can you drink yourself into oblivion at your office holiday party, and other etiquette questions

It’s December, which means it’s the season of office holiday parties – and all the weird etiquette landmines that come along with them. Do you really have to go to your office holiday party? Should you bring a date or go solo? Can you stand in a corner quietly drinking yourself into oblivion, or are you expected to socialize with your CEO’s overbearing spouse? And, most importantly, is this really a social event or is it just work?

At New York Magazine today, I’ve got an etiquette guide to get you through your office holiday party with your sanity intact. You can read it here.

{ 297 comments… read them below }

  1. Sara*

    My husband’s department cancelled the office party this year and is organizing a pot luck – which is fine. It’s higher education and they are cutting costs. BUT, they then turned around and organized a “decorate your cube” for Christmas contest, giving a budget of $50/PER CUBE. He said all he can think of is what a nice, catered lunch they could be having instead…

    1. KarenT*

      That’s insane! What a bizarre waste of money, for something so temporary. I’d rather have $50 for regular cube decorations, not something so seasonal. (Not to mention I’d rather just have $50…how many people don’t even celebrate/are excluded…so many reasons this blows the mind!)

          1. RJ the Newbie*

            This sounds perfect to me! I’d much rather decorate for Diwali and elephants are awesome.

            1. RJ the Newbie*

              Indeed not! My yoga studio had an outing up to a huge mandir up in New Jersey at the beginning of November. We go every year.

        1. Alex the Alchemist*

          Halloween’s my jam, so I might just make it a little more “Nightmare Before Christmas”-y

          1. Marion Ravenwood*

            Beat me to it! I would definitely have a mini Festivus pole on my desk if this was happening in my office.

        2. Cedrus Libani*

          Put up a sign: Happy Festivus! Air your grievances here -> (arrow pointing to recycle bin)

          1. Rockityroll*

            $1 festivus pole (dollar store wrapping paper tube), stuffed with 49 dollar bills. Don’t forget to take home your decorations at the end of the season!

      1. Antilles*

        I would definitely spend most of the money on generic cube decorations I can use all year around. Maybe spend like $5 on some Christmas lights or candy canes or whatever just for appearances’ sake, but most of the money would go to decorations that I could use 12 months a year (a nice calendar, posters, sports-team merch, whatever).

      2. Free Now (and forever)*

        Thank you. If I was employed there I would really be annoyed. We Jews, as well as members of other non-Christians faiths spend this time of year inundated with the Christmas Industrial Complex. Beingmandated to participate in this and looking at all the money being wasted on this would really frost me. Before I retired, I ran a food pantry.During the height of the recession, one of the larger law firms nearby decided to cancel their big holiday party and donated $4000 to our pantry instead. That’s the kind of thing that makes sense (and makes a difference).

    2. Justme, the OG*

      Yeah, that is pretty crass to do that. I get a nice breakfast and meeting later in the week. Yay?

    3. Kelly L.*

      Wait, so they’re giving them $50 but only to spend on cube decorations? That’s loony. I first read it as a $50 limit on how much of the employee’s own money they could spend on their cube. Cash or food would be way better than “$50, but only to stick tinsel on your desk.”

    4. Asenath*

      There’s a place that gives you money to decorate your space?? Or is this what you have to spend? I’m sure the people around here either provide their own decorations or dig into the collection of stuff from previous years. That is, those who decorate. Some people decorate everything that doesn’t move and some (like me) don’t bother to decorate at all. The only stuff management pays for is the giant and (I admit) tastefully done trees in the main entrance and public ares. Twinkly lights and coloured balls – and in one case, a banner suggesting you might like to donate to our sister organization that shares the facility. My immediate group is doing lunch outside (at our own expense) and a breakfast with Santa that raises money for a charity.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Then there are the ones who decorate things that do move, and are upset no one will eat Christmas cookies off their dog’s sleigh harness.

          1. Tassie Tiger*

            I think about it every couple months or so…that story was written so painfully detailed, I still remember… the cookies banging and bouncing off the dogs flanks…the dog turning his head around to try to lick the cookies….save me…save me from the memory…

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              It resonated with me because we had an Aussie who would have been so happy! And eaten all the cookies. And been so happy!

            2. sheworkshardforthemoney*

              OMG, now I’m laughing at the dog trying to eat the cookies and the owner offering the said licked cookie to a horrified co-worker.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          But fluffy is so well trained they only lick their butt twice a day unlike other savage dogs who go to town all day long.

