“Let’s Grab a Meal!”: Yale’s Unique Meal Culture

at the dining hall eating together

After a few semesters absorbing Yale lingo, there’s one phrase I’ve found that pops up over and over again: “Let’s grab a meal.”

friend dining

Though simple and mundane at first glance, these four words shine a light on something unique to Yale, and that we often take for granted. It speaks of a promise that must be reciprocated. It speaks of potential scheduling nightmares. But most importantly, it speaks of three of the best things in life combined into one: meaningful conversations, friends, and food.

Certain policies and attributes of Yale Dining have made meal culture a uniquely Yale thing. You see, unlike some colleges, Yale’s dining halls are not open 24/7. Rather, there are set times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner–times that our academic schedule usually avoids. Classes usually don’t meet during meal times. In particular, the 5-7pm dinner slot is almost always open on everyone’s schedules, which makes grabbing meals with friends one of the most convenient ways to catch up and socialize. Everyone has to eat, after all.

Cassandra eating!

Dining, then, becomes an intentional, proactive undertaking. If my friend and I did not initiate grabbing meals together, we would hardly see each other at all, thanks to different worlds of extracurriculars and classes. Meals become a way to pull our orbits together, turning the necessary act of eating into a meaningful one-hour conversation where we fill each other in on our lives, laugh about how we tripped on the steps to Sterling Library, get into the age-old debate of which residential college is actually the best (Stiles for the win), and ponder our lives not just as Yale graduates but also our lives seventy years from now.


Meals are also a way to meet new people. Some clubs and student groups have started a tradition called Lunch Tag, where at the top of every week, pairs are assigned. They then grab a meal together, post a selfie on a Facebook group, and are entered into a drawing for prizes such as gift cards and Yale gear. There are so many wins in this situation I can’t even count: new friends, great food, AND a chance to win a gift card to Arethusa’s, the BEST ice cream store ever? Count me in.

Cassandra at Arethusa's

Cassandra and friends lunch tag
Cassandra and friends on a lunch tag as part of the Chinese American Students Association (CASA)!

Meal culture can also feel like embarking on an adventure. Instead of one centralized location, Yalies have their pick of dining hall–that is, 14 residential college dining halls and one brand-new late-night location. Some of my friends like fellow blogger Logan have made it their goal to eat a meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) at every dining hall. Grabbing a meal with friends outside your residential college can definitely help you accomplish your dining hall crawl goals.

Cassandra on a lunch tag with a friend
Cassandra on a lunch tag with a friend through Christian Union!

a facebook post for lunch tag
Sadly, Jin, two photos does not equal two more entries… but they’re fun regardless!

Negotiation about which dining hall to eat at is also a staple of Yale meal culture. There are many factors that go into these decisions: location, schedule, and most importantly, which dining hall reigns as king (again, Stiles: with our brick hearth oven producing freshly made pizzas and an amazing rotating grill for everything from pancakes to hamburgers, we are obviously superior). Take a look at a few of my “negotiations” below.

Snapshot of texts
Even other colleges will admit–Stiles food is superior.

snapshot of text #2
Only for the best of friends am I willing to compromise location…

snapshot text #3
Not all dining halls are created equal.

snapshot text #4
Sometimes, the weather makes up your mind for you.

Stiles Dining Hall Pizza Oven
Stiles dining hall wins. Every. Time. Look at our oven!!! Fresh pizza!

At the end of the day, food is life. And food is love, when we eat with friends we adore. I am grateful to nourish both my body and my soul every time we grab a meal. 

And Yale food is amazing. Take a look at some snapshots below:

pizza in the oven
Okay, so Pauli Murray has a brick oven too… Courtesy of @ryaghzar on Instagram.

Yale food
This is what I call fine dining. Courtesy of @sarahmaryanngeach on Instagram.

If you look closely, you can see the Y for Yale in the middle! Courtesy of @santiago_alverez on Instagram.

Yale meal
FOOD IS THE BEST. Courtesy of @camikeepseatingthings on Instagram.

Yale food
Nothing like a balanced meal along with good conversations and great friends. Courtesy of @camikeepseatingthings on Instagram.