Nlccmjmiller 403.111.2222

Mess Dinner


The Naval Mess Dinner is an important function and steeped in tradition. The amount of tradition that is followed varies from unit to unit. This web page a details some of the traditions which should be followed.
The Mess Dinner can be considered a special or ceremonial occasion, carried on from the days when Officers dined formally every evening. The traditions and ceremonies observed during the dinner have evolved over time but the basic rules of conduct observed are those of polite society. The sequence of events, and the customs and traditions observed when dining in a naval mess, (whether ashore or onboard one of HMCS ships) are outlined below.
Please keep in mind that Army Regiments and Air Force Units have unique customs and traditions that are different from those of a Naval Mess Dinner. When guests from other services are present it is a normal courtesy to give them some leeway as to the enforcement of these rules and traditions.


The dress to be worn at the dinner should be specified in advance on the dinner invitation.

The President and Vice-President

The Mess President is normally the President of the dinner, although any Officer or member could be called upon to act as President. There is no rank at a Mess Dinner, so the President presides over all diners regardless of rank, seniority or classification. During the dinner the President may discipline any diner for misbehaviour. They normally occupies center of the head table. When there is no head table, the President normally sits in the seat nearest the door.
The Vice-President is subordinate to the President during dinner. In a large mess, with more than one table, there should be a Vice-President seated at each table.
If there is only a single table, the Vice-President would be seated to the President’s right and farthest away from him/her.

Traditional Mess Dinner Time

The traditional time for dinner is "1930 for 2000", meaning that cocktails are scheduled for 1930 and the Dinner is started at 2000.
This is the traditional mess dinner time, though some messes might adjust this time based on certain requirements.
The half hour set aside for cocktails is for guests to review the seating plan and mingle.
Sherry is the traditional pre-dinner drink, chosen for it being a fortified wine which serves as a good "warm-up" for the wine that will follow.

The Seating Plan

The mess dinner seating plan is normally arranged in advance and displayed prior to the dinner. As well, individual place settings at the table should be marked with a name card.
When creating the seating plan, the following rules/guidelines should be adhered to: If no seating plan is provided, or if the seating plan provides only for the President and mess guests, the diners shall take their places at the table without regard to rank or seniority.

The Dinner

At approximately 1955, the senior steward would enter the room and report to the President: "Dinner is Served."


Although the person saying Grace may use his/her own wording, the prayer normally used by Presidents and other diners is traditionally "For what we are about to receive, thank God."
Keep in mind that when a Chaplain is saying Grace he/she is not limited to these words and they may use any words that they feel appropriate.


Table Settings

Though the table service provided at a formal dinner party may initially appear formidable, the basic rule of thumb for silverware is simply "start at the outside and work in."
The arrangement of utensils corresponds to the courses that will be served, and are placed in the order in which they will be used.The stewards should ensure that the right wine gets to the right wine glass for each course.

Table Manners

Additional fine points of table manners to be followed are:

Rules of Order

The tap of the President’s gavel for "Grace" signals that the dinner has officially begun.
Between that time and the "Loyal Toast" the following rules apply:

Without the President’s permission, no one may: Come in and sit down at the table; Diners are not allowed to: Whenever the President or Vice-President taps the table there must be silence until he has finished speaking.


Misbehaviour or breaking the rules of order generally results in disciplinary action.
The President has three options: The punishment will usually fit the crime.
A diner is ordered to leave for a serious offence such as gross rudeness.
For other offences, more light-hearted in nature, the offender is given a chance to exonerate himself by the use of his wits.

An Officer coming to dinner late:Fines vary from a single drink to drinks for all present.
The President may award drinks to any diner or diners he chooses to name, including himself.
If there is an offended party he is generally mollified by receiving payment of a fine.
The Vice-President may warn or fine the President.
Fines imposed on a guest must be paid for by his (or her) host.
It is permissible for any diner to call the President’s attention to a misdemeanour, but wise is the man who first obtains the President’s permission to do so since without such permission, he himself may be fined.
The procedure for warning or fining is for the President to tap the table for silence, and say, for example: "Mr. Mitchell will have the honour of entertaining Mr. Smith in the mess,” or "Mr. Mitchell will have the honour of entertaining the Vice-President of the port table,” or "Mr. Mitchell is warned."
There is no set phrase, but the expression "will buy a drink" is avoided.
The fines are never paid until after the toasts have been drunk, and no diner who has not drunk the toasts in wine may accept payment of a fine.
Toasts may never be drunk in wine that is served in payment of a fine.
Offenders honour fines in the mess after the dinner is over, and in the beverage of the recipient’s choice.
If a diner who was named as the recipient of the payment of a fine does not accept payment, the fine is considered paid.

