One of the highlights of the collegiate experience, formal dinner in hall, known as formal hall, is usually served at 8.00pm during term time and 7.30pm outside of term time. Some of the formal dinners are specifically set aside for postdocs to attend, and these are advertised to the postdoc society mailing list. Postdocs (and, unless stated otherwise, up to two guests) are welcome to book into these dinners via the Upay system, and Fellows are very welcome to join postdocs (sign in as usual, entering “below dais” next to your name).
In common with most Oxford and Cambridge colleges, Trinity has a High Table (in fact Trinity is unusual in having two) mainly for Fellows, and dinner begins when the Fellows enter hall and grace (a prayer of thanks for food) is said. Dinner is then served – usually a three-course meal with wine available. A short grace is said when the High Table has finished dining (which often precedes the rest of hall finishing).
Booking into formal hall
Booking, including for guests, is usually via the Upay system (www.upay.co.uk) – you should have been sent login details by the college Catering Office when you joined the society (and if not, you need to contact [email protected]). Please note that UPay booking opens 10 days before a formal hall and closes 3 days before the event.
For members of High Table (Fellows, senior postdoctoral researchers, postdoctoral teaching assistants who wish to use High Table privileges), you can sign in as you would for High Table, indicating that you wish to dine below the dais (this latter part is crucial if you wish to dine with the postdocs).
When booking in guests, please ensure you have checked their dietary requirements prior to booking, and ensure that they are aware of expectations during dinner. You are expected to accompany your guests and retain responsibility for their conduct. Guests under the age of 18 years should not be brought to formal hall, unless by prior written permission from the Head of Catering. Children are not permitted at formal halls, with the exception of ‘babes in arms’, that is, those who are breastfeeding.
For some special events, such as the welcome dinner, signing in is managed by a separate route: you will be notified by email.
The dinner menu is fixed, and the only exceptions to this are special diets (including allergies). These should be notified beforehand when booking. If, on checking the menu, you decide you would (e.g.) prefer the vegetarian option despite not being vegetarian, this is fine and you just need to sign in for it. (If you have done this, please do remember!)
Please do not attend formal hall if you might be infectious to others. Gastroenteritis in a closed college setting regularly serving hundreds of people can be very challenging, and although the college has impressive infection control precautions behind the scenes, you should avoid dining in college for 48 hours after symptoms have resolved to minimise risk. The seating convention means you are often sat next to people you have not met, and it is a courtesy not to spread known respiratory infections.
Dress code for dinner
Formal hall is, as the name suggests, formal. In the UK, dress code is customarily defined by male dress, and the usual dress for hall would be lounge suits (suit and necktie). There is a variety of female equivalents for this, but a dress, skirt and top, or formal trousers and top would all be acceptable. Formal shoes are usually worn (heels or flats are fine for ladies).
National dress is always an acceptable alternative to the above, although in most cases national dress is in fact more formal than what is described above (the UK equivalent to national dress would be black tie or white tie).
Although at most formal dinners in Cambridge gowns are worn, at postdoc dinners gowns have always been optional, and most people do not wear gowns.
The college is an academic institution and so dress codes are not as strict or as strictly enforced as in a business setting – you would need to be wearing something that deviated significantly from expectations to be refused entry – but please do not be surprised if a member of staff speaks to you quietly about dress code to ensure you are aware of expectations for future occasions.
There may be pre-dinner drinks: if so, the time and location of these will be advertised in advance. You do not have to attend these, and may arrive for pre-dinner drinks at any time after their advertised start time.
It is important to be in hall and seated prior to the start time of dinner. Dinner starts promptly at the advertised time, and the logistics of feeding a large number of people do not permit staggering meals for latecomers. If you arrive late, at best you should expect to receive only the courses that are yet to be served, and at worst you should expect to be refused admission.
If you are at pre-dinner drinks, you will be alerted to when it is time to move into hall for dinner; otherwise, arriving on time is your responsibility.
You may be asked to confirm your identity on entering hall, so that you can be checked off against a guest list.
If you have a special dietary requirement, please ensure you check on entering hall how you are to make this known (e.g. by picking up a slip of paper).