          1. myswtghst*

            Not gonna lie, one of the selling points of my English Bulldog is that she physically cannot lick her own butt. Granted, she also cannot be trusted with food of any kind, much less holiday cookies.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        I’m such a non-decorator… I don’t want to take time for such things… I’d either turn down the money or put up a string of colored lights and that would be it.
        I like strings of lights as decorations, I’ve seen them year-round in various places. :)

      3. TardyTardis*

        One year I did my cubicle in a Very Slytherin Christmas–all green and silver, but it looked really classy, even if I got everything from Dollar Tree.

    5. Kes*

      Maybe decorate by buying festive candies to put on a bowl in the desk? And then everyone buys different candies/food for their desk and you have a candy party.

    6. What's with Today, today?*

      I’m just not a fan of eating pot luck…you just never know. For instance, a co-worker brought in a nice sweet coffee cake like thing last Friday for all of our co-workers to share, and we only found out later that it was left over from Thanksgiving. So it was over a week old when he brought it. It’s in the office fridge today, and he’s still pushing it on people.

    7. tink*

      We’re having a decorate your door/elevator bay thing, but we have to provide materials ourselves and it’s voluntary.

    8. Armchair Expert*

      Surely the answer is to decorate your cube with a nice cookie platter and some sandwiches on a tray?

  2. Aurion*

    Heh, heh…as someone who doesn’t drink, I also build up lots of extra goodwill by giving away my share of the alcohol. :D

    1. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

      Now I’m disappointed: nothing really crazy happened at hour holiday party last week. But I’m looking forward to read the other stories!

  3. Sara M*

    So, since the header mentions it… _can_ I drink myself into oblivion at the office holiday party?

    Asking for a friend. :)

    1. Colorado*

      haha, I was hoping the answer was yes ;-) My company did massive layoffs in October, there’s more to come end of December. They decided there’s no money for an elaborate Christmas party this year. Think we’re d0ing a pot luck for lunch in the office. Probably a wise move.

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      You could, but you might get the open bar killed for the following years’ parties. Not that I’m still bitter about a couple colleagues (including a manager!) doing that at a former job – it was one of the few remaining nice things!

      1. TardyTardis*

        Already happened at my old place. The first DUII was at 8:30 pm, and that was with the company laying on free taxis. No more open bar for you!

    3. ....*

      Everyone does at my company. To oblivion and beyond in fact, but its generally at a 2nd bar location that only those who want to participate go to, which is what makes it fine I think.

    4. Cacwgrl*

      I feel like I am one of the RARE cases that can say you CAN and face no negative feedback, but now that I have matured, I realize that I although I could, now I should not. We had a great run of Christmas parties where it was open bar full stop. Then it was all you can drink as long as you had tickets, but everyone got at least 5 tickets and the non-drinkers or early leavers gave the partiers their tickets so it was basically open bar again. And again, we’d run up $15k bar bills for a party of 150 or so. Because top shelf was an option. In hindsite, I am glad I had a window of time between that job and the one I’m in now where I am more of leadership role. I’m not proud of all of that, but I do know the behavior was accepted and embraced at the time. But I would have a hard time respecting someone that behaved the way I did now. I’m thankful for my youth, forgiving bosses who party as hard as youth and the experience to know better now.

    5. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

      Oldjob had an open bar at our Christmas party (which was held in the new year) – mostly this was treated with respect, however I followed one employee up to the bar, the person serving me asked “has he ever seen drink before?”!

      Sad thing was, he had.

    6. D'Arcy*

      I would have an open bar. . . but anyone who drinks to the point of passing out gets a pink slip taped to their face.

  4. Kittymommy*

    Lol, Miss Manners had a letter today about spouses at after hour work parties. She said it was inhospitable and foolhardy to not invite them.

      1. fposte*

        That seems a reasonable point, though, and I don’t think Alison is saying anything different. Miss M. is saying to the hosts that if you take up people’s after work time it’s inhospitable not to involve people’s after-work partners. Alison is saying that it’s still a work party and that can be really dull, so don’t require your partner to come. So the perfect arrangement is the employer invites the partner and the partner is tragically unable to make it :-).

        1. epi*

          This is pretty much the way I took it; I don’t think the advice is incompatible.

          It is rude to not invite spouses/partners to an after-work social event. That doesn’t mean these events are necessarily that enjoyable for partners, and there also shouldn’t be a strong expectation that they attend. I would say in many cases, extending the invitation to partners is more of a courtesy to your employees than to the plus-ones themselves.

          My husband’s company throws a very nice holiday party every year, but stopped including spouses a couple of years ago. A lot of their employees, including my husband, are offended and many won’t go if their spouse isn’t invited. My reaction is mild disappointment at most, only because I do like many of his coworkers. And my husband spends enough time on call– often disrupting stuff I wanted to do– the least the company could do is buy me dinner once a year.

