Toasting with an Uncharged Glass and other “Violations of the Mess”

 

dining in 3

Vietnam 1969 – Fellow officers at a dining in.

As Ann mentioned, our Big Little Meals “dining ins” have been very enjoyable both for us and, we hope, for our guests.  Just in case you don’t know, these “dining ins” are a series of intimate dinner parties we are hosting to bring people together for good food and good conversation.  

But let’s face it, Ann is a perfectionist.  She is fretting that while our logistics for the cuisine part of the parties seem to be fine, maybe we need to be more proactive on the social side of things.  We have assumed that camaraderie will organically emerge among our guests without our input.  But this is pretty chancy for those of us who like things predictable and structured.

After all, what if there are awkward silences while we are munching on the hors d’oeuvres?  And how do we seat our guests to encourage dinner conversations?  Should we have some pre-planned pithy toasts ready to began our meal?   Maybe we need to send our guests a list of discussion topics prior to the dinner party to ensure a lively exchange of ideas.  

Fortunately,  because dining ins are an integral part of the military culture, my experience as a former army officer may provide some answers to these perplexing questions . Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about military dining ins.  Perhaps more important, dining ins are rituals that maintain social bonds.

As an aside, Ann just came across an editorial by David Brooks that expresses our sentiments precisely, There Should Be More Rituals! The small acts that keep a society together.  It is worth a look.

Meals next to moms vietnam

Our swanky dining hall in Vietnam

My first experience with an official dining in came when I was the CO of a unit in Vietnam.  It was a memorable event and not all of it was enjoyable, but I’ll save the gory details for a future blog.  For now I want to explore how the official army protocol for conducting a dining in  may be applicable to our BLM dining ins.

if you are familiar with the military way of doing things it shouldn’t be a surprise that the U.S. army has a detailed set of operating procedures for how to conduct a dining in. To give you some inkling of how detailed this can get I’ve reconstructed the  table of contents from RSAREC Pamphlet 600-15, Dining-in and Dining-out Handbook.  You can go here to enjoy the entire handbook; actually, it’s quite entertaining.

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RSAREC Pamphlet 600-15,  Dining-in and Dining-out Handbook.  

While perusing the handbook I came across some suggestions that might help us in organizing our own BigLittleMeals dining ins.  Here are some that are promising:

“The senior officer (this is Ann for sure) is to be at the head of the table with the lieutenant colonel (me?) to her right; the other guests are to be seated on both sides of the table according to rank”.

To prevent confusion and endless wandering about, a diagram showing the place of each attendee should be prepared for reference before entering the dining hall. … Each guest should determine his or her position at a table as soon as possible after arrival so that he or she may move directly to his or her place upon entering the dining room.”

“Toasts must be done in a correct manner. Serious thought and effort must be given to toasts. An incorrect toast will prove acutely embarrassing to the host as well as to the guests. All personnel should be informed of the order of toasts and the correct responses beforehand.”  

“A ‘gunner’ should be employed at the table. This is usually the junior member, and as such such he or she will ensure the beverage containers on the dining table are kept full and that members’ glasses are charged throughout the dinner hour.”

“Background music is encouraged. Certain traditional military tunes and dinner music is especially appropriate. If the music is live, it can also serve as entertainment after the meal” (Fortunately Ann no longer plays the flute and I gave up the trumpet after high school, but we do have a Sonos music system).

Finally, to minimize embarrassing faux pas at the dinner party the handbook provides a convenient summary list of “violations of the mess.”  Maybe we should post this conspicuously next to the dining table.

Violations of the mess

After considering all of the above, I have come to the conclusion that amongst us civilians unplanned spontaneity may be the preferred route for an enjoyable evening with good food and friends.  However, the thought of having a “gunner” at such functions is appealing.  Heaven forbid that we toast with an “uncharged” glass.

 

 

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