A Unique History and an Evolving Tradition: Princeton's Eating Clubs

Tags: community service dining diversity extracurriculars friends social life

The Eating Clubs neighboring Princeton’s campus occupy a unique niche among the University’s many traditions. As private, off campus institutions, they were formed in the late 1800s in direct response to a lack of dining options available to juniors and seniors. Employing ingenuity typical of Princetonians, students pooled their resources and established relationships with local boarding houses to provide their meals. As the numbers of students collectively eating in these houses increased, undergraduates collaborated to buy or rent houses of their own, establishing the Eating Clubs we know today. Over time, these became not only the primary dining option for juniors and seniors, but assumed a key role in the social aspect of undergraduate life. While the total number of clubs has fluctuated greatly over the years, there are currently eleven active clubs. You can read more details about the histories both in the university’s archives, as well as on the clubs’ shared online portal.

Clubs honor their original mission by serving meals seven days a week, but also play host to social gatherings, showcasing bands or DJs, sponsoring formals, and planning special events for members that occur most Thursdays and Saturdays throughout the year. They contain casual recreational space, from video games to pool tables, casual lounge space, and even lawn and board games. Finally, clubs are increasingly seeing heavy use as informal study spaces, and they all boast Wi-Fi connections, libraries, printers and computer clusters in support of students’ academic pursuits - they are especially busy in the spring as thesis deadlines come and go!

First-year and sophomore students cannot join clubs for their first three semesters, but in the spring of sophomore year, approximately seventy percent of the class elects to join a club from among the myriad upperclass dining options. Before this, clubs often welcome freshmen and fall-semester sophomores to many designated open (PUID) events, or as guests of junior or senior club members to meals and social events through a system of passes or pre-coordinated list access. Although clubs are independent institutions, all the policies of Rights, Rules, Responsibilities apply to Princeton students in these clubs, regardless of membership status or class year.

Today, eating clubs remain an important part of undergraduate life. Upperclass students comprise the club membership bodies, called “sections,” and serve as undergraduate officers responsible for the day-to-day operation of the clubs in consultation with alumni graduate boards and professional staff or club managers. The undergraduate club presidents, under the guidance of their young alumni advisor, collaborate during the year through participation on an “Inter-Club Council,” which discusses club policies, student safety, collective community service policies and other shared interests. In recent years, the Inter-Club’s leadership has tackled best practices concerning policies and best practices relating to Sexual Misconduct and Interpersonal Violence, as well as ongoing efforts in support of Diversity and Inclusion initiatives on campus.

The clubs also collaborate broadly in support of many social activities. For the past five years, the Community Service Inter-Club Council has hosted an event called “Truckfest,” which sees the clubs host a street fair with proceeds going to support charities dedicated to local non-profits dedicated to addressing the issue of food insecurity. Each fall and spring, the clubs host “Lawnparties,” in which a number of concerts occur at several of the clubs on Prospect Avenue, culminating in a main act sponsored by the Undergraduate Student Government and open to all students regardless of class year or club affiliation.

For more info, please visit princetoneatingclubs.org, a site hosted collectively by the eating clubs to answer many questions about their costs, activities and a virtual look inside their doors!


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