Dinner nights are a regular occurrence for the military... It’s basically a chance to have a really nice dinner, meet new people and get your dance on!
They are Brilliant fun and you'll have a great time! I've never been to a bad one so I'd highly recommend them!
There are a variety of dinner nights, but as a Military Husband, we’re only invited to certain ones. These nights are annoyingly referred to as ladies dinner nights (this winds me up no end). It basically means that the mess members can bring guests, it also means that the mess members have to behave themselves... Do they behave themselves? No, not always, but hey why should they!
The other most common dinner nights are regimental ‘stag’ dinner nights, which are only for the serving members, and partners are not invited. There are then wives dinner nights - usually held around Christmas time, but I’ve never gone to one of these, as the title isn’t exactly all inclusive!
The dress for a dinner night is usually mess dress or black tie... If unsure, I’ve always been directed to the Debrett’s guide which can be found online to clarify what is and isn’t acceptable. First word of advice though: make sure you wear a REAL bow tie (not a pre-tied one!)... If it's not a real one and somebody checks you will get fined, even as a spouse! If you can’t tie one then learn or get your wife to do it for you (this is what I do and I reckon it’s one of the highlights of her night).
Lets go through the night...
When you arrive, there will be pre-drinks... These may not be too adventurous, you’ll usually have the choice between gin and tonic or a glass of fizz. If you’re lucky and the mess has a bit of money, there may be canapés but some messes can rarely afford cheese so I wouldn’t get your hopes up!
As pre drinking time comes to an end somebody (either the mess manager or the PMC) will pipe up and give you a five minute warning, this is a prompt for you to down the drink you have and get one more, it’s also an opportunity to go to the toilet (I highly recommend this, you’ll see why soon).
Now lets head through to dinner - Cue people crowding around the seating plan trying to figure out where they’re sitting...
One thing that used to happen and still does in some messes is escorting the ladies into dinner which begs the question, who escorts us into dinner..?
Once you’re in and you know where you’re sitting, you’ll see a little card infront of you with your name on it... TAKE THIS CARD AND PUT IT IN YOUR POCKET!
If you don’t do this, some comedian will take it, write a little note on it (addressed from you) and send it to the top table, this will not only result in your message being read out to everybody during the post dinner speeches, it will also result in you getting a fine! (Usually paid by purchasing a bottle of Port or Fizz)
Now for the formality of the evening... Following grace which is usually read by the Padre or ‘Mr Vice’ (the youngest/most junior serving member attending), you will be treated to a traditional silver service 3, 4 or 5 course candlelit dinner, and you should be well hosted by the military members.
Something else to bare in mind at dinner nights is that you’re not supposed to leave the table, no matter how much you need the toilet, it’s frowned upon. Now this is a lot more lenient during ‘ladies dinner nights’ and there will often be a comfort break at some point. If you do decide to go for a wee though and a comfort break has not been called, be prepared to get back and find your chair missing or replaced with a highchair (good luck with that). You’ll then be asked why you’re standing up and again this will probably result in a fine.
The list of dinner night pranks is almost endless but I’ll talk about some of my favorites...these are usually carried out on Mr Vice, especially if it is his or her first dinner night, but always be cautious, you never know where the nearest prankster is...
if you’re mates with a dentist, the night can be very interesting indeed, I’ve seen small holes drilled into a wine glass so that when it’s filled, it will leak wine all over the table (or worse, your very smart suite). This will also result in the owner of the glass having to drink what is poured for them immediately to stop leakage happening. Dentists also have access to a local anaesthetic... This has been known to be placed onto a desert spoon so the victims mouth will go numb halfway through pudding!
Clingfilm over the wine glass, this is very easy to do and the results are brilliant, obviously the clingfilm isn’t seen so when the wine is poured it will go all over the place instead of in the glass!
Flour in the serviette, when taken out to be placed upon ones lap, the flour will go everywhere... Brilliant!
Cutlery tied to the chair, so that when the chair is pulled out, all of the cutlery flies off the table.
Chair tied to the chair opposite so that when the victim pulls their chair out, the person opposite can't pull theirs out and vice versa...
Cutlery (particularly desert cutlery), or the rim of the wine/water glass wiped with hot chilli peppers before the dinne... This is of course invisible to the holder until they take a mouthful of sweet desert and end up with their mouth on fire!
The wine challenge... (I may have taken part in this one once or twice...) When the mess staff come around and ask which wine you would like (Red of White), if you answer both, both of your glasses will then be filled and the challenge is to have both of these glasses drunk by the time they come around for the refill. You will then ask for both glasses to be filled again and this happens all night until the dinner is over. I suppose the next challenge then is walking away from the table!
No hands desert, if this get’s called you tie your serviette onto your head, put your hands behind your back and eat your pudding... Doing this is brilliant but very messy.
As the end of dinner approaches the port will come out for the toasts... The main toast is to the queen but there are some people who will toast others, for example their Regimental Colonel in Chief. There may also be speeches...be warned, some people really like to talk so you may be sat listening for a while!
I recently had the opportunity to give a speech when I was invited to my old ATC Squadron (187 City of Worcester Sqn) dinner night as a VIP and guest speaker... I kept mine pretty short though, because I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a long boring one!
The port should always be passed to the left and if you have a lady sat to your left, you should fill her glass up for her.
Passing and pouring the port sounds easy but depending on where you’re having dinner and who your having dinner with, there are rules to follow...
The British Army tend to pick up the port, pour it, and then place it back on the table to slide along to the next person. (Individual regiments have their own alternate traditions within the Army too though, so can often vary)
The Royal Air Force tend to keep the decanter from touching the table and has to be in the air at all times.
The Royal Navy keep the port on the table, holding the glass below the table to pour it without lifting the base of the decanter off the table. (I believe there are a few reasons for this tradition, one is to prevent spillages another one is that in the old days the port was kept in pig skins, so wasn't lifted to prevent the skin ripping)
This concludes the formal part of the night... The top table (VIP Guests) will leave the dinner table and head to the bar, meanwhile Mr Vice will be asked to entertain the room and depending on how imaginative the young officer is, depends on how entertaining this will be... I’ve seen them play games, tell jokes and even eat candles... Don’t worry though, it’s not for long, and then it’s time for the rest of us to head to the bar and if we’re lucky there might even be entertainment....