Monday, July 28, 2014

More on U.S. Military Etiquette of the "Dining-In"

Introduction To The Dining-In

2013 San Diego Dining-In ~ "In November of 1964, the Chief of Naval Operations Naval History Division prepared an article on the mess night for the BUPERS Mess Newsletter. The article was aimed at Commissioned Officers Mess Managers and provided a synopsis of the Navy dining-in. This was the first official mention of the event. A renaissance of the dining-in can be linked to the 200th birthday of both the country and the Navy. During the bicentennial, officials were reviving virtually every traditional event to celebrate the occasion. The Chief of Naval Information (CHINFO) prepared a pamphlet entitled "How to Conduct a Dining-In." The guide was published as an article in the March 1975 issue of U.S. Navy Medicine. This is a most important document because it describes the basic format of the Navy dining-in." From Military Facts, History of the Navy 

1. The purpose of this booklet is to familiarize the junior officer with an old custom that has begun to experience a resurgence of popularity after a period of considerable decline.

This custom is known as the Dining-In. Simply stated, the Dining-In is the assemblage of all the officers of a particular unit for a formal dinner. There is of course much more involved in conducting the Dining-In than just sitting down to dinner. It is a rather complex affair that can and often does include a receiving line, cocktail hour, a ceremonial posting of the colors, a punch ceremony, ceremonial toasts, etc. All of these will be discussed in detail later in this booklet.

2. The formal Dining-In has several purposes. First, it brings together the unit officers on a social basis. Second, it fosters a spirit of team work in the unit as the officers get to know each other better. Finally, each officer has an opportunity to see his place in the unit history. He learns that many brave and capable men have gone before him and have left him a legacy of falor and efficiency. He also learns that his own day-to-day activities become a part of the unit’s history which encourages higher standards of performance from him. It is to this end that the Dining-In should be conducted.

3. The Dining-In should be compared to an officers’ call as far as its purpose and function are concerned. Therefore, when invited you should consider your attendance as obligatory and your absence should occur only for those reasons for which you would be excused from any military formation.

Background On The Dining-In

1. GENERAL. Conduct of the British Officers’ Mess over the years has had great influence on many of the procedures practiced today by US organizations in the formal Dining-In. The British mess was a source of solemn formality; a cause for living above one’s means; and a source of long-lasting customs and traditions.


a. Today’s colorful British officers’ dinners continue a custom which arose in the eighteenth century. In those days there were no barracks. Consequently, officers and men were billeted wherever lodging was available. When a battalion entered a town the Quartermaster would select billets for the unit. Then the unit would hold a parade and group the colors at the officers’ billet. This billet became known as the officers’ mess and was the central meeting place for officers.

b. The custom of dining together was especially useful in large units where many officers did not normally come in contact with one another. However, during dinners they were brought together in a fraternal atmosphere. The mess, besides entertaining guests in the surroundings of traditions and customs of the regiment, served to make the officers aware of the social amenities. Young officers received training which enabled them to give formal entertainment later as senior officers.

c. While the mess served a functional purpose it also served as a constant source of satire and junior officer horseplay. Additionally, they served as a method of transmitting the histories and traditions of the Regiment to junior officers.



a. US Army Dining-In traditions are related directly to those of the British Army prior to the American Revolution, and in many instances, more modern British Army Mess procedure has been incorporated into our unit social events. The oldest recorded American Dining-In occurred in September 1776.

b. In the regimental mess of the 1920’s the colonel or senior officer presided and sat at the head of the table with the lieutenant colonel to his right and the adjutant to his left. The other officers were seated on both sides of the table according to rank. Dinner was a formal meal with everyone wearing the uniform prescribed. The officers of the mess assembled and upon arrival of the presiding officer followed him into the mess and took seats when he had taken his. In general, the US Army Dining-In has been more formal and restrained than its
usual British Army counterpart.

c. The importance of the mess as related to the image of the officer corps was evidenced by the recommendation that all newly commissioned officers should carefully make arrangements for messing to enable them to “live with the quiet dignity becoming their station.” It was sufficient for expenses, and he owed it to the service to “dress and live, though simply, yet always like gentleman.”

2. TRADITION: As with the British Mess, the US Army Dining-In has served as a vehicle for transmitting the histories and traditions to junior officers. This is particularly true in our Army where rotation between units is quite frequent. As an example of this tradition, the punch bowl for 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry (MANCHU) reflects upon each of the major battles and wars in which that fine regiment fought.


1. Principal officers of the mess are listed below. Their duties and responsibilities are also listed. 

a. PRESIDENT OF THE MESS. The Presiding Officer is the company commander. He is the President of the Mess. It is his responsibility to oversee the entire organization and operation of the Dining-In. His operational techniques will follow those of any formal dinner affair and will include appointment of a host and persons or committees to take care of the arrangements, food, and protocol. The President will appoint a Vice-President, Mr. Vice, who is one of the senior trainers of the company; open the mess and close the mess; and call upon Mr. Vice for performance of any duty deemed appropriate during the conduct of the affair.

b. MR. VICE. Mr. Vice opens the lounge at the appointed time. When the dinner chimes are to be used, he sounds them as appropriate. He may be called upon to provide items of unit history, poems, or witticisms in good taste relating to particular personalities present. He is seated at the opposite end of the dining room to permit the President of the Mess to face him easily during the dinner.

c. THE COMMANDER. The formal Dining-In is the one occasion when the battalion commander is a guest. Planning by the President and Mr. Vice should be so thorough that the commander may relax and enjoy a smooth, efficiently run dinner. He may participate actively or remain an observer. The option is and should be his.

d. THE ESCORT OFFICER. Escorts should be appointed for each guest attending the dinner to act as personal hosts.

(1) The Escort should welcome his guest upon his arrival and join his guest immediately after the receiving line.

(2) The Escort should familiarize himself with the guest’s background prior to the night of the Dining-In.

(3) It is the Escort’s job to make the guest feel at home explaning the different portions of the Dining-In and its history.

(4) He should introduce the guest to the members of the mess during the cocktail hour and be sure that the guest understands the Punch ceremony procedure.

(5) The Escort has a large responsibility. Many of the guest’s impressions of the unit will be formed due to the actions of the Escort.

(6) The Escort’s duties terminate when the guest leaves the Officers’ Club, or place of the Dining-In. 

2.  APPROPRIATE DRESS.  Black tie is the appropriate dress for a formal Dining-In and is the designation used on invitations.  Civilians wear the tuxedo while military personnel wear the black bow tie with one of four appropriate uniforms, Army Blue, Army Blue Mess, Army White, or Army White Mess.  The black tie designation also implies the wearing of miniature decorations on the Army Blue Mess or Army White Mess uniforms and the wearing of ribbons, miniature or full size, on the Army Blue or Army White uniforms.  The term military black tie may appear on invitations directed to a predominately military group, but the same uniform implications apply.