Military Dining Etiquette

Wonder whether any of you could help me out, I'm trying to locate a guide to Military Dinner Etiquette.

Over the years, our Association Branch has fallen well behind in doing things 'the correct way' and to be honest this has really got my goat over the years and so this year I'm determined to do it the right way.

Whilst I pretty much know the correct way of things, (or at least I think I do!) I would appreciate it if anyone could direct me the way of locating a written down version of correct Military Dining as used by the Army and or Associations.

Thanking you in advance.

Surely 'the correct way' is one which allows everyone to enjoy the function? You are not in the army any longer, so why does it matter?



The dinners I go to people move tables between courses to chat to old mates, go to the loo when ever the bag needs emptied and generally have a good time.
As MSR says why does it matter?


Book Reviewer
Given that etiquette will vary between regiments/corps (eg Sitting/Standing for the Loyal Toast), messes etc; it's hard to see how there can be a "correct" way of dining (other than sitting, using cutlery, and not making an arse of yourself).


Book Reviewer
My first thought when I saw the thread title was of Hohne Ranges about 1980. B Sqn 15/19H were on, iirc, Battle Run 20. Packed lunches fronted up and everything stopped. Next up were 3 Tp so their troop sergeant issued the unforgettable instruction:

"Right Third Troop, we are up next, so grab your packed lunch and don't make a meal of it."
Surely 'the correct way' is one which allows everyone to enjoy the function? You are not in the army any longer, so why does it matter?

Haha! Yeah I realise that. And to be fair you have a point! I'm not looking to formalise the whole thing i.e. not moving until the PMC indicates etc, just the bare bones. You have to remember, among our members we have Gents in their 80's & 90's and they expect a degree of formality whilst other of my age just want to enjoy ourselves and catch up with old mates.

It's a case of trying to strike a happy medium, but I don't want to miss out any key things such as the loyal toast (which was missed out last year and we received a complaint about it). Importantly, we have members of other branches and association attending this year so I don't want to end up looking like a muppet because I've missed out the bleeding obvious.

I get your points gents, just want to dot the i's and cross the t's so to speak.

Any help would be appreciated.



Book Reviewer
Importantly, we have members of other branches and association attending this year so I don't want to end up looking like a muppet because I've missed out the bleeding obvious.

I get your points gents, just want to dot the i's and cross the t's so to speak.

Any help would be appreciated.

You might consider writing to the secretaries of the other branches and ask if they have any idiosyncrasies in their procedure. (Not standing for the loyal toast: just HOW MANY regiments were told by King George not to stand?) With a bit of luck, one will be so pedantic he'll give you a full script with reasons or else each will give you enough to cobble something something together. When you realise how differently every branch does things, you can do whatever you like and in all truth, when somebody complains you can say, "Well we have never done it that way in this branch." Just don't tell him the reason you didn't was negligence.
Face it, whatever you do, some crusty, dribbling, incontinent old fool will complain. Best to enjoy and ignore.



Book Reviewer
MSR, one day, You will be that "dribbling, incontinent fool".

Just thought that I'd say :)
I know, I can't wait :)
We are not in the NAAFI so here is my version (which I am sure very few will agree with)

First of all we are all equal in the mess (that is the reason that we do not wear rank on Mess Kit) The Colonel will, however, be given the respect that he is due. There is therefore no such thing as a 'top table'

The senior member of the mess is the PMC who is appointed at a meeting of mess members (where the Colonel has one vote, just as all other members have), his assistant and deputy is 'Mr Vice', the Vice President.

The PMC will sit at the head of the table, Mr Vice will sit at the other end and the Colonel will sit 'in the midst of his officers'.

All present, including their guests, or ladies (if present) will behave in such a manner that no measure of control is necessary but having said this The PMC has the ultimate authority.

Other lesser regiments may do this differently.

Edit to add the only way to be safe is to approach the PMC or whoever beforehand and find out the form...
Apropos military ranks, titles and precedence. How is precedence
applied when one individual is Major the Marquess of X and the other
is Lt Col the Earl of Y. Is the precedence applied by military rank or
rank of nobility?

