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Updated 06/20/2013


The Band Mess

Mess Night refers to a time-honored tradition in the military of dining in with formal mess dress.  Dining in is a formal military function for members of a company or other unit. The practice is thought to have begun in 16th Century England, in the monasteries and early universities. During the 18th Century, the British Army incorporated the practice of formal dining into their regimental mess system. Customs and rules of the mess were soon institutionalized rules called the Queen's Regulations. The mess night or "Dining in" became a tradition in all British regiments. During World War II, the custom was revived in the U.S. Military due to participation with the Officers’ Mess in the British military.

The United States Army, the United States Navy and United States Air Force refer to this event as a "Dining in" or "Dining-in." The United States Marine Corps and the United States Coast Guard refer to it as "mess night." The Army sometimes calls it a "regimental dinner."  A unit's dining-in consists of only the members of the unit. An optional formal dinner, known as the "dining-out" may include spouses and other guests. The dining-out follows the same basic rules of the dining-in, but is often tailored to minimize some of the military traditions and be more interesting to the guests. So, technically our Band Mess is a dining-out since all members, students, and their families are welcome.

By the early 19th Century, the British Army's "mess night" developed formal rules, as a result of troops being stationed in remote areas. Officers elected mess committees to conduct their meals. The officers were expected to adhere to the rigid etiquette of Victorian society.  The dining in follows established protocols. After a brief cocktail period of 30 to 45 minutes, the presiding officer, known as the "President of the Mess", announces “PLEASE BE SEATED." The group will then retire to the dining area to be seated.

Formal toasts are the heart of the formal dining in. A junior officer, known as "Mr Vice", proposes a toast, “TO OUR GUESTS.” Guests remain seated. The other officers rise and respond, “HEAR, HEAR.” They then sit down. Other toasts include “TO THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF.” Standing, all respond “THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF.” This is followed by toasts to "TO THE UNITED STATES NAVY" or “TO THE UNITED STATES ARMY” and “TO THE (UNIT).” The responses follow in kind, of "HEAR HEAR."

Violations of the formal etiquette of the dining in are "punished", generally with fines. In the United States Army, the following are considered "Violations of the Mess":

untimely arrival at proceedings, smoking at the table before the lighting of the smoking lamp, haggling over date of rank, Inverted cummerbund, loud and obtrusive remarks in a foreign language, improper toasting procedure, leaving the dining room without permission from the President of the Mess, carrying cocktails into the dining area before the conclusion of dinner, foul language, toasting with an uncharged glass, wearing a clip-on bow tie at an obvious list, rising to applaud particularly witty, succinct, sarcastic, or relevant toasts, unless following the example of the President, haggling over penalties or fines imposed.

At Army and Air Force dinings-in, violators of the mess are obliged to publicly drink from a grog bowl in front of the mess attendees. The grog is usually contained in a toilet bowl, consisting of various alcoholic beverages mixed together. As a more disgusting effect, the grog may also contain floating solids, such as meatballs, raw oysters, or Tootsie Rolls.

The tradition of drinking grog originated with the Royal Navy. Grog was originally a drink composed of watered down rum. In today's Navy dining-ins, grog comes in two varieties (one with alcohol and one without). The non-alcohol variety may contain anything that will make it less appealing to the taste, including hot sauce.

In addition to visiting the grog bowl and paying fines, violators may be sentenced to sing songs, tell jokes, do pushups, or perform menial tasks to entertain the mess. In most cases, when a violator has been identified, he or she is given the opportunity to provide a rebuttal or defense for the violation, which rarely results in the violator being excused for the offense, and usually only results in more punishment.

Members of the mess may also be singled out for some good-natured ribbing and teasing. In some units, members go out of their way to be picked on, often wearing obvious uniform violations, such as crowns, tiaras, eye-patches, bowties and cummerbunds of the wrong color, and other items that have no place on any military uniform.

You will find our Band Mess is far less formal and a whole lot of fun.