        2. kittymommy*

          The inhospitable part definitely, the foolhardy came after a mention of the “#metoo” culture. Specifically, “in a period of super-awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace, it would be reckless and foolhardy”.

          I just thought it was funny that Allison and Miss Manners both had the topic on the same day!

    1. Elaine*

      To be fair, she was talking about a party that is going to have dancing, and spouses/dates aren’t invited. An after work party with dancing and no one invited but employees is rather a different thing.

      1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        Yeesh. I can’t think of a single coworker I’d want to dance with, ever, for any reason, including to save my own life

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I can’t think of a single co-worker I want to dance in front of even when I’m dancing with my partner.

      2. Rainy*

        My office is 97% ladies, which would definitely be a boon since I, a lady-type, have an unfortunate tendency to reflexively lead when dancing. (I DON’T KNOW, I’M TALL, OKAY)

        1. Kelly L.*

          And then there was all that single-sex dance instruction in high school, or was that just my high school? The class was all girls, half of us had to be “boys” to make it work, and I think it was just at random.

          1. whingedrinking*

            It doesn’t necessarily make a difference, especially in that awkward window where the girls are generally hitting puberty and the boys haven’t quite yet. The trailer for “Mad Hot Ballroom” features a shot of a dancing pair, probably about age twelve or so, who are doing a pretty good job considering that the young gentleman is at least a head shorter than the young lady.

            1. Clementine*

              I once was the inadvertent observer of a queer-oriented salsa dance class, which characterized participants as “leads” and “follows”–you could choose which you wanted to be.

              1. jolene*

                Yup, I’ve been to a LGBTQ etc dance studio near me many times and it’s leads and followers. I’m a straight woman follower and women leads are so much better IME. No ego, just confidence.

      3. Elfie*

        I’m guessing this is context-dependent. In the UK, in my experience, that seems to be the norm. We have a Christmas party, we pay to attend, we get drunk and dance stupidly with anyone and everyone, and it’s really weird to invite S/Os. I went to my holiday party last night – paid £35 for the priviledge (this is normal, remember), stayed overnight in a hotel so I could drink, and kicked my shoes off and danced with my IT colleagues all night (I’m in IT) – if hubby had been there it would have been a drag. It was a meh party, but that was just because hardly anyone came (and that isn’t because of the price-tag – previous parties have been well-attended with the same price-tag associated – I think it’s because the mood of the company is a bit low at the moment, so there’s not a lot of people in the holiday spirit). And for the record – I’m an introvert who doesn’t do a lot of socialising with my colleagues, I tend to store it all up for this one night.

    2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      I give my husband crap every year because his work holiday party thing is not open to spouses. I wouldn’t really want to go anyway, but it’s fun to poke at him about it. One year I came home from work after he had left for it and there was this marshmallow pretzel ‘man’ sitting on the counter with a bottle of wine and a note that said he was my fill in husband for the night because the bad one had abandoned me to go to a party.

      I think I laughed for about 10 minutes straight on my kitchen floor because it was just so odd looking.

      1. Turquoisecow*

        My husband tried to get his company to include spouses. He talks about his coworkers to me a lot, and talks about me to them periodically, and he thought it would be nice for each of us to put faces to names and get to know one another. He also wanted them to invited fewer sales guys who just want to sell to them, as it makes it more about work.

        The guy in charge of the party said he agreed, and then invited a bunch of sales guys anyway, so Husband says he’s probably not going to attend.

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          My husband’s is part union meeting and part holiday party (translated more drinks after the union meeting). So understandable that it’s employee only. Add to that they are gov’t employees so it’s self (union) funded.

  5. Non-profiteer*

    I wish everyone knew about the advice to use an office party as an opportunity to talk to people outside your normal working sphere. I have coworkers who I talk to all day who want to continue talking to me at parties. Sometimes about work and sometimes not. Any thoughts (from anyone) on how to politely break free from the clique? Sometimes the “excuse me, I’m going to freshen my drink” thing works, but sometimes they follow me!

    1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

      “Oh, I’ve just spotted Sue/Rodrigo/Wakeen from marketing/payroll/teapot repair, and I really need to bend their ear about (incredibly boring thing) do excuse me!”

    2. Kramerica Industries*

      This may not have been the best approach, but at the company party this year, there were a few times where I shouted “I LOVE THIS SONG!” and ran to the dance floor to get out of a boring work conversation.