Military officers are "esquires by office", and therefore come almost
at the end of the table of precedence. Among themselves, priority is
determined by military rank. Holders of a peerage titles, and members
of their immediate family, come far higher.

This is relevant only on social or ceremonial occasions which are not
of a military character. On a purely military occasion, military rank
and seniority are the only things which count (except for the
Sovereign, of course).

"There is much in a person's mode of eating".
~ Ovid

The fork is held in your left hand and the knife is held in your right when used at the same time.

You should hold your knife with the handle in your palm and your fork in the other hand with the tines (prongs) pointing downwards.

Food should be cut "one piece at a time" directly prior to eating, and then consumed. You may not "carve up" multiple pieces and then proceed to eat them.

If you’re eating a dessert, your fork (if you have one) should be held in the left hand and the spoon in the right.
When eating soup, you should hold your spoon in your right hand and tip the bowl away from you, scooping the soup in movements away from yourself. The soup spoon should never be put into the mouth, and soup should be sipped from the side of the spoon, not the end.

It is not acceptable to use your fingers to push food onto your fork, nor to handle most food items. Some foods such as fruit, bread, sandwiches or burgers may be eaten using fingers, and fingers are mandatory for eating some items, such as asparagus spears, which are traditionally served with sauce on the side for dipping.

If there are a number of knives or forks, start from the outside set working your way in as each course is served.
Drinks should always be to the right of the plate with the bread plate to the left.

When eating bread rolls, break off a piece before buttering. Use your knife only to butter the bread, not to cut it.
Do not start eating before the host does or instructs guests to do so. At meals with a very large number of people, it is acceptable to start eating once others have been served.

When finished, place the knife and fork together at six o’clock with your fork on the left (tines facing down) and knife on the right, with the knife blade facing in. This signals that one has finished.

The napkin should never be crumpled. Nor should it be folded neatly as that would suggest that your host might plan to use it again without washing it—just leave it neatly but loosely on the table.

Never blow your nose on your napkin. Place it on your lap and use it to dab your mouth if you make a mess.
It is considered rude to answer the telephone at the table. If you need to take an urgent call, excuse yourself and go outside.

Always ask for permission from the host and excuse yourself if you need to leave the table. You should place your napkin on your seat until you return. It is considered common courtesy for all gentlemen at the table to stand when a lady arrives or leaves the table.

If you must leave the table or are resting, your fork should be at eight o’clock tines (prongs) pointing downwards and your knife at four o’clock (with the blade inwards). Once an item of cutlery has been used, it should not touch the table again.

Food should be brought to your mouth on the back of the fork.
Dishes should be served from the left, and taken away from the right. Unless the food is placed on your plate at the table, then it should arrive from the left.

Drinks should be served from the right.

Never lean across somebody else’s plate. If you need something to be passed, ask the person closest to it. If you have to pass something, only pass it if you are closest to it and pass it directly to them if you can.

Salt and pepper shakers should be passed together.

Do not take food from a neighbour’s plate and don’t ask to do so.

You must not put your elbows on the table.

If pouring a drink for yourself, offer to pour a drink for your neighbours before serving yourself.

If extra food is on the table, ask others if they would like it before taking it yourself.

When chewing food, close your mouth and only talk after you have swallowed it.

Swallow all food before eating more or drinking.

Do not slurp your food or eat loudly.

Never pick food out of your teeth with your fingernails.

Try to eat all the food you are served

Wine glasses should be held by the stem in the case of white wines, and by cupping the bowl in the case of red wines

If port is served after the meal, then the decanter should be passed to the person on your left and never passed to the right.

Never transfer food to your mouth with your knife, and never put your knife in your mouth or lick the blade

Mess Etiquette and Mess Dinners

Table manners in Europe date back to the eleventh century, to the days of chivalry and knights-errant. The knights, or chevaliers, were armed horsemen, "gallant, courageous and fair" -- hence our word cavalry. In the thirteenth century, Frederick II inaugurated courtly manners, which emphasized intellect, wit, and beauty. Our word courtesy is a diminutive of "courtier's customs," while manners comes from the Latin manuarius, meaning "of the hand."

