How was the food at your college?

I’m sure we have all heard the stereotypes of how college dining hall food is bad. Thus far, I have loved the dining options at my university; we have over 30 eateries on campus and dozens more off campus, all ranging from “not bad” to “fantastic”, in my opinion. We have been consistenly ranked in or near the top 10 universities for best campus food by Princeton Review for a while now.

I have also eaten at Washington University in St. Louis (ranked #8 right now), which had great food, and Florida State, whose food ranged from mediocre to bad.

What was your experience? Were you a regular in the dining halls or did you avoid them as much as possible?

The dining hall food was pretty bad. Very bland with very few rotating selections. Mystery meat, baked scrod, steamed hamburgers. Bleah. If you didn’t like what they were serving you could get cheese, peanut butter, yogurt or 1970s style iceburg salad.

This was in Cambridge, MA back before Harvard Square got all gentrified, so most of inexpensive restaurants were pretty bad, too. There were a couple of good Chinese places (and some really horrible ones) and Regina’s pizza. There were some really good coffee houses, though, so we hung out at those a lot.

The dining hall food was okay at best. If you wanted a salad or something simple like that it was good and occasionally they did something tasty but mostly I ate at the pizza bar (they had a place where they offered mediocre pizza and cold pasta salads every day just to make sure that there was something that most people would eat regularly I guess) because everything else was gross. After my first year I was no longer required to have the meal plan so I ate in my dorm and I made tastier, healthier food in my microwave than they did in the cafeteria across campus.

The stuff from the snackbar line was okay. The regular serving line varied from okay to gag-inducing. There was nothing available that rose above being just okay.

I ate regularly at my dining hall. The food was fine. The problem was that the menu had no depth. There were about 20 entrees that made up the rotation and one got pretty sick of Chicken A La King, Chicken Tetrazinni, Chicken Opal, Etc… There were lots of other places to eat, but for kids who spent all their cash on booze and weed, the dining hall was the main source of non-brewed calories.

An oft-repeated event for me was to be at my dorm chowing down on an awesome cheese steak sub while every guy who came by asked me if he could have some. And every time I’d tell them, “If you’d bought one less case of booze, you could be eating one of these right now.” Yes, I was an ass. I was CORRECT, but an ass nonetheless.

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.”

I went to a state university in Ohio that was not accustomed to feeding on-campus students. Only 7% of the student population lived on campus. The food was horrible.
There was a salad bar. It was rarely stocked. When it was, it was stocked with things like brown lettuce and fermented canned peaches.
The pizza was so oily that we developed a process wherein we’d grab a fistfull of extra napkins to blot the pizza with before eating.
There was a grill. The people staffing the grill didn’t really know how to grill things, so food was frequently undercooked. You had a choice of an undercooked burger, and undercooked patty melt, or an undercooked grilled cheese. Football players got steak.
There was the main entree. Generally whatever was leftover from the lunch buffet from three or four days ago, covered in marinara sauce. Everything was covered in marinara sauce, except the fish. That had cornflakes and grapes on it.
My second year they added a “make your own belgian waffle” station. They didn’t swap out the batter. It fermented rather quickly.

I ate a lot of cereal, when it was available (crapshoot). The milk was blue.

My third year I moved out, and the food was a large part of that decision.

I’ve eaten at Harvard. (Pretty good)

I’ve eaten at MIT. (Gawdawful crap)

I’ve eaten at BC. (Pretty good)

But I attended Berklee. Holy shit, was it awful. The worst was the nights when they had a choice of liver or orange fish. Even the best food there was a pile of bile. You’d have to lay down for an hour after eating. Most students lost weight.

And the worst of it was they’d bitch at you if you went back for seconds!

I attended Harvey Mudd College, a private science and engineering school in California.

The food was mediocre. If comparing it restraunts, I’d put it above a Shoneys, below Ruby Tuesday, perhaps at the level of Applebees. Every dinner would feature two choices of meat, two of vegetables, and two of something high in starch. Sometimes there were specialties such as stir fry made to order, grilled steaks, or pasta bar. There was always a salad bar, fresh fruit, bread, ice cream, and desserts.

I didn’t complain about it too much, since I hadn’t developed my taste in food much at that point in my life. Nowadays I’d view it as disgusting.

