Harvard University Dining Services: Dining 101

Harvard University Dining Services is a unique entity among college dining services. Unlike most other collegiate institutions, HUDS is responsible for serving the entire undergraduate population (about 6,700 students) with unlimited dining for their entire academic career at Harvard, generally four years. HUDS does this through four divisions: Residential Dining, Retail Dining, Crimson Catering, and Crimson Cash. Though all four divisions serve to keep the undergraduate populace (and other affiliates of Harvard) fed, the Residential Dining sector is the largest entity. So how does HUDS accomplish this monster feeding plan? Read below to find out.

Residential Dining

Harvard likes to model Harry Potter. Or better yet, Hogwarts (probably unintentionally) emulated Harvard. After freshman year, each student is sorted into one of twelve houses, better thought of as living communities of 300-500 students. In order to enhance the sense of community within each house, each has their own dining hall, which means that Harvard has 13 main dining halls (one for each of the houses, and one for all of the freshmen). This style of service presents some interesting challenges. HUDS must cater to every student with a food allergy or a special dietary need, they must accommodate individual tastes, they must have programs that accommodate life on the go, and have a very, very broad menu. As may have been inferred from the information given unto now, this is incredibly inefficient from a business perspective. With the exception of Annenberg (the freshman dining hall that caters to ¼ of the undergraduate population), each dining hall ends up staffing more employees than would conventionally be needed to serve the amount of students that Harvard has. But, the goal is achieved: no student ever looks upon the dining hall as an unattainable entity.

meals served in each dining hall per year

How is the Board Rate Determined?

HUDS negotiates the price of Board each winter prior to the new school year. They outline their cost of operation and then work with the college to identify where Board falls on their list of priorities as an entity of total cost per student. The board rate is then set as part of the total College package.

HUDS: A Self-Sustaining Entity

The HUDS board rate exclusively funds the residential program. This means that some money, about 50%, pays for a portion of administrative costs, such as purchasing, accounting, marketing, and communications.


Food Cost

The unlimited meal plan predicts an average participation rate of 13.65 meals/week. To reflect this, each week of service is broken down to its own expected cost. Each week’s menus are written so that, over the course of the week, the menus equal the total previously broken down. Some menus cost more and some cost less, but each week averages out to be about the same.


More than 3,500 items are on HUDS menus. HUDS also uses seasonal menus, which allow for chefs to predict purchasing and preparation needs, driving down costs in the long run. HUDS also plans on a weekly basis to integrate local produce. For instance, because New England has a relatively short local produce season, HUDS finds other things to purchase locally, such as milk, salad dressing, and bread.


Top 5 Foods Served, based on “acceptability factor”

  1. Chicken Fingers
  2. Chicken Wings
  3. Red Spiced Chicken
  4. Pizza
  5. Roast Beef Dinner

Food Sources

  • WardAs Berry Farm
  • Costa Fruit and Produce
  • Northcoast Seafood
  • Kinneally Meats
  • LaRonga Breads
  • BakeAn Joy
  • Hood Dairy
  • Saratoga
  • US Foodervice for groceries
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