I’ve now studied or worked at six different colleges or universities in three countries. The food experiences have ranged from outstanding to totally dire. In a nutshell:
Penn State: Good, with a huge range of dining options from decent-quality cafeteria style to deli and speciality places. Almost restaurant quality.
Leeds (UK): Ugly. Massive emphasis on potatoes at the residence hall dining area (one day’s meal was steak and potato pie, boiled potatoes, and roast potatoes). A lot of us ate at the local kebab house and continued to do so after some of us got food poisoning because the food there was better. The main dining hall was better but pricey and soulless.
University of Toronto: Up and down. Decent number of options. Was particularly good at catering to a lot of different tastes.
Oxford: Varied tremendously from college to college. My college had decent, cheap, and filling food, and could really step it up for big events (apparently even Nelson Mandela liked the food there). On the other hand, the worst meal I have ever eaten was a lunch at All Souls’ College. I thought the meat was going to explode in a shower of blood when I cut into it.
Marymount College, Palos Verdes (California): The highlight of my brief sojourn in CA was the dining hall at Marymount. Seriously. It was run by a semi-retired steakhouse chef who wasn’t afraid to try new dishes, several of which she ran past our office. She would even give us free leftovers. If I ever had a bad meal there I don’t remember it.
(Name deleted, where I work now): Good and improving. Run by an outside company which has put more than a bit of money into remodelling. Recently added a “local specialties” section. Old alumni who return for events say that the food is miles better than it was 10-20 years ago. A brand new central dining hall is planned for, and I quote, “when (my office) raises the money for it.”