Since the beginning of organized society there has been a military establishment. Regardless of how simple or unorganized it may have been, there have been occasions when the leaders of that military organization have set themselves down to a dinner elaborate in service and formal in style. It is a well known fact that the Roman Legions held great banquets to celebrate their past victories or to parade the prizes of their most recent enterprise.

The term dining-in derives from an old Viking tradition celebrating great battles and feasts of heroes by formal ceremony, which spread to monasteries, early-day universities and to the military when the officer's mess was established.


A Dining-In is a formal dinner given by a wing, unit, or organization. It may honor a departing individual or welcome a new one. It may give recognition to a dignitary, or to individuals and unit achievements. Or it may simply be a pleasant way for individuals on a station to get better acquainted. Other than military women, it is a stag affair.

Mess members wear the prescribed uniform for their services and civilian guests wear black tie or what is stated in the invitations. Medals are worn by all members of the mess and the military guest, including retired personnel.

The primary elements of a Dining-In are: a formal setting, a fine meal, the camaraderie of the members of the mess, traditional toasts to the President and the military services, martial music and the attendance of an honored guest.


Officers of the mess: The are two officers of the mess. The President and the Vice president affectionately called Mr. or Madam Vice.

The President of the mess is usually the senior member of the mess (or President of the Mess Advisory Board). He is responsible for the entire organization and operation of the dining-in. He oversees the Dining-In and maintains decorum, in addition to proposing toasts and recognizing members who wish to propose a toast. He arranges for a Chaplain/mess member to give the grace and he greets all the guests. His duties include the appointment of Mr./Madam Vice.

The Vice (or Vice President) may be appointed or may be the junior Chief Petty Officer of the host mess or group and is in charge of innumerable details. He sounds the dinner chimes or mess call, as appropriate, at the proper time. He is required to test the meat course prior to being served and announcing to the members, if it is fit for CPO consumption. During the Dining-In, he discreetly quiets the disturbances, announces or seconds toasts as directed by the President. He prepares a list of offenders and offenses for the President. The list may be handed to the President or read aloud as directed at the time specified by the President.

Planning and Attending a Dining-In


If you should have the task of planning a Dining-In, start early. Send out invitations to the guests who are not members of the mess two weeks to a month before the Dining-In. The fill-in card often used for the invitations may be handwritten or printed. Since this is a formal occasion, formal wording is used. For example, the wording for official guests should include the phrase the honor (or honour) of the presence of but for personal guest would read the pleasure of the company of your company.


The menu usually consists of three courses, with roast prime rib of beef and Yorkshire pudding, traditional, but not necessary. Wines may be served in decanters by waiters, or placed on the table and passed around from left to right or counterclockwise when seated at a round table.


There are two types of guests, Official and Personal. Official guests are hosted by the mess as a whole; their expenses are shared. They are usually senior to the President, such as a distinguished civilian, a senior official of the U.S. Government or distinguished representative of the other armed services. Personal guests invited, with permission of the President, are usually junior in rank to the President. Their expenses are paid by the one who invited them. This includes bar expenses.


The President of the mess sits at the center of the head table with the guest of honor on his right and the next ranking guest on his left. The other guests are seated throughout the mess. The members of the mess are seated according to seniority, with the Vice at a separate table at the other end of the room facing the President. Those with the highest rank sit closest to the head table.

No one should be seated across from those at the head table. Set up tables to avoid crowding. Adjust seating so as many attendees as possible can observe the head and the Vice. Posting the seating arrangement outside the mess area should facilitate members finding their seat assignment before mess call.

Each place setting in the mess should have a name tag. On the name tag, identify what the member is eating/drinking.

Table Setting

A formal place setting is used for the Dining-In. There are several ways a table may be set up for a formal dinner. The dinner for the dining-in normally consists of three courses, therefore, the table will be set up as follows. A folded dinner napkin will be placed on the place plate. On top of the napkin will be the place card. To the left of the plate, from outboard to inboard, will be salad and dinner forks. On the right side of the plate, outboard to inboard, will be the spoon, the salad knife and the dinner knife. There will not be any ashtrays placed on the table until after the dinner is completed and the smoking lamp is lighted.


The gavel will be used by the President to signal the members. Gavel raps are as follows:
3 = Attention Three resounding raps, require the attention of the members whether standing or seated.
2 = Rise Two raps cause the members to rise standing in place.
1 = Be Seated One raps is the signal for the members to take their seats.

Receiving Line

A receiving line will be formed at the entrance of the cocktail area, consisting of the President and the guest of honor. Mess members should arrive a few minutes early so that headgear, coats or other items are secured before entering the cocktail area. The President will be on the right of the receiving line and the guest of honor will be on the left. As you come abreast of the President, announce your rate/rank and name and shake hands with him. The President will in turn introduce you to the guest of honor, whereby you exchange handclasps. After greeting the guest of honor, proceed into the cocktail area.

Cocktail Hour

The cocktail period may be open-bar and will last approximately 30 minutes. Conversations should be light and of short duration. Attempt to talk with as many of your comrades and guests as possible, remembering that the cocktail period is for light-hearted conversation and entertainment. Smoking is permitted during this period, but do not take a lighted cigarette, cigar or cocktail into the dining room.

