‘Please sir, may I go to the toilet?’ The (curious) traditions of a dining night

When I tell my civilian friends I have to wait for permission to go to the toilet at a ladies guest night, they usually fall about laughing, or look at me with disbelief! But waiting for the ‘admin break’ [that’s toilet-stop to you and me!] to be announced at these formal, but friendly, dining nights is just one of many long-standing customs followed.  Punctuated by pomp and ceremony and far-removed from the real world, the formality of dining nights starts with the dress code; usually something along the lines of:

 Dresses should be calf-length or longer and shoulders may be uncovered provided that the dress is not unduly revealing. 

Donning those easy-to-find polo-neck and ankle-length smocks, everyone meets in the Mess [formal bar!] for pre-dinner drinks, before being summoned to the dining room; sometimes by a gong or trumpet!  Filled with speeches, toasts, many courses and an abundance of wine, these are – sometimes tediously – long evenings set against a backdrop of traditional customs.  Or in my case, a backdrop of minor and not-so-minor faux-pas! In addition to the admin breaks, other defining customs include:

  • Standing behind your chair whilst waiting for the top table to enter and only sitting after the grace.
  • Resisting the natural urge to pull out your chair, as protocol states that a ‘gentleman’ do it for you.
  • And the evening finishes with the passing of the port decanter: always to your left and sometimes not allowed to touch the table between each person.  If you have managed that little feat, the next challenge arises: as tempting as the glass of port in your hand is, after enduring a long evening of speeches, rich food and lots of drink, you can not let a drop touch your lips until the Loyal (Her Majesty, the Queen) and Heads of State Toasts have been made.

That brings me back to my not-so-minor faux pas; aside from regularly forgetting most of the above, my most cringe-worthy dining night moment still has the power to make me laugh to this day:  I really didn’t like the look of the fish starter placed in front of me at one function and noticed a very appealing platter of vegetarian delicacies a little to my left.  Having enjoyed several of these tasty morsels, I was mortified when the lady sat on my left kindly asked me to stop eating from her plate!   😆 😳 The rest of the meal passed mostly in excruciating silence, as I wavered between an uncontrollable urge to giggle at my faux pas and extreme embarrassment at what she must have thought when I kept helping myself to her starter!

If you have any funny anecdotes about dining nights, please share!