Except for the few occasions where places are allocated, the seating convention in hall is what is known as the “High Table convention”. That is, you should occupy the first available seat, starting furthest from the screens (nearest High Table) and not leaving any gaps. (There are not spare places to allow for gaps.) There is an important consequence of this, that if you wish to sit with somebody at dinner, it is necessary to ensure that you enter hall together with that person. Places should not be “reserved” for people – they need to arrive on time with you!
Please introduce yourself to anybody you are sitting near that you do not know: one of the purposes of this style of formal dining is to meet new people!
Please ensure that electronic devices (mobile phones, cameras) are switched off as you enter hall, so that they do not cause disturbance during dinner. (Formal hall is not really compatible with e.g. concurrent clinical on-call responsibilities.)
At the start of dinner, the Fellows enter hall, a gong is sounded and grace is said by the presiding Fellow(s). Those dining stand at the gong for grace (it is not necessary to stand when the Fellows enter: we stand for the prayer, not for the Fellows). The full text of the grace is appended to this set of notes – it finishes with the words “per Christum Dominum nostrum”. Those dining sit for dinner as soon as the grace is finished.
Dinner is served and cleared in courses sequentially down the table – please do not wait for the entire table to be served before you start eating (otherwise if you are at the top end, your food will be cold and dinner will take a long time!). If you have a special diet, your dinner may be served out of sequence. In a large hall, it is very occasionally the case that somebody needing a special diet has been overlooked – if it seems as if the empty space in front of you may have been forgotten when everybody else is eating, please do make staff aware.
If drinks are being poured for you, and you do not want something, any of a polite “no thank you”, placing one’s hand over the glass and saying “no thank you”, or turning the glass upside down before service arrives, is acceptable.
During dinner, please do get to know people sitting nearby whom you have not met previously: this is one of the highlights of this kind of dining.
The High Table usually dines faster than the rest of hall (it is smaller), and so it is usual to be interrupted briefly whilst the two-word after dinner grace is said at the High Table. Please stand when the gong sounds; do sit (and continue eating and talking) immediately after the grace is said (again, you are standing for the prayer, not for the Fellows).
Please remain in your seat during dinner, except for dire emergency. It would be extremely disruptive if people were to wander around and chat, and catering staff are entitled to presume that an empty space reflects that somebody has left the meal and not serve further to it. If it is impossible to wait to the end of dinner to use the toilet, the nearest toilets are in the staircase opposite the screens. Whilst that staircase is occupied by the Fellows during the renovations of the Master’s Lodge complex, and if you need step-free access to a toilet, the nearest toilets are in the Nevile’s Court entrance lobby to the Old Kitchens.
Please do not take photographs whilst the Fellows are in hall. Once the Fellows have left, the college’s attitude towards taking photographs civilly (and other civilised activities such as brief speeches by society officers and sixteen-part a capella renditions of the birthday song by the choir) is generally more relaxed, but again please do not move around hall whilst food service is ongoing.
After dinner refreshments may be served at table. Port, if served, is always passed to the left (i.e. clockwise) and does not come back except by making a full circuit of the table – if you are going to want some, fill your glass as it comes past and pass it on. (If everybody’s glass is full, the port can stop until it seems sensible to send it on again – it does not have to be treated like the childhood game of “pass the parcel” – but do remember to send it on when appropriate.)
Please do feel free to continue conversations in the college bar or Deighton Room. The catering staff need to clear tables ready for the following morning’s breakfast, and it is helpful to them (and allows them to get home on time) if you take still-flowing conversations to one of those places rather than sitting at the table when they are ready to clear it. If you become too engrossed, you may find yourselves being gently encouraged by the items being cleared from around you!
It is not customary to remove food from hall, and requests for containers for food should not be made and if made, will be declined. If you are taking your conversation onwards to the bar, and there is an open bottle where you are sitting that would otherwise go to waste, then taking it with you is tolerated, albeit not encouraged.
Please note that children are not permitted at formal halls, with the exception of ‘babes in arms’, that is, for those who are breastfeeding.