Call To Dinner

The signal for dinner will be the sounding of mess call, followed by appropriate marching music. After mess call, as soon as the music starts, all members not seated at the head table should dispose of their drinks and cigarettes, proceed to the dining area, locate their places and remain standing behind their chairs. Those individuals seated at the head table will remain in the cocktail area until all others have reached the mess area. The President indicates that dinner is to be served and heads the line, which will march into the dining room. No one may take his place at a table after the head table has entered without the permission of the President. Conversely, no one may leave without the permission of the President. A member desiring to leave for any reason, must stand, be recognized and request the permission of the President. The President will normally assess a fine or penalty to the requester.

Color Guard

The color guard is composed of one to six color bearers, and two color guards. All members of the color guard should be approximately the same height to present the most favorable impression. The color bearers are unarmed, but the color bearer carries the national color and commands the color guard. He gives the necessary commands for movements and rendering of colors. The positions of individuals in the single flag color guard, Navy color guard, the Navy-Marine color guard, and the Joint Armed Forces color guard are of utmost importance.

Dining Area Layout

The layout of the dining area or needs of the organization may dictate the manner in which you Post the Colors. The President will command Parade the Colors at which time the color guard will march into the dining area. If there are members or guests representing other services, their service flag shall be positioned and appropriately posted. After parading and posting the colors, the President will call for the grace.


As soon as the music has stopped, the colors posted and the National Anthem played, the President will rap for attention and announce Gentleman/Ladies, the grace. The Chaplain will then say the grace. Upon its completion, all members will be seated at the sound of the gavel.

Toasting And Smoking

The custom of toasting goes back to ancient times when a piece of toast was placed in a goblet with the meal, or any alcoholic brew. When it became saturated, the toast sank to the bottom of the goblet and after someone challenged TOAST, it was necessary to drain the goblet in order to get to the toast.

Today, a toast is the traditional and formal way of honoring a country, organization, or institution. It is disrespectful for an individual not to participate in a toast. A teetotaler need only go through the motion of holding the glass to his lips or request a non-alcoholic beverage. Formal toasts are never proposed to individual persons.


After all the mess members are in place, the colors posted and the grace given, the mess will be opened and the President will make his welcoming remarks. After his remarks, formal toasting will commence. The President will rise and call for a toast to the Commander-in-Chief. At the sound of the gavel, Mr. Vice rises and seconds the Presidents toast by saying, Gentlemen/Ladies, The Commander-in-Chief of the United States. Each member and guest then stands, repeats in unison the toast (e.g., The Commander-in-Chief of the United States) and sips the wine. All remain standing. Do not bottoms-up your drink on each toast. Bottoms-up is expected only on the toast to the U.S. Navy, the last of the evening. Do not be caught in the position of having an uncharged/empty glass. To ensure compliance with this ritual and avoid individual embarrassment, it is strongly recommended that the exact procedures be printed in the Dining-in program. Immediately after the toast to the Commander-in-Chief, designated personnel will stand and propose toast in the following order:
The United States Army
The United States Air Force
The United States Coast Guard
One Honored Guest
Chief of Naval Operations

Parading the Beef

After the toast to the Chief of Naval Operations, formal toasting will cease and the President will have Mr./Madam Vice parade the beef. At that time, members of the Dining-In committee will parade the beef. They will enter the mess and make a big presentation of the meal to the head table, members of the mess and finally, Mr./Madam Vice.

Mr./Madam Vice may sample the meal to see if it is fit for Chief Petty Officer consumption.

Addressing the Mess

There is a formal way of obtaining permission to address the mess. This eliminates yelling matches and lends to more mayhem that is orderly. If you would like to address the mess, stand (when it will not interfere with other proceedings within the mess) and identify yourself by saying, Mr./Madam Vice, (state your rank/rate and name) requests permission to address the mess or has a point of order. Mr./Madam Vice will respond with what is the nature of your request or (rank/rate of requester), you may address the mess. Mr./Madam Vice may use their wit to come up with something different, so remain flexible.

Limericks, Ditties, and Skits

During dinner, no toasting will be allowed. A member may stand, however, and address Mr. Vice to bringing to the attention of the entire mess, topics of timely interest. This is called presenting a limerick or ditty. Limericks and ditties are not intended to insult a member, but are presented in good fun and taste. A limerick should be witty to all and elicit a response from the attacked. Remember, before presenting a limerick or ditty, acknowledgment must have been received from the President. We should practice the tradition of chiding or poking good nature fun at fellow members of the mess. This is a form of self-generated fun and entertainment during dinner and serves to enhance camaraderie and command/unit esprit while remembering the formality of the occasion. An example of a limerick to a person working as an information officer who has been unable to have his units news published in the local newspaper would be:

"There once was a writer named Bill, who bragged incessantly about skill, but his efforts at writing, have been less than exciting since the paper has printed but nil"

Skits are another form of revelry used by the hosting organization to add entertainment to the Dining-In. Each group will provide a skit for one another's enjoyment. They should be in good taste and should not offend any member of the mess. Some skits, used in the past, that were enjoyable, were takeoffs from the movie Stripes where the group marches in chanting; poems; groups making themselves puppets and takeoffs from popular game and television shows.

