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Air Force Dining-in-Dining Out Planning Guide

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Formal military dinners are a tradition in all branches of the United States Armed services. In the Air Force and Navy, it is the dining-in; in the Army, the Regimental Dinner; in the Marine Corps and Coast Guard, Mess Night.

As with most ancient traditions, the origin of the dining-in is not clear. Formal dinners are rooted in antiquity. From pre-Christian Roman legions, to second century Viking warlords, to King Arthur’s knights in the sixth century, feasts to honor military victories and individual and unit achievements have been a custom.

Some trace the origins of the dining-in to the old English monasteries. The custom was then taken up by the early universities and eventually adopted by the military with the advent of the officers’ mess. With the adoption of the dining-in by the military, these dinners became more formalized. British soldiers brought the custom to colonial America, where it was borrowed by George Washington’s continental army.

The Air Force dining-in custom probably began in the 1930s with General H. “Hap” Arnold’s “wing-dings.” The close bonds enjoyed by Air Corps officers and their British colleagues of the Royal Air Force during World War II surely added to the American involvement in the dining-in custom.

The dining-in has served the Air Force well as an occasion for military members to meet socially at a formal military function. It enhances the esprit de corps of units, lightens the load of demanding day-to-day work, gives the commander an opportunity to meet socially with their subordinates and enables military members of all ranks to create bonds of friendship and better working relations through an atmosphere of good fellowship.

The dining-in and dining-out represent the most formal aspects of Air Force social life. The dining-in is the traditional form, and the term will be used throughout this document. However, most of the information applies equally to both dinings-in and dinings-out.

It is important for the success of a dining-in that members enjoy the evening, and that the ceremonies are done in a tasteful, dignified manner. A dining-in should have a theme around which the decorations and ceremony are built.

The purpose of the dining-in is to bring together members of a unit in an atmosphere of camaraderie, good fellowship, and social rapport. The basic idea is to enjoy yourself and the company. The dining-in is also an excellent means of providing hail and farewell to members of a unit. It is an excellent forum to recognize individual and unit achievements. The dining-in, therefore, is very effective in building high morale and esprit de corps.

Dining-in. The dining-in is a formal dinner for the members of a wing, unit, or organization. Although a dining-in is traditionally a unit function, attendance by other smaller units may be appropriate.

Dining-out. The dining-out is a relatively new custom that includes spouses and guests. It is similar in all other respects to a dining-in. The dining-out is becoming increasingly popular with officers and enlisted members alike.

Combat dining-in. The combat dining-in, the newest of the dining-in traditions, is becoming increasingly popular, especially in operational units. The format and sequence of events is built around the traditional dining-in, however, it’s far less formal atmosphere and combat dress requirements (flight-suit, BDUs) have made it very appealing to the masses. There is not a great deal written on the subject and the only limit seems to be that of the imagination of the planning committee.

Dress. Officers wear the mess dress uniform. Retired officers may wear the mess dress or civilian attire. For enlisted members, mess dress or the semi-formal dress uniform is worn. For retired enlisted personnel, the mess dress, semi-formal dress, or civilian attire is appropriate. Refer to AFI 36-2903, Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel for appropriate wear instructions. Male civilians should wear appropriate black tie dinner dress. The proper dress for civilians should be clearly stated in the invitation.

Key Players

President. This officer is the center figure of the dining-in. Normally the commander of the organization hosting the dining-in is the President. The President is charged with the overall responsibility of the dining-in. Specific duties of the president are as follows:

  • Oversee entire organization and operation of the dining-in.

  • Appoint any or all of the following project officers.

    • Vice President

    • Arrangements Officer

    • Mess Officer

    • Escort Officers

  • Secure an appropriate speaker, set the date, and determine location.

  • Arrange for a chaplain to give the invocation.

  • Greet all guests before dinner is served.

  • Opening and closing of the mess.
Many of the duties of the President are delegated to the arrangements officer who must work closely with the President to ensure the success of the dining-in.

Above Information Courtesy of the United States Air Force Academy

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