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Formal Details

Formal Details


Formal dinners give you the chance to dress up, embrace Mary’s traditions and enjoy a three course meal with friends. They take place approximately four times a term, on Tuesday or Thursday evenings. The meal is served in the Dining Hall, and everyone has to dress smartly and wear their gowns for the duration. There are special formals throughout the year including two Christmas Formals, a Burns’ Night Formal and President’s Guest Night, when certain people are awarded Colours Awards for their contribution to the JCR.

Formals, in keeping with tradition, are governed by certain guidelines, customs and rules set out to ensure all College members enjoy the occasion. The following page outlines the expected procedure and behaviour.

Sign up system

Formal sign up takes place through an online system called eCommerce. The relevant link will be included in a JCR email and advertised on Facebook. It will then go live at an advertised time. Formal sign up is on a first-come-first-served basis.

Guests from outside of Mary’s are welcome to attend any Mary’s formal. They must sign up separately themselves as a non-JCR member on eCommerce.

Table plans are to be sent in to the Social Chairs and the deadline for this will be sent out by email beforehand. Table plans must be sent in multiples of 2, 4, or 8, and while we will do our best to have you seated together, there is always the chance that you will be split up.

Cost and payment

Formals cost around £12 for students living in college and £15 for those living out. The price may differ slightly with special formals. For non-JCR/non-MCR members, the price for a standard formal is around £18.

Payment is made on eCommerce when you sign up. eCommerce knows if you are a JCR/MCR member or not so it should give you only the correct option for your position. MCR members should have a separate MCR sign-up option that is the same price as JCR members.


You should arrive at 6.30pm for the 7pm start. During this half-hour you can take your own group photos, or have the JCR official photographer take photos. During the meal, please put your own cameras and phones away, but you can request the photographer to take photos of the table. Remain seated for these photos. After the meal, there is another opportunity for you to take your own photos, or have group photos, as the room is dispersing.

The Meal

A Formal Dinner follows this format:

6:30 p.m.     Before dinner, please arrive from 6:30pm and mingle in the dining room, have group photographs. Wine can also be pre-ordered, or purchased from the college staff. Find your seat in advance of 7:00pm.

7:00 p.m.     High table will enter. Please stand at your seat, and put your phone away. The JCR Vice President ushers in the Principal, Vice Principal and members of the SCR to High Table, and the whole room keeps silence until the JCR President says grace. Then everyone takes their seat. There may be a short welcome speech on some occasions—if so, we also keep silence during speeches. It is expected that you remain seated in order to respect the nature of the formal event. However, if you really need the toilet, you must leave the hall only between courses and you must exit and return alone, as discreetly and quietly as possible.

Two or three courses will be served. About 15 minutes after the last person has been served dessert. Please stand and keep silence for grace.

After grace has been said, High Table will process out first, followed by the rest of the diners. A few members of High Table may return to mingle with students as the room disperses. We want the end of the meal to be relaxed, not hurried, but it is important to clear the room in a reasonable time frame so that the staff can clear the room.

An informal dinner follows the same basic format, except that gowns are not worn, and the College grace may be replaced by a reading or song appropriate to the occasion. Otherwise the etiquette is similar to a formal dinner.


Wine can be purchased for £6.50 per half-bottle at the Conference Bar which will open half an hour before the formal starts and close at the start of the meal. You are NOT allowed to bring your own alcohol the the formal. Your only option for alcohol with your meal is to purchase a half-bottle from the college, either through eCommerce or at the door. We encourage responsible drinking at St Mary’s. If you have not finished your wine by the end of the meal, there is no need to rush to finish your drink. The Bar will either give you a plastic glass or a cap for your bottle so that you can take it with you to the Bar, to finish at a leisurely pace. In keeping with expectations across the whole university, we do not allow drinking games in the dining room, or anywhere on the college premises.


Gowns must be worn to all formals and remain on for the duration of the meal. Men should wear lounge suits and ties (not dinner jackets/tuxedos or bow-ties) and women appropriate dresses (smart cocktail dress is usual). In some instances, special events are classed as black tie or fancy-dress and they are clearly advertised as such in advance.

Conduct at Formals

In order to ensure the enjoyment of all those attending formals, it is expected that everyone will respect the formal nature of the event by remaining seated and by keeping noise to an acceptable level during the meal. It is the role of the JCR Vice President and the Vice Principal to maintain discipline at formal dinners. Anyone who does not respect formal rules may be asked to leave and could be banned from attending future formal dinners.

If you have any questions or are interested in getting involved with organising formals, please email [email protected] or [email protected]