The Dining-In is a military custom that predates the Air Force, the military, even the United States. There are many versions of it, whether that branch calls it Mess Night, Regimental Dinner, or something else. Though other branches hold these, this is one of the oldest traditions of the youngest branch of service.


The Dining-In is held at any unit level – Wing, Group, or Squadron. This is the most traditional form of Air Force unit social events, where dress uniforms are expected and rules and ceremony are to be followed. A proper Dining-In will include hails and farewells, as well as recognition for achievement. The function is supposed to be a morale-building event, after all.

The Dining-In is one of very few events in official Air Force culture where drinking a lot in front of your unit is encouraged and being an overachiever won't get you sent to ADAPT. Just have a designated driver (or four) on stand-by. The rules are strict and many will be sent to the Grog Bowl (more on that later).

Chief Master Sgt. William Wade, the superintendent of the 59th Clinical Support Group, samples the grog at the 2nd Annual Joint Dining-In. (U.S. Air Force photo by Robbin Cresswell)

The Air Force iteration is said to have started in the 1930s with the Army Air Corps' General H. "Hap" Arnold's "wing dings." Many of its original traditions are still very much alive. While the customs of the Dining-In holds formality above all else, it's important to remember the point of this is to have fun and build morale.

Dress is considered "Black Tie." Officers will be in mess dress, Enlisted will wear mess dress or semi-formal dress uniforms. Some events will have a military band present, and as such, the diners may be ordered to march to their seats.

And there are other orders.

The Rules of the Mess

  1. Thou shalt arrive within 10 minutes of the appointed hour.
  2. Thou shalt make every effort to meet all guests.
  3. Thou shalt move to the mess when thee hears the chimes and remain standing until seated by the President.
  4. Thou shalt not bring cocktails or lighted smoking material into the mess.
  5. Thou shalt smoke only when the smoking lamp is lit.
  6. Thou shalt not leave the mess whilst convened. Military protocol overrides all calls of nature.
  7. Thou shalt participate in all toasts unless thyself or thy group is honored with a toast.
  8. Thou shalt ensure that thy glass is always charged when toasting.
  9. Thou shalt keep toasts and comments within the limits of good taste and mutual respect. Degrading or insulting remarks will be frowned upon by the membership. However, good-natured needling is encouraged.
  10. Thou shalt not murder the Queen's English.
  11. Thou shalt not open the hangar doors. (talk about work)
  12. Thou shalt always use the proper toasting procedures.
  13. Thou shalt fall into disrepute with thy peers if the pleats of thy cummerbund are not properly faced.
  14. Thou shalt also be painfully regarded if the clip-on bow tie rides at an obvious list. Thou shalt be forgiven, however, if thee also ride at a comparable list.
  15. Thou shalt consume thy meal in a manner becoming gentlepersons.
  16. Thou shalt not laugh at ridiculously funny comments unless the President first shows approval by laughing.
  17. Thou shalt express thy approval by tapping thy spoon on the table. Clapping of thy hands will not be tolerated.
  18. Thou shalt not question the decisions of the President.
  19. When the mess adjourns, thou shalt rise and wait for the President and head table guests to leave.
  20. Thou shalt enjoy thyself to thy fullest.

Violations of Etiquette

Failures to comply with the rules of the mess are "punished," generally with fines or a trip to the Grog. The Grog, held in a Grog Bowl (usually an unused toilet), consists of multiple types and flavors of alcoholic drinks blended together, and may even contain other things, like Tootsie Rolls or oysters. It is a punishment, after all.

Any member of the mess can call out violations warranting a trip to the grog bowl at any time. Members bring infractions to the attention of the President by addressing the mess and raising a point of order. If the validity of the charge is questioned, members vote by tapping their spoons on the table.

When the President sentences a violator to the grog bowl, the person proceeds to the bowl promptly, remembering to march and perform all proper facing movements. The bowl is usually located on or near the Vice's table. Upon arriving at the grog bowl, the violator does the following:

  • An about face and salutes the President
  • An about face to the bowl and fills the cup
  • An about face and toasts the mess: "To the Mess"
  • Drink the cup completely then inverted over their head to ensure it is empty.
  • Does an about face, replaces the cup, about faces again, salutes the President, and returns to their seat.

Sometimes getting to the grog (or to the event itself) requires a low-crawl obstacle course.

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