The food at BC was expensive but very good. There were two main dining halls, two cafes, and a dessert/snack bar.

I went to Pitt, and only lived on campus one year (1987/88). The cafeteria served okay food, considering the quantities they had to prepare. As someone else already said, the problem was mostly the lack of variety; the same dishes came up in rotation way too often. On the other hand, the cafeteria had some choice, so if you didn’t like either of the main courses on order you could usually get something like made-to-order sandwiches or decent if not great pizza. And they always had a salad bar out at lunch and supper, so you could get your fresh veggies.

Breakfast was generally the most boring meal of the day. On weekends they’d drag out the donut making machines, which were fun to watch, but otherwise it was pretty much bland scrambled eggs and rubbery bacon.

Not bad. I wnt to Georgia Tech from 91-93. Acceptable food all-around. Some was actually really good - they made some AWESOME cheese-eggs at the student center dining hall. Decent variety - they had a taco salad station, a beef station, etc.


McGill 97-98. Bishop Mountain Residence Halls. TERRIBLE. Thank gods they kick you out after a year. There were days when fries counted as a “vegetable”. My sister was in Royal Victoria College (the girl’s dorm) and the food was better, though not great. They had more choices, though. There are times when I am really bitter about being the older one-my sister always gets the benefit of my experience.

University of Illinois Law School Cafe 02-05-f’king terrible. Everyone at the art museum’s cafe next door.

University of Michigan Ann Arbor Summer 1995. Terrible, but not as bad as McGill.

Northwestern Summer 1996. Good. I ate in the well known frosh hall.

My boyfriend claims that the food at Harvard is amazing.

(In case you think I was university hopping-I wasn’t. I attended McGill consecutively but went to summer debate camps at Michigan and NU while I was in high school.)

I only ate dorm food for one semester before I dropped out. That was in the fall of '73, at Rice University in Houston. You ate in your own dorm, but there was also a centralized food service*, so I’d guess the others might have been similar. I thought the food was great, but there were kids who didn’t. I remember breakfast as being particularly wonderful; they made what you wanted from the breakfast menu. Lunch was always good, especially on taco day, and dinner was actually a sit-down meal. The freshmen took turns serving a table (really, just bringing the food out to the other students who were already seated. Plus, you were the one who had to go beg the cafeteria workers for seconds, if available. Schmoozing the cafeteria workers all the time generally paid off when you had to go beg for seconds.) On Saturday and Sunday, we were on our own for supper, so we’d go to burger doodle or cook in our room.

*the Marching Owl Band once performed a halftime show dedicated to Food Service, complete with their Food Service Van Formation. But it really had nothing to do with the food itself.

Things at Harvard have apparently improved by several orders of magnitude.

I love the part where you can send the cooks a favorite recipe from home.

Kids today. Spoiled rotten, I tell ya.

In 1981, he food was so bad at General Motors Institute (now known as Kettering University) that Time Magazine wrote about the “cold, tasteless pizza squares” they served us. There was an amazing turn-about for the food quality after that!

I went to the University of Georgia, and the food there was outstanding. Of course, it was consistently listed as one of the best in the country for it’s dining halls, and I think it was well deserved.

Unbelievable amount of options, and a salad bar that extended for miles. They had the tightest security on campus.

When I went to my college orientation, 1975-Esat Carolina U,my best friend and I went to the cafeteria with our parents. After that meal our parents informed us that we never had to eat there again, it was that bad.

And it was also the only cafeteria and a good 2 miles from my dorm.

So I ate dinner in restaurants every night for 2 years ( with the occasional exception of our experiments with dorm cooking), and ate breakfast and lunch in the various on campus snack bars. When I moved off campus at the beginning of year 3, the dinners out were reduced to maybe 5 times a week.

The town had a profusion of good cheap restaurants–probably because the college food services were so lame. I got into the bad habit of eating out all the time and never dropped it.

B’s Barbecue, baby.

Duke, 1984-88 had two main residential and academic campuses (East and West) and one residential area (North), and university apartments (Central).

The scale ran from greasy spoon slider burgers and fries to white tablecloths and a wine selection, with the vast middle being two major cafeteria style venues with what I recall as pretty good food options, and a popular sandwich style place a la Subway that had good fixin’s. You could get something at all four areas, but most was on West.