takes place in the Dining Hall or the Combination Room on Tuesday and Friday in Full Term and on Tuesday at other times. Some Formal Halls are themed or reserved for special guests. Please make your Formal Hall bookings online by 12 noon the day before.

Under current circumstances we ask you not to attend if you have any cold, fever or flu like symptoms.

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.

Running order

19.15-19.30 Pre-dinner Drinks in the Combination Room

  • Diners should arrive from 19.15 for the pre-dinner drinks. Please do not arrive before 19.15

  • The dinner starts promptly at 19.30 and is announced by the Butler.

19.30-c.21.00 Grace, starter, main course, sweet, closing Grace

  • Latecomers will not be admitted. Diners go through to Dinner 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. 

  • After Sweet, the gong sounds again and all diners stand for the closing Grace. 

c.21.00   Coffee in the Dining Hall 

  • Coffee and chocolates are served in the Dining Hall. 

c.21.15-c.21.45 Dessert (Fruit and port or, on alternate/suitable Tuesdays in Term, a simple cheeseboard and port - relevant dates are noted on the booking system)

  • 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. 


  • Students and their guests £21.20

  • Non-students and their guests £31.50

  • Guest meals are charged to the account of their host. 

  • The price of Formal Hall is reduced by £7.50 if you do not drink wine at any stage of the evening. Non-drinking diners should fill out a 'no wine' card (available from the Porters' Lodge or from staff at the Drinks Reception) and place it under their wine glass at the start of the meal. Make sure the Wolfson host's CRS ID is legible, so that the amount can be correctly deducted.

  • For Burns' Night in the Lent Term there is an additional charge per person (Students and their guests £23.50 and Non-students and their guests £34.00). 

  • Students have one free Formal Hall (which excludes WCSA dinners - such as Hallowe’en and Bridgemas; Burns’ Night; and Guest Nights) to be taken in term time (i.e. not out of term). The first Formal Hall you attend during the academic year (from the start of Michaelmas term to the end of Easter term) is credited back to your College Account. If you attend more than 1 Formal Hall per year it is always the first one that you will receive a credit for. All Formal Halls attended out of term are charged even if you have not had a free Formal for the current academic year. You can find the University term dates here.

  • Formal Hall and other special meals are charged to a member’s College account. Bills are sent out quarterly. In the event of cancellations, the Bursar reserves the right to charge a cancellation fee. Cancellations received later than 12 noon the day before Formal Hall will be charged at full cost. 
  • Once your degree is approved your student status changes to Alumna/us and all Formal Hall charges incur at the full rate, not the student rate. Please note it is the date of your degree approval and not the date of your graduation that defines your student status in College. Thus, any Formal Halls taking place after your degree has been approved will be charged at the non-student rate.

Please note

  • Please notify us when you book of any special dietary requirements. If you have made such a request, please see the Butler at the pre-dinner drinks reception before 19.20 to pick up your 'Special Dietary Requirement' slip. Show this slip to a member of the serving staff, and leave it on the dining table at the end of dinner. Note that you must have the slip to receive your special meal.

  • There is a dress code at all formal dinners defined without reference to gender identity or expression. At Formal Hall diners should wear formal business attire, e.g. jacket and tie or equivalent. For College Members, wearing a gown is optional, and guests who are members of the University may 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 should ensure their guests are aware of, and comply with, the dress code

  • College Members may bring one non-Wolfson guests to Formal Hall while we are still operating on lower than capacity numbers in the dining hall. This is an inflexible rule. 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.

  • If full capacity is returned for the Lent and Easter Terms, the exceptions to the number of guests that can accompany a Wolfson member to Formals are: Burns' Night Formal is limited to 1 guest per Wolfson member (this may open up to 2 guests the fortnight before, depending on availability); Music & Madeira is limited to 2 guests per Wolfson member. 

  • 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. 

  • 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. 

  • Wine is served as follows: a glass of reception wine at the pre-dinner Drinks Reception; two glasses of wine with the Starter and Main Course, which is chosen to complement the menu (with an alternative available on request); a glass of sweet white wine with the Sweet; a glass or two of port at Dessert. 

  • No alcohol may be brought to Formal Hall.

  • The use of cameras, mobile phones, or any other electronic device is not allowed during Formal Hall at any time. Ensure that mobile phones are switched off before coming in to dine. Voices should be kept at a reasonable level, avoiding the need for anyone to shout.

  • As these dinners are formal occasions, it is expected that you and your guests will remain seated throughout the meal. Moving around the tables, particularly during service, creates a problem for both staff and other diners. It is also not usual to leave the table during the meal unless a diner feels unwell. If you must leave at any point, exit and return as discreetly as possible. Please note that this dispensation is not intended for taking cigarette breaks. If you are delayed and arrive late your should report to the Butler before sitting down. 

  • College Guest Nights take place once a term; they are, like Formal Halls, a formal dining experience however, they offer a Champagne reception, an additional course, and members may bring up to 5 guests each. There is also a seating plan. To book, please use the online booking system at https://formalhall.wolfson.cam.ac.uk with guests' names and salutations noted. The cost is £45.30 for Wolfson Members and their guests / £33.90 for students and their guests. There is a reduction of £10.74 for those who prefer not to have wine (mon-drinking diners should fill out a 'no wine' card (available from the Porters' Lodge or from staff at the Drinks Reception) and place it under their wine glass at the start of the meal. Make sure the Wolfson host's CRS ID is legible, so that the amount can be correctly deducted).

Sitting as a group

  • The definition of a group is 10 or more people wishing to sit together. No single group can exceed 25 people.
  • 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 conferences@wolfson.cam.ac.uk), at least one week in advance, who will advise if it is possible on a specific date and the relevant steps to book.
  • The organiser should consult the College calendar to ensure that their requested date does not coincide with a Formal Hall of special interest to other groups. If the Formal Hall is of special interest to another group, or another group has already requested to sit together, then permission for the group will not be given.
  • 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).