We are smack dab in the middle of holiday party season. Calendars are filled with parties, Yankee swaps, cookie exchanges – the list goes on and on. Friends and family find any excuse to host a get-together this time of year.

Of course, no holiday season is complete without the work holiday party. Some employers keep these in the office, but far more move to host in their home or at a bar or restaurant. Over the years I have bartended many holiday parties, and I have seen some horrifying moments, as well as some heartwarming ones. The spouses who quietly sip their drink while they listen to chatter about a specific work issue that they know nothing about. The shy or new co-worker who successfully branches out. The overly eager co-worker who orders far too many shots and ends up calling out of work for a week.

 

Whether it is for your spouse’s employer or your own, there are a few key pointers to keep in mind on your way to your next work holiday party.

  1.       Dress the part. While it is often called out on the invitation, you’d be surprised at how many people show up under dressed. If you aren’t sure, ask a co-worker. Sometimes you can laugh off the ugly sweater with the flashing lights in a sea of suits, but it’s not always a risk you want to take.
  2.       Introduce your guest. It’s basic manners, really. Beyond a simple name, include some other detail about them as a way of opening up the conversation. What they do for work is an easy one. It’s a win for everyone. The guest doesn’t stand there silently, and you get a break from office talk – or hearing about the same story you already heard in the break room four times that week.
  3.       Come prepared. Don’t expect that it is open bar if it is at a bar or restaurant. Many managers and business owners don’t want to take on that cost or risk of opening up the bar to the whole company. Always be ready to open your wallet just in case you are responsible for your own tab. Similarly, eat beforehand, especially if it isn’t explicitly promoted as a dinner party. Appetizers may not be enough to get you through the night, especially if you’re planning on drinking.
  4.       Shots anyone? The minute someone starts asking if anyone wants to do shots I know the night is going to be interesting. Shots are not necessarily appropriate for every type of party. Weddings and office holiday parties are a gray area. In general, I would advise against shots in this setting. If the boss or management team is suggesting it, it’s fair game. If you are low on the totem pole, save the shots for when you’re out with your friends. Of course, if you happen to see a holiday party for bar or restaurant staff, this rule is completely out the window. I’ll admit that without any hesitation.
  5.       Mocktails are your friend. As is water. Take a break from the toasts and sip on a water. Pace yourself. If you don’t want to drink, and don’t want people to know you’re not drinking, just tell your bartender. We are happy to serve you mocktails all night. We keep a lot of secrets for our customers, so a wine spritzer hold the wine won’t be a problem.  
  6.       Don’t bully the boss. It’s a nice gesture to buy someone a drink (if they aren’t already footing the bill). Buying for your boss is another gray area. Most bosses anticipate that at one point or another someone may ask them if they want a drink. If they decline, just take “no” for an answer and move on. Do not push the issue.
  7.       Be a good sport, Santa. Yankee swap, secret Santa, what have you. If the party includes any type of gift exchange, know your audience and be a gracious participant. You haven’t experienced a teacher’s wrath until you’ve stolen their Dunkin’ Donuts gift card in a Yankee Swap, leaving them with a box of pencil erasers. I will never forget that one. A neutral gift is better than a risk at a laugh if you’re unsure of the tone of gift exchanges. Personally, I like a funny gift as much as anyone. The record-scratching silence when the conservative co-worker opens your roll of Trump-print toilet paper can be piercing.   
  8.       You will have to see these people again when you are all sober. At one point or another, alcohol turns (almost) everyone into a social butterfly at these parties. It’s great to see a budding friendship with the manager from the department you want to get into, or the attractive new employee you’ve been staring at in meetings. It is cringe-worthy to witness you cross the line between “let’s get lunch next week!” and “let’s get HR invited to that meeting on Monday.” Before you divulge your darkest secrets to the co-worker whose last name is a little foggy, take a sip of water, get a plate of crackers, and breathe it out. That’s usually a good time to consider saying your good-byes for the night.
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