College Dining Hall Etiquette

College dining halls are jam-packed; the lines are long, the tables are full, and the silverware is constantly running low. Below are a few rules to abide by on your next trip to the dining hall.

Sitting Alone

It’s perfectly acceptable to sit alone in a dining hall– some people’s schedules force them to eat later than most of their friends, or maybe you only have 20 minutes to eat before you go to a meeting. If you are sitting alone, though, don’t put your stuff down at one of the large tables meant for 6-8 people. Chances are, a group of friends will come to the dining hall and all sit next to you, and they need the table-space more than you. 

On the other hand, if you see a friend of yours sitting alone, and you are sitting with another group of friends, you should definitely invite your friend over. People don’t seem weird sitting alone anymore, like in high school, but there are so many people at college that it’s hard to meet everyone, so it’s always nice to get to know people over dinner that you might not run into otherwise.

Getting Food

Never go to the longest lines when you first arrive, since your friends will have to wait for you, and by the time you sit down the lines will be shorter. Also, if the dining hall is especially packed, you and your friends should divide and conquer. If each of you get a lot of one type of food and exchange and the table, it will reduce lines for other people and also save you the time of waiting in multiple lines. 

Getting Seconds

If you plan on getting more food, wait for other people at your table to finish their first plate as well. You should be able to ask one or two other people if they’re coming with you to get seconds when you get up so it doesn’t seem like you are just getting away from the table. The same principle applies to dessert: make sure other people are getting dessert before you decide to get some and make everyone stay longer.

Cutting Lines

Always a contentious matter, you should avoid cutting lines. If you see a large group of your friends in line and you can sneak in without too many people noticing, then go ahead if the wait would be too long. However, if the lines are not very long, or if you and a few other people are getting in line together, you should try not to cut since it will likely cause a scene, and the dining hall staff may remove you.


Depending on the dining hall’s policies, you may or may not be allowed to take fruit or other small items out of the dining hall. Sometimes, though, you might not have enough time to eat and you want to take an actual meal back to your dorm. A lot of students will bring tupperware and bottles in their backpacks, but often, this is a no-no. Be sure to know the rules before getting "tale-out."


-Alex W, current freshman at Cornell University, planning to major in chemical engineering and minor in business