      1. TC*

        I use this all the time, work or no. I have a reputation now, but I’m also never in boring conversations at parties. :D

      2. Cringing 24/7*

        This is a great one; I feel like you could use this at any time or place, especially if there isn’t a song playing at all.

      3. jolene*

        I’m totally namedropping here, but I was once talking to Joanne Rowling at a party and “Livin’ On A Prayer” came 0n and I said “EXCUSE ME BUT I HAVE TO DANCE TO THIS” and shot off. We caught up later and she was very cool but for me dancing always comes first.

    3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      The key with the ‘I’m going for a refill’ one is to say it quickly leave immediately. Other times, it’s just as easy to say “If you’ll excuse me I’m going wander/mingle/go talk to Joe” with a smile.

      The second is harder to do if you are just talking to one person, if you find yourself there, then you try and pull someone else into the conversation.

      Spot someone walking nearby… “Oh hi Wakeen, it’s been awhile, you know Fergus? Oh of course you know Fergus… what have you been up to/how’s the new puppy/did you see the light up tie that Pete is wearing” wait for a response and for conversation to go on a bit and then pull the ‘Excuse me..blah blah blah’ from above.

    4. Overeducated*

      I will either do the move toward food and drink thing, or say straight up, “Oh, I want to go say hi to X!” I feel no shame about saying that, since the point of such a party is to get to mingle outside of your everyday interactions. I don’t actually mind being followed, it’s nice to be able to introduce people or spark a new conversation. But finding the right timing to exit can be awkward.

    5. Rusty Shackelford*

      “Hey, I swore this year I’d force myself to talk to people I don’t normally work with. You want to help me? Find someone I don’t know, and introduce me.”

      1. zora*

        I did this at our annual offsite meeting this year, a couple of times I said “I’m trying to talk to everyone I haven’t met yet, let’s go talk to Rachel!” I would take the current person I was talking to with me, and it worked great, we all got to start a new conversation.

        I made it to almost every single person in the company, so I highly recommend it!

        1. Bulbasaur*

          I would probably be quite receptive to this. I’ve been guilty of attaching myself to people I know at work parties before, generally out of social anxiety. On the other hand… meeting new people by tagging along with you, and you’ll do all the work? Sign me up!

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            We could have quite the amoeba going if I were there too.
            My ears don’t distinguish sounds clearly in paty-level background noise, and I’d love to have someone who could carry the conversation when I’m obviously missing words!

  6. SuperSuperAnon*

    I totally did a thing. Without going into too many details, I was getting more and more annoyed at my office party this year, so there was a list up with our names with a space next to it for what we were bringing, I totally drew a slash mark thru the space next to my name, super passive aggressive. Instant regret, followed by instant “eh, oh well”

    1. Mediamaven*

      What was the issue that was causing you so much anger? I’m confused? It always boggles my mind how many people get angry when a company tries to do something nice. Like, if they canceled it you would probably be upset too.

      1. DeskBuds*

        I don’t know if an office party in which people bring things can be called “company tries to do something nice”… that’s just a burden on the employees in a way. I guess it’s nice to let us throw a party (not to me but whatever), but if I’m bringing stuff, I don’t feel like the company is doing it for me. We’re more so doing it for ourselves.

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          My husband has complained about the office “party” that’s basically 15 minutes to eat potluck food.

          1. SuperSuperAnon*

            That’s pretty much what it is, 15 mins to eat potluck food, and I’ll admit my annoyance is pretty much borne out of me wanting to leave my job for over a year, being a finalist multiple times but no luck yet. The place is…slowly toxic and demoralizing. Plus it wasn’t a potluck until last year, before it was always funded and no one I’ve talked to knows why we changed it to that, it used to be a small perk in a place where we get very little. The person running it is also newish and seems to apply more pressure, telling people what they can and can’t bring (all reasonable things to bring to a potluck). So it was a lot of little things that built up and I felt like this was an instance of rebellion that wouldn’t really get me in trouble. Probably my imagination but I swear the person running it gives me sideeye when they walk by my office but hasn’t stopped in to remind me anymore. So I’m planning on not going, since it kind of felt like, if you don’t bring something, you can’t come, which is fine for me, but I feel bad for the more conscientious people who were shot down on what to bring and feel like they can’t go now. (And I know it’s not actually that way, we could totally go even if we didn’t bring anything, but the vibe just makes it all feel forced now.)

            1. WellRed*

              Sorry, you don’t get to hold an office potluck and then shoot down what people offer to bring. Come back and update us if you hear anything about how this goes.

