Oxmas cheer has been soured at Keble and Lincoln after problems with the online meal booking system threatened to leave students without their traditional turkey dinner.
Keblites had to wait for three hours to save themselves a seat after the booking website became overloaded while at Lincoln waiting out a two-hour hiatus did not guarantee students a spot.
Jonny Dower, a second year PPEist at Lincoln who managed to successfully book in for Oxmas in Hall, said: “My Facebook news feed was full of exasperated students who had spent up to two hours hitting refresh on successive ‘server unavailable’ messages until finally every space in both sittings was gone and a number of people missed out even though they’d been there from the start.”
He added: “The worst part of it was probably that we all had so many better things to be wasting our time doing – and most people didn’t actually turn up to hall that evening because they were too busy trying to book their Christmas dinner!”
Natalie McKenzie-Buksh, a second year linguist, labelled the meal booking system “a shambles”. She said: “We had been promised that the servers had been updated to deal with this kind of thing but they clearly hadn’t. We don’t have time to waste 2 hours signing up for a dinner, and personally I had to miss a law talk for it.”
Irate Lincolnites took to Facebook to express their anger at the delay with one student commenting: “This is as big a fuck up as the Olympic ticketing” while another added: “I think it’s bad karma because I haven’t done my work.”
Lincoln’s JCR President Arthur Wakeley said that this was the first time students have faced difficulty with the meal booking interface this term. He explained that “capacity for the website was increased” for special functions such as the college’s twice-termly ‘Great Hall’ but “as Christmas Dinner is a more popular event the site faced more pressure than usual.”
Mike White, Lincoln’s IT Manager, was unavailable for comment.
It was even worse for Keble students who were hit with delays of up to three hours after the increased demand overloaded the system so much that it crashed. Like Lincoln, the college operates a system whereby most meals are available for booking at the start of term, but for a few special occasions such as guest dinners, Sunday formals and Christmas dinners, booking opens only a short while beforehand.
Angus McDonnell, a first-year medical student, said the system is designed “so people don’t just book with no idea whether they will be able to go or not”. This is supposed to mean that “people who want to go, and can go, generally will be able to go.”
As a result of this restricted availability, the site became overloaded when advance booking finally did open. McDonnell added: “I think it was down for about three hours or so.”
Over-exuberance also led to some other problems. Keble runs two separate Christmas dinners, on both Sunday and Monday of 8th week, in order to satisfy excess demand. However an email was sent out by Hall Manager Gerard McHugh on Thursday which noted that, in their enthusiasm, 70 people had booked for both Sunday and Monday.
McDonnell speculated that this was because “many freshers booked in to more than one dinner, so some people didn’t get a booking”.
McHugh wrote: “As I look at the bookings for Christmas dinners, I count that 70 of your number have booked for BOTH Sunday AND Monday! Perhaps I should have made it clear that, on this one occasion, Christmas, you should book EITHER Sunday OR Monday.”
Students were told in the email they should cancel one of their bookings, in order to promote peace on earth and goodwill to men: “infused with the spirit of Christmas, those who have double booked should cancel one day to give others a chance.”
Mr McHugh, while avoiding comparisons with Scrooge in his email, did emphasise in no uncertain terms that fairness would be enforced: “If this does not happen voluntarily, I will be obliged to cancel your bookings myself.”
JCR President James Newton said: “Due to the popularity of Keble’s Oxmas celebrations there has been a huge excess in demand for the much lusted after Christmas dinners put on during the Oxmas weekend. Some enthusiastic revellers went so far as to snap up places on both the Sunday and Monday.”
He was positive that such measures have not put a damper on the college’s festive spirit. It would seem that appeals to the spirit of Christmas worked and students were very co-operative – Newton added: “After a cheery reminder that hall wasn’t quite big enough to fit in all those who wanted to come on both nights, and therefore meaning some faced missing out on the merry feast, Keblites jumped to the meal booking system to free up their extra spaces.”
Problems also arose at Wadham after some students complained that they hadn’t received an email informing them when booking for Oxmas dinner would open.
John Glanville, a PPE finalist who lives out, said: “Previously, College would notify students about a week in advance of Christmas dinner bookings opening, specifying exactly when they would start – places for one sitting would usually go in a few minutes.
“This year, no notification email was sent, and students not living in College or not using the meal-booking system were at a significant disadvantage for booking Christmas dinner.”
He added: “It’s a real shame that Wadham screwed this up, an awful lot of people look forward to Christmas dinner and this secret release of places has left people living out mostly unable to get seats at one of the few events which consistently brings people back into college.”
Wadham’s SU President Jahnavi Emmanuel said: “There have been complaints about the lack of a pre-warning email, which meant that some students who would have liked to book into dinner were not able to do so.
“However, given that this dinner is always in high demand (and is always fully booked within a matter of minutes from when the booking opens!), College felt that there would always be some disappointed students, so the email warning was not necessarily helpful.”