The office holiday party or other business entertaining can be an opportunity to further your career, ruin your reputation, and everything in between. Smart party goers know how to make the most of the situation and even enjoy themselves in the process.
- Must I attend?
An invitation to a business social function — whether at the office, a colleague’s or client’s home, a client’s office, a restaurant, or another venue — should be taken very seriously. Attend unless you have an iron-clad excuse.
- What to wear?
Business social events require businesslike party attire unless otherwise specified in the invitation. Determine, as best you can, how casual or formal the event will be and dress accordingly. While you may wish to dress up from your everyday office uniform, avoid anything suggestive or silly. The wrong outfit can dispel, at a single glance, all your efforts to build credibility in the firm. If in doubt, err on the side of conservatism.
- Who to bring?
Clarify who is invited to the affair. You neither want to bring someone who wasn’t invited nor be the only one going solo. Remember that your guest’s behavior reflects upon you; therefore, if your intended date tends to party a little too hearty, have a serious talk beforehand. If you’re not confident he or she can behave creditably, bring another friend or come alone. This isn’t the best time to bring someone you’re just getting to know; you don’t want to be surprised by your guest’s behavior.
- What to eat and drink?
You’ll be observed during the event, so watch how, what, and how much you eat. If you think you’ll be starving by the time you get to the party, snack beforehand. (That helps you handle any alcohol you may consume, as well.) Avoid salty or greasy foods that make you want to drink more. Foods high in carbohydrates or protein help absorb the alcohol.
At a cocktail-type party, you may need to eat standing up. Circulate throughout the party and return to the buffet periodically for a manageable serving of food. Try to keep one hand free to shake hands.
To limit your alcohol consumption, ask for a non-alcoholic version of a mixed drink, or toss a slice of lemon or lime into a cocktail glass of sparkling water. It looks festive, and no one needs to know. One or, at most, two glasses of the “real thing” should last you the whole evening if you alternate with a nonalcoholic beverage. Keep your glass in your left hand so that your handshake is not wet and cold. If necessary, keep an eye on your guest’s alcoholic intake, as well.
- What to (and not to) say?
Business social events are excellent opportunities to mix with people you don’t spend much time with at the office, including those higher up in your organization. If your firm is large, do some research beforehand and make a mental note of those you want to meet.
Ask your conversation partners about themselves and their interests; don’t monopolize the conversation. After an appropriate time, excuse yourself and move on. Mingle and try to meet as many new people as you can, introducing your guest as well. Provide some information along with the introduction to get the conversation going. Be sure to talk to the host, or party planners, at some point during the event and express your thanks.
You want to get to know your fellow party goers on a more social basis, but don’t discuss overly personal matters and avoid gossip. This isn’t the time to complain about your job, ask for a raise, or have a long, detailed business discussion. Make sure your jokes are clean and not offensive to any group. Don’t say anything suggestive, don’t flirt, and, other than shaking hands and chaste dancing (if there’s a dance floor), don’t touch anyone inappropriately!
- When to arrive and leave?
Business entertaining isn’t the time to be fashionably late. Arrive shortly after the event is scheduled to start, and leave when the festivities are beginning to ebb, unless you must leave earlier for other important commitments. Don’t close down the party unless you’re expected to help with clean up. If you committed to follow up with anyone at the party, such as getting them some information, jot a quick reminder to yourself as soon as you leave so you don’t forget.
- What about gifts?
Gift giving is another business entertaining quandary. If the event is in a private home, a hostess gift is appropriate. During the holiday season, subordinates usually don’t give their superiors gifts, but an assistant should receive one. Unless you’re giving holiday presents to all your peers or staff members, present gifts privately. Any business gift shouldn’t be too cheap, expensive, or personal, and don’t give a gag gift unless that’s specifically agreed upon ahead of time for a holiday party. Never give anything sexual in nature or which can be perceived as derogatory to any group. Choose something businesslike, conservative, and tasteful.
Even with all these rules and caveats, social gatherings are a good way to relax and bond with your co-workers, celebrate the holiday season, and have a good time.