          1. SC*

            Agree. My office has a Thanksgiving potluck. The company pays for some turkey and ham and wine (yes, wine at lunch!), and people can sign up to bring a dish. The sign-up sheet has blank lines for both names and item being brought. Participation is entirely voluntary. Nobody checks whether the people who eat brought something. Every year, everyone has a full plate, and we have tons of leftovers, so it seems to be working.

            1. The Other Dawn*

              We do the same thing in my department. My only annoyance is that we do an all day thing starting around 9 am, and 90% of people sign up to bring a dessert item, which means we’re often eating cookies for breakfast. No one really looks at the list and says, “Hey could one or two people bring bagels instead of cake?” We still enjoy the food, though. I’ve learned to bring my normal breakfast with me and wait until mid-morning to hit the potluck.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        How is it “doing something nice” to put up a list that says “you guys are catering your own party, so let us know what you’re bringing?”

        1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

          YES! One year we had an “End of Year Employee Appreciation Lunch” at a very nice restaurant…only $30 per person to attend. Ummmm…if they’re appreciating me, shouldn’t they foot the bill?

          1. Life is good*

            Oh my goodness, this! Our clients are salespeople who “appreciate” us every year at a luncheon and then send our office a bill for our lunches, plus tip, plus a “suggested donation” to their political action committee. It makes us feel so special!

  7. Crivens! (Formerly Katniss)*

    I don’t drink and don’t want to talk about my sobriety with coworkers, so I’m starting to come up with a mental list of good answers to “you’re not having a drink?” type questions now so I can rehearse them ahead of time. I don’t think anyone here will be pushy about it, but I’m guessing some will be curious.

    1. AES*

      If there are mixed drinks, just carry a cup of sparkling water with a lime/lemon wedge in. People will assume it’s a g&t or vodka tonic and you can avoid the convo entirely. (This obviously works less well if it’s just beer/wine.)

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        At least half my drinks at any given holiday party are tonic water with lime. When I’m drinking, I alternate between those and G&T, and generally no one can tell the difference. (Fair warning – tonic water is an acquired taste, so sparkling water or some sort of lemon-lime soda with a lime wedge is probably better if you don’t already know that you like tonic water.)

        For answers to questions: “I’m good, thanks”, “I’m driving/designated driver tonight”, “Can’t, Doctor’s orders” are all ones that I’ve used with no trouble.

      2. Catalyst*

        100% This!
        I do it all the time to avoid the ‘why aren’t you drinking?’, ‘it’s just one drink’, etc. No one ever questions it.

      3. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        There is a story about a charming young diplomat who did the round at tons of cocktail parties and drank gazillions of his signature drink, a martini with a pickled onion in it instead of an olive, yet never showed any signs of being tipsy. Everyone was impressed by his ability to hold his liquor.

        The trick is, of course, to make friends with the wait staff. They were serving him virgin martinis, with the onion so he knew which was his.

      4. Michaela Westen*

        Non-alcoholic beer? If it’s available, put it in a glass and no one will know. Or grape juice for wine, or if they have sparkling juice?

      5. TardyTardis*

        Diet cranberry juice looks remarkably like a generic cabernet (and vice versa, which turned out very handy on that cruise…).

    2. SLR*

      Assuming you work with actual adults, a response like “not to night!” said cheerfully when someone asks if you’re drinking that night tends to work. Adults honestly do not give two flying figs what others are doing. If they’re being pressure-y, ask straight up why it is so important to them that YOU are drinking. It usually shuts it down.

    3. AMT*

      I’ve cut down my drinking and a glass of seltzer with a splash of Coke or cranberry has become my go-to “could it be a cocktail?” drink. Throw a lime in there for extra illusion points.

    4. irene adler*

      I hear ya.

      Folks tend not to comment with “you’re not having a drink?” if you are holding a drink- say a soft drink, or lemonade or fruit punch(non-alcoholic).

    5. Parenthetically*

      No need to answer questions. Go to the bar, ask for a tonic and lime. On repeat. Indistinguishable from a G&T to an observer. It’s my “I’m pregnant but not sharing that info yet” go-to.

      1. Parenthetically*

        In fact, I’ll have to use it this year at my husband’s company Christmas party, I’ve just remembered!

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        “I’m pregnant but not sharing that info yet so keep it a secret” would be the best answer if you were a guy.

        1. Bulbasaur*

          I would most definitely do that one. I like a matter of fact “No” to start with (no point answering questions until they’re asked) followed by either vague non-answers or humorous/ridiculous ones like this one.

          If they call you out then do it back, gently. “It seems like you’re avoiding the question!” “Yes, it does seem that way, doesn’t it?” “Stop being silly and answer me!” “Why?”