Bite not thy bread and lay it down,

This is not curtesy to use in town:

But break as much as you will eat,

The remnant to the poor you shall leave.

~ The Boke of Curtesye, c. 1460

The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries gave birth to modern table manners. With the invention of movable type around 1440, books on social deportment based on consideration of others began to circulate. William Caxton, the first printer in England, published The Boke of Curtesye, around 1477, a tome that set forth the duties of knighthood and chivalrous conduct.

Renaissance women of the aristocracy played a more passive and decorative role than today, and it was gentlemen with leisure time who contemplated social deportment and wrote etiquette books. In 1528 Baldassare Castiglione, an Italian diplomat, penned Il Libro d'Oro, which was translated into English as The Courtier in 1561.

Children of the aristocracy learned table manners through menial service in noble households and from etiquette manuals. In the sixteenth century, Desiderius Erasmus, the Dutch humanist, writer, and professor of divinity at Cambridge, who believed in the education of youth, set forth the following guidelines for social deportment.

At table or at meat, let mirth be with thee, let ribaldrie be excised; sit not down until thou have washed, but let thy nails be prepared before, and no filth stick in them, lest thou be called sloven and a great nigard. Remember the common saying, and before make water, and if need require, ease thy belly, and if thou be gird too tight, to unloose thy girdle is wisdom, which to do at table is shame. When thou wipest thy hands put forth of thy mind all grief, for at the table it become mete not to be sad, not to make others sad.

And in the sixteenth century, rules of dining were formalized:

For rudnes it is thy pottage to sup,

Or speake to any, his head in the cup.

They knife se be sharpe to cut fayre thy meate;

Thy mouth not to full when thou dost eate;

Not smackynge thy lyppes, As commonly do hogges,

Nor gnawynge the bones As it were dogges;

Suche rudenes abhorre, Suche beastlylnes flie,

At the table behave thy selfe manerly...

Pyke not thy teethe at the table syttnge;

Nor use at they meate Over muche spytynge;

This rudnes of youth Is to abhorde;

Thy selfe manerly Behave at the borde.

~ Francis Seager, Schoole of Vertue and Booke of Goode Nourture for Chyldren, 1557

Precedence concerns itself with such matters as the order in which people go in to dinner, leave the dinner table, march in procession (though here people usually move in reverse order of precedence, the least to the fore, the most important to the rear), are announced at gatherings or are listed in an official description of some ceremonial function. But there are various tables of precedence: social, official, political, local, ecclesiastical, legal, military.

Burke's Peerage & Gentry - Article Library
I wish i could help but i can never remember past the starter


the one thing i recall is never sit at the monkeys/rafp/regs table the salt and pepper etc will be spiked.
never sit near the above during winter evening meals in case the lights went out and shock and veg kicked in
Apropos military ranks, .....
You missed out a few things:-

When passing port, it should be slid, rather than lifted off the table.

When passing out, you should collapse straight back, tipping your chair over so you end up flat on your back. Collapsing to the left or right, into your neighbours dinner is bad form and going face first into your own soup can lead to drowning.

In the presence of foreign guests, a toast should be proposed to that country's head of state. The exception to this rule is Thailand, where the king's name is Bhumibol. Mispronunciation of this word by English speakers has almost started wars and the Thais currently have more sea harriers than we do as well as bigger aircraft carriers.

Should one diner wish to challenge another to a duel, he must wait until dessert has finished and no weapon with a calibre over 9mm or capable of automatic fire may be used.

Should you desire carnal knowledge of one of the lady guests, the rules of etiquette demand that you first have your manservant present her with your trapping card, err I mean calling card. This is different from a business card. The example below was used by our chaplain when he was on the pull:-

As you can see, it bears no address or telephone details and so it allows you to initially maintain some degree of anonymity. This will demonstrate your interest and instil within her, the same frisson of excitement that she feels on discovering that one of the neighbours has been nicking her underwear off the washing line.

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