Passing the Port

When the last course has been finished, the stewards clear the table of everything except the table decorations, sweep up all the crumbs and remove the napkins.
If Port glasses are part of the original table setting, the port glasses should remain on the table.
Once the tables are cleared the senior steward should report to the President: "Tables cleared, Sir."
The President would then tap his/her gavel for silence and then calls on the chaplain to "Give thanks."
If no chaplain is present the President gives thanks in the customary way: "For what we have received, thank God."
After "Thanks" are given, the Port should be passed.
Decanters of port, stoppers in, are placed before the President and each Vice-President.
These decanters will be passed to all diners.
If there are no port glasses in front of each diner, port glasses shall be brought around by the stewards and set before each diner.
Other dessert wines such as Madeira or Marsala may be used instead of, or in addition to, the port.
Once the decanters are in place, the senior steward reports to the President: "The wine is ready to pass, Sir."
The President then unstoppers the decanters in front of him, as do the Vice-Presidents with decanters.
The President passes his decanter to the left, and other officers do the same without serving themselves.
The decanters are kept at least one place apart as they move around the table.
If no one is seated at the end of the table, the stewards move the decanters across it.
Any diner who forgets to help himself before passing the port is out of luck since decanters move only to the left.
The port is passed by sliding the decanters along the table, reducing the risk of dropping them or spilling their contents.
They may be raised from the table to pour.
The practice of never lifting the decanters, even to pour, is an exaggeration of the passing method. There is absolutely no necessity to hold your glass below the edge of the table then tilt the decanter to pour while its base remains firmly on the table. The decanter can be picked up to pour in a normal fashion as long as it is placed back down and then remains touching the table as it is slid to the next diner on the table. No-one is required to take port if they do not want it, but if it is to be taken, it must be taken on the first round of the decanters, or not at all. In civilian toasts, if you do not have wine, your glass is filled with water.
In the Navy, however, toasts are never made with water, as superstition says that the person toasted will die by drowning.
When the decanter arrives back at the President, or Vice-President, he/she should serve themself and then wait for the passing of the port to be completed on other tables.
When the port passing has been completed the President should stoppers the decanter in front of him and the other's should do the same.
No diner should touch their port until the "loyal toast" has been proposed.

The Loyal Toast

The health of His Majesty, the King, is honoured while diners remain seated in the wardrooms of HMCS ships and designated naval establishments, except: The privilege accorded to the Navy of remaining seated while drinking the Sovereign’s health is long-standing but obscure in its origin.
There are several popular beliefs about these origins. The following is the Loyal Toast procedure according to The Honours, Flags and Heritage Structure of the Canadian Forces:

The Toast of the Day

Once the "Loyal Toast" has been proposed the formalities of the dinner are considered ended.
It was traditional for cigars and cigarettes to be passed out at this time, however, current regulations do not allow smoking at Mess Dinners.
At this point, the President will call upon a member (usually the most Junior diner present) to propose the Toast of the Day.
There is a different toast for each day of the week, and getting them confused is dealt with strictly!
In fact, the President has the right to ask for any Toast of the Day regardless of the day on which the dinner is being held.
Although it is customary for the Officer giving the toast to preface it with an applicable brief and witty preamble, those who can be neither witty nor brief are cautioned against attempting the effort.
After the Toast of the Day is complete other toasts may be entertained, on the discretion of the President.
In the Navy there is a toast for each day of the week. Normally these toasts are used at special occasions and mess dinners, but they may be used at any time. The toast is typically given by the youngest person present at the gathering. Recently, the toasts have been modernized to better reflect the current Royal Canadian Navy. The "toasts" listed in the blue column are the toasts currently authorized for use in today's Royal Canadian Navy.

Day of the Week
Contemporary Toast
Traditional Toast





















After Dinner

Another custom in the Service is for the President to invite the bandmaster (if present) and the chief cook to join him in a glass of port.
Chairs are provided and a toast may be proposed, after which they stay for the a portion of the evening.
The senior steward may also be invited, but normally he/she will still be busy with his/her duties.
Stewards and galley staff may also be thanked at this time.
Port may be passed one more time and then be left unstoppered for the remainder of the dinner.
Repartee, speeches and explanations are normally left until the end of dinner, after the toasts, when everyone has been well-wined and dined.
This is not the time for a serious or lengthy speech, unless the speakers’ itinerary precludes another opportunity to address the group.
The guest of honour normally makes the final speech of the evening, and everyone is expected to listen attentively.
Since points of order may be confusing to non-military guests, speakers usually use common sense and good taste in consideration for them.


The President may suggest to the guest of honour and others at the head table that they adjourn for coffee and liqueurs.
When he rises the diners should stand and remain standing until he has left the room.
Diners are expected to join the President and the Guest of Honour without undue delay.

Information contained here came from