    6. RachelTW*

      I’ll reiterate the advice to go up to the bar and ask for a soft drink in whatever glass they serve mixed drinks in and maybe have them toss in a garnish and/or cocktail straw (or no straw if we’re being environmentally conscious). Nobody will know it’s a soft drink.

    7. Turquoisecow*

      I don’t really drink because I’m on some medication it would interact with and I’m trying to get pregnant. People ask if I’d like a glass of wine, I politely decline, or say “just water,” and people don’t usually bat an eye or try to pressure me into drinking something.

      If you used to be a drinker and aren’t anymore, people might assume other things, or have more questions. My book club (all women) knew one of our members was pregnant before she told us because she declined a glass of wine and pulled a ginger ale from her bag, which was unusual behavior. (Even then, no one said anything directly to her.) But another woman who never drinks was not bothered about it. If all else fails you can mention medication or the need to drive.

    8. Crivens! (Formerly Katniss)*

      Thank you for the excellent suggestions, everyone! I love some sparkling water so I’ll definitely try and get some with a wedge of something because I’d like that anyway, and use some of the suggested casual scripts if asked.

    9. TC*

      One of my friends answers back with “I don’t fancy it,” which is pretty much the truth. When pushed, he just shrugs and says, “Nahhh.” He’s the life of the party so he doesn’t get questioned that often, but I always loved his low-key answers.

    10. LQ*

      “I never drink when I think I’m coming down with something, want to keep my immune system in tip top shape and I’ve been feeling just a little bit sniffly.” (Which is true for me, but also lets me duck out of the party early because I’m not feeling totally on top of my game.)

      “Someone has to document all the crazy antics at the party for posterity.” (With bonus of highlighting how stupid getting blitzed is at a work party.)

      “I’m driving.” (With a quizzical look and just the lightest whiff of judgey. Not used by me (I don’t drive), but another coworker who doesn’t drink, but occasionally gets someone who gets pushy. It’s shuts people down HARD.)

    11. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      You could just say you are driving, too, and when someone asks why you didn’t Lyft/Uber over, just say, “I didn’t think of it.” Which is true – you wouldn’t, if you weren’t planning to drink!

    12. MLB*

      I would just go with “no thanks”. If they push and ask why, “Because I don’t want one.” There could be a million reasons you don’t want a drink, and none of those reasons are their business. And you shouldn’t have to get a fake drink to appease others. Of course, I’m always about being direct and that may not work for some. When dealing with those who push boundaries, being direct without a long explanation is generally the only way to get them off your back.

      1. Bagpuss*

        I think this is great if it is do-able, but in a work situation it can be difficult to push back at someone overly nosy or pushy, plus it can be boring and tiring to have to deal with the question..

        The soft drink that looks like it might be booze is an easy way to sidestep the question altogether, and it has the added advantage that it works even if someone offers to get you a fresh drink from the bar, as you can say something like “Oh, I’ll have soda and lime this time”, (and if anyone comments on that, you can say you are pacing yourself,)

    13. irritable vowel*

      Maybe say you have another event afterwards and it’s not the kind of thing you can be tipsy for? (Partner’s work party, child’s holiday concert, meeting with your parole officer…okay, maybe not that last one.)

      1. LQ*

        I am imagining someone saying, “Can’t, gotta take a piss test at 9 tonight.” And I’m biting my cheek to keep from laughing aloud.

      2. Bulbasaur*

        “Can’t, driving.”

        If you didn’t drive or it’s clearly not accurate: “You never know when you might have to drive on short notice.” Then if they point out that you were all helicoptered in and there are no roads within 100 miles, give them a significant look and say nothing.

    14. agnes*

      Crivens! I think you will find that most people have no interest in whether you are drinking or not. If you work with people who have previously seen you drinking they might be curious about why you aren’t.

      For those who can’t take no for an answer, here are some responses that have worked for me.
      No thank you.
      really, no thanks.
      Thanks, I’m good for now.
      Maybe later.
      I’m driving.
      Yeah, I am taking a break to rest my liver.
      I gotta get up early tomorrow
      ************and, if you finally get fed up with Mr/Miss Nosy………….,
      Why are you so interested in whether I am drinking or not?
      How about you give it a rest…this is becoming really creepy. Just stop it, OK?

      hope those help.

