I recently had the honor of attending a Dining Out in Norfolk, and had a wonderful time. If you haven’t been to one, let me tell you – it’s serious business. There are more rules to remember than you can shake a stick at. But don’t let that intimidate you. You should go.
Here’s a little guide I put together for you. Follow these easy steps and you can’t go wrong.
1. Everyone dresses up in formal attire. Nobody ever dares to deviate from the dress code. Except one time, the entire Air Department wore kilts, causing the rest of the evening to be dedicated to whether or not the kilts were “regulation”, also known as “going commando”, also known as “not wearing underwear.”
Thankfully, we never found out.
2. Mister or Madame Vice (usually a junior officer) enforces proper protocol, and keeps things running smoothly. Except the time Mister Vice got doused with a water cannon during his opening remarks, and five minutes into the evening we had to take a break to avoid a fight (which I think is against the rules). Fights should be avoided. Especially if you’re Mister/Madame Vice.
3. The President (usually a senior officer) resides over the ceremony and ensures the event goes off with dignity and in the right order. One Dining Out they ran into trouble when the President got “lost in the script”, also known as “toasted”, and anarchy ensued. Being toasted is an honor. Getting toasted should be avoided. Especially if you’re the President.
4. Infractions of the rules are punished by fines, by having to tell a joke or sing a song, or by drinking from the grog bowl (we’ll get to that). There was one time, unfortunately, when somebody brought in a karaoke machine to punish infractors – kind of a musical guillotine. Bad singing, especially amplified bad singing, should be avoided.
5. The grog bowl is supposed to be filled with various liquids according to a very specific recipe, which never happens. As the song says, “It’s been the ruin of many a poor boy (Animals version) / girl (traditional English version).” I have seen horrible things sticking out of grog bowls. At one Dining Out I swear I drank some beef jerky.
6. The night ends with formal and informal toasts – these are well-rehearsed and follow a specific order, and serve to bestow honor on those being toasted. Sometimes, the toasters get a little carried away – one night a diner proposed a toast to, “…ships at sea in bad weather taking heavy rolls (or words to that effect)”, at which time everyone at his table threw dinner rolls at the President of the Mess.
Dining Outs date back to the Roman Legions (Naval Historical Center), and are one of the great, not-to-be-missed traditions of military life. If you ever have a chance to attend one, don’t miss the opportunity.
Oh, and don’t cuss, discuss politics or religion, drop your fork, leave the room without permission, or…ah, nevermind. Just go. You’ll be fined. I mean, you’ll be fine.