Whether you are brand new to the military life or grew up in it, you’re familiar with one thing: tradition. A great way to learn about your spouse’s unit’s traditions is to attend a Dining Out. Slightly different from a ball, a Dining Out is focused on the specific unit — not on the service branch or garrison. Attending your first Dining Out can be confusing, so here are a few things you can expect before you go.
Without a doubt your biggest question will be, what do I wear? Here’s the simple way of knowing: check the invitation! Formal means floor length and semi-formal or cocktail means you can wear a shorter-length dress. If your service member is wearing mess dress or his/her service uniform, but nothing is suggested for civilians, then err on the side of caution and go with formal wear. As with any event, pick something you will feel comfortable and confident in! Don’t forget you can always re-wear a dress.
When attending a Dining Out, the official party will often greet the attendees as they transition from cocktail hour to the main meal. While your spouse may feel tempted to skip this receiving line, it’s a good idea to just get it over with. There are a few key things to remember:
- No drinks – you cannot go through the receiving line with a drink in your hand. You can usually find tables nearby for this reason.
- Skip the first person – kind of. The first person is not part of the official party and is there to introduce you to the host. Don’t shake their hand.
- Keep it short – you may have to repeat your name as you go down the line. You can add a “nice to meet you” or “nice to see you again”, but make it quick because there’s a line behind you.
After the receiving line, find your table and meet your tablemates. The fun is just beginning!
If you’ve attended a formal event before, you’re familiar with toasts. Toasts are made to an institution or office — not an individual — and they’re always rehearsed and planned carefully. Follow the people around you: if they stand, you stand; where they look, you look. Keep in mind that while you may think some of these traditions are silly, your behavior reflects your spouse. Be respectful. Remember the first season of Army Wives when Roxy LeBlanc was looking for the President when he was toasted? He wasn’t really there.
There will be plenty of drinking at a Dining Out. From the cocktail hour to toasts to culminating with the Grog Bowl. Traditionally, the grog begins with some of the previous event’s concoction, saved for this very moment. Senior leaders take turns adding to the grog, using liquor or an item that represents the unit’s history. Sometimes it tastes good, but oftentimes items like dirty socks or dog biscuits are added. When the Grog Bowl is complete, service members will request permission to drink from it, using a vessel of their choice (i.e., canteens, glasses, or anything else they can think of). When they’re done, they hold the vessel upside-down over their head to prove they drank it. See? Isn’t that fun! Spouses can participate too. Bottoms up!
Often referred to as limericks, there’s a tradition of good-natured teasing that’s appropriate at a Dining Out that wouldn’t be appropriate at a ball. This is when all the inside jokes come out. Nothing that would be personally detrimental or could reflect negatively on someone’s career is shared. For example, at a previous Dining Out, two companies were teasing each other about the time one wanted a water buffalo and the other lost it. The teasing ended with one company commander pouring water on the other’s table. It was a hoot!
We really hope you attend as many military events as you’d like — and don’t let the unfamiliar scare you. One extra tip on what to expect at a Dining Out is to ask one of the other spouses. You know the ones we mean — the ones who have been around the unit and military for a while and can recite the unit’s history from memory.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on Being a Command Spouse
Photo Credits: Rebecca Alwine