    15. Octopus*

      I don’t drink which was a huge deal in college and gets easier the farther away from college I get. I just tell people I don’t drink. There are a lot of varying reactions: the people who take it as an affront to American culture and a judgement on all people who drink and get super defensive, the people who want to quiz me “really, you don’t drink *at all*?”, “is it for religious or medical reasons?”, “do you want to just try my drink and see if you like it?” Sometimes I’ll entertain their reactions and answer the questions depending on my relationship with the person asking and if I’m in the mood.

      But when I’m not in the mood I just shrug and respond blandly: “Nope”, “I don’t know”, “I’m just not” to their questions. Don’t be rude and don’t make it seem like there’s an interesting story you’re hiding about how you came to be a non-drinker. Just make it the most boring conversation topic ever and don’t engage. Most people get it and move on to something else. If they don’t, you change the topic or walk away.

      I imagine it can feel more loaded as someone who used to drink and doesn’t anymore. But if you act like it’s not a big deal, people will follow your lead.

    16. Lucille2*

      A colleague of mine kept pressing me to, “let loose, and have another!” at an evening company offsite. I was doing a presentation the next day at work, and used this as my excuse to keep my wits about me. That shut him down pretty easily. People will usually respect someone who wants to keep a clear head when there’s an important work thing the next day. This doesn’t work as well if the party is on a weekend, but you could always throw in some non-work early morning obligation in there. Family event or something.

      I don’t make it a habit to drink much or at all at work functions, so in reality, people hardly notice.

    17. DeskBuds*

      It might help if you phrase it as, “I just don’t feel like it tonight” or some variation versus “I don’t drink.” Unless you’re particularly adamant that it wouldn’t be true to yourself to say otherwise, saying “I don’t drink” naturally brings up the question of, “Why?” even if someone isn’t trying to be nosy.

    18. pony tailed wonder*

      I have Meniere’s and I wish it was more socially acceptable to not drink at parties. Why do people have to explain or defend that choice?

    19. Cousin Itt*

      This will only work if you’ve been sober for longer than you’ve had the job, but feel free to borrow my sister’s simple reason for being teetotal: “I don’t like the taste of alcohol”

    20. Marthooh*

      “Well, you see, I’m a naturally judgmental person, and of course there’s nothing worse than a judgmental drunk.”

    21. Michaela Westen*

      I say (truthfully) I had to stop because alcohol began making me sick.
      This can lead to a discussion of food allergies and sensitivities, which I’m always happy to discuss.

  8. Bend & Snap*

    I’m in my first year at a 100% remote job so NO HOLIDAY PARTY! Well, there is one, but it’s on the other coast and I don’t have to go. YAY

  9. Least*

    How many office holiday parties do I have to go to? We have a section party, a branch brunch, an office lunch, and then an official division holiday party in the evening.

    This is a hard time of the year for me, so I’d like to attend the strict minimum of festive holiday events – that’s gotta be less than for, right?

    1. Amber Rose*

      You probably can’t get out of the office lunch, and I would recommend making a brief appearance at the official evening party since I’m assuming that’s the Big Deal event, but I would think you could skip the other two.

      Then again, I don’t know your company, so play it by ear which ones are most political to attend. I think it’s probably less than four?

    2. Gerry*

      I think the office lunch as bare minimum as it’s usually during work time. If other events are outside you can pretend to go and then not show up. Some of my favourite excuses include traffic jams, me or someone else being sick, going away on a surprise weekend as a treat from partner or friends (this will get you out of Friday night events). By the time the new year starts no one will remember who did and didn’t attend.

  10. Où est la bibliothèque?*

    RE #4: “This is supposed to be a party, not a company meeting.”

    Mine is a company meeting. There are speeches, new employee introductions and policy updates.

    So it’s just an all-staff meeting with some forced “holiday” cheer thrown in (read 100% Christmas) that takes place at a restaurant with mediocre food and a ridiculously expensive cash bar.

    1. Emily S*

      I actually think that #5 doesn’t apply where I work, either, though not in a bad way. We’re a very siloed organization and it’s generally understood that one of the purposes of having an office/org-wide celebration and talking to people you don’t usually talk to, is to make those boundaries a little more permeable. It’s common for people to have a (personal, not manager-mandated) goal of something like, making one connection in another part of the org that they can use to advance a project in the next year. It’s very common for cross-departmental collaborations to be conceived/initiated over a conversation at the holiday party or our other big social event in the summer.

      Then again, we’re a nonprofit, so most people here genuinely enjoy their work and derive satisfaction from it, so it’s not like we’re being expected to discuss widget process improvement at a party – it’s more like everyone is eager to find ways we could be having a greater impact by fostering strategic relationships across the organization. It’s true that it’s generally frowned upon to talk shop with your immediate team members at a holiday party, but when you’re mingling with new people it’s much more common for the topic to be about work.