The Break and Smoking

After dinner, the President may direct a break so stewards and waitresses may clear the mess area and to allow for the use of facilities and time to smoke. The smoking lamp will remain unlit in order to comply with the CNOs policy on smoking, however, to keep the tradition intact, Mr./Madam Vice will maintain an unlit ceremonial lamp. In the past, upon completing the meal, the President directed the smoking lamp be lighted. Mr. Vice will present a lighted ceremonial lamp to the President who in turn will offer the light to the honored guest. After the lamp has passed the President, he will announce, the smoking lamp is lighted. Smoking may now commence throughout the mess (or as permitted). Cigars may be distributed to each table.

Informal Toasts and Fines

After the smoking lamp is lighted and all have returned from the break, the President will introduce the Guest of Honor, who will address the mess. Following this address, informal toast will be received from members of the mess and their guests. During this period, anyone who wishes to initiate a toast will briefly present his justification for desiring such a toast, ending with the words of the proposed toast. Inspired wit and subtle sarcasm are much appreciated in these toasts. If the President deems the toast justified, he will direct Mr./Madam Vice to second the toast in the same manner as in the formal toast. When in the judgment of the President, the informal toasting has sufficed, he will rap thrice with the gavel and he will then commence the business of the mess by asking Mr. Vice to read the list of offenders, who have violated the customs and traditions of the mess. Fines and suitable payment are assessed as necessary by the President. Normally, individuals will not pay more than five dollars in fines, however, there are always exceptions for those who crave the attention.

The Final Toast

The President, without rising, will call for a toast to the United States Navy. Mr. Vice will then proceed to the head table and fill each glass starting from the honored guest and ending with the President. The President then fills Mr. Vices glass, who faces the mess and seconds the toast. All present rise, responding in unison, The United States Navy, drain the entire glass and remain standing while Anchors Aweigh is played. Following the toast to the United States Navy, the President will adjourn the mess and invite those present to join him at the bar. Members and their guests will be free to congregate. Attendees should not depart until the President and all official guests have departed. Despite its formality and ritual, the Dining-In is intended to be an enjoyable and enriching experience. Certain procedures may vary, (e.g., at some Dining-Ins there may be a punch/grog bowl that a fined person may be required to indulge at the order of the President.) Those who have attended previous Dining-Ins have found them so, and it is hoped this tradition will continue.

History Of Grog

Grog was originally developed to cure and prevent scurvy. Scurvy, even in its early stages, was both debilitating and demoralizing. During Vasco da Gamas first voyage of exploration to the Indies, more than half his crew died of it. It could be identified, wrote the sixteenth century English sailor Sir Richard Hawkins, by the swelling of the gums, by denting of the flesh of the legs with a mans fingers, the pit remaining without filling up in a good space; others show it by their laziness. Wounds refused to heal. Swollen gums made the chewing of ships biscuits and tough salted meat a prolonged agony. Many years passed before the disease was recognized as being related to diet, and it was then blamed not on too little fresh food, but on too much salted good. Western medical men knew by about 1600 that green herbs or citrus fruits could effect a swift cure. But the official mind could see no way of growing sufficient green herbs on board heavily manned ships to protect the crews against scurvy, and citrus fruits were much too expensive for economy conscious owners of administrators. For two hundred years, physicians and sea captains neglected the only known remedies for scurvy while they attempted to find others that would be cheaper and more convenient. They knew what worked, but not why it worked, and so all their many and varied experiments proved valueless. Finally, it was accepted that the juice of citrus fruits was the only medicine, which could conquer a disease that was killing more seamen than enemy action. At the end of the eighteenth century, the British Admiralty decreed that a fixed amount of lemon juice should be issued daily to sailors in the British Navy after their fifth or sixth week afloat. The mortality rate in the Navy declined with startling suddenness. The citrus juice was usually mixed with the rum ration, whose issue was the highlight of the sailors day. Since 1740, rum had rarely been dispensed. The first commander to dilute the ration was Admiral Vernon, whose nickname of Old Grog, which referred to the old cloak of grogram cloth he wore in rough weather was soon transferred to the watered drink. Sailors of long ago sang:
For grog is our starboard, our larboard,
Our mainmast, our mizen, our log
At sea, or ashore, or when harbour
The mariners compass is grog.

Subsequent naval officers, finding too many men groggy when they were needed for duty, went on diluting the strength of the issue whenever they had the opportunity. After 1795, the Navys grog was a mixture of rum, water and lemon juice. In the mid-nineteenth century lime juice from the West Indies was substituted for lemon from the Mediterranean. Conservative seamen viewed the innovation with a jaundiced eye, especially when American sailors began to taunt them by calling them Limeys. Lime juice, which has considerably less vitamin C than lemon or orange, did in fact prove to be less effective against scurvy.