  11. Elizabeth West*

    I missed an office party one time at a new-ish job. The weather forecast was for ice, I had very bad tires, and the party venue was at a resort in the middle of nowhere. I mentioned this and guess what? The ice never showed up. (According to stories, everyone got drunk and were assholes anyway so I didn’t miss anything.)

    I think the boss was put off by that–he never quite warmed up to me afterward. In retrospect, I should have just lied and said I had a prior commitment I couldn’t break.

    1. Gatomon*

      Oof that’s tricky, because what if the ice HAD come and you got hurt? Winter is such a crapshoot.

      Our HR will book a hotel room for anyone who lives outside town or is concerned about driving after drinking, and I think it’s a great policy.

  12. Not a Blossom*

    I am a big proponent of #4. I was at a work conference and there was an evening mixer that I had to attend hosted by someone several steps up the food chain. Because of timing and bad luck, it was going to be at hours 13 to 15 of my work day (early meetings, all day conference, work dinner, then this). I just wanted to go home, so I went in, grabbed a glass of wine, said hi to a few people, beelined for the head honcho, talked for 5 minutes, and then said goodbye to people as I made my way out. She saw and talked to me and saw me talk to others as I disappeared into the crowd, so she knows I was there and socialized and doesn’t know when I left.

    1. Public Sector Manager*

      Ditto to this!

      We had a big event for our office that was supposed to last 3-4 hours and started at 5 pm. But my vacation started the next day and my wife and I were flying out of town at 9 am the next morning.

      I checked in and thanked all the party organizers who were there. I saw the head of our agency and spent 5 minutes with her. Then I spent 5 minutes with the two managers that directly reported to our agency head. I waved at my boss, gave my drink tickets away to my coworkers, chatted a bit, and I was done in 30 minutes.

      My absence was not missed and I enjoyed a more relaxed evening at home (because I had already packed for my vacation!).

    2. Emily S*

      It makes me think of that amazing episode of the Office (US) where Jim has to go to a party at the boss played by James Spader’s house, and his plan is to just pop in, stay for something memorable, and duck out. He ends up getting held up a lot longer than he wants to as James Spader gets increasingly weird, and then finally towards the end, Spader strips naked and jumps into the pool, and a couple of the suck-ups do too, and Jim is like, “Annnd there’s the memorable moment,” and he can sneak out.

  13. Tysons in NE*

    I wish that I had a crazy story to tell.
    I do remember the party when many of the ladies all seemed to be dressed up in a back-less black dress. Fortunately we all had different tattoos on our backs so you could still tell who was who.
    That was the same party that the CEO just would not shut up when making his year end speech. I think more wine was consumed in those 45 minutes than the rest of the evening.

  14. Amber Rose*

    The food is usually really good and the bar is free, which is why I go to the parties. If not for the alcohol, I’d have to remember.

    Fortunately, I’m not much for antics when I drink. I just giggle a lot and sometimes take my shoes off.

    Is there a protocol on fancy dress for Christmas parties? I have this black dress with red patterns I usually wear, but what if I wore my peacock dress, would that be seen as not Christmas-y enough? I love it, and it’s much more modest. I don’t have to worry about showing too much of the ladies at a work event. I have a little sweater thing, but still.

      1. many bells down*

        Holy Hanukkah Balls, I love that dress!

        My husband’s office party always has a theme, and most people dress way up but there’s always a few people who don’t and no one comments on it. This year it was “Masquerade Ball” which was fun.

      2. Relentlessly Socratic*

        Wear it! and I hope we don’t work for the same company because I’m adding it to my shopping cart rightnow.

    1. Namast'ay in Bed*

      What an adorable dress! Fancy dress protocol totally varies by company, so I’d ask around to see what normally happens for your company. If you do feel the need to Christmas up your dress a bit, I think throwing a sweater over it will do the trick nicely, especially if it’s Christmas-y colored.

    2. It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's SuperAnon*

      I love that dress! I don’t think you have to dress “to theme” for a Christmas party by sticking to reds and greens necessarily, but I’d be interested to hear if others disagree.

      1. OhNo*

        I think it’s perfectly okay to go for blues and winter-y colors instead of red-and-green if you do want to keep the color scheme festive for the season. That said, my personal approach is “screw themes, wear whatever you want”, so I think anything suitable dressy would be fine.

    3. fposte*

      Wow, is that cute! I think offices are hugely variable on party dress, but to me that seems fancy without being OTT. I don’t know if I’d attempt her heels, though :-).

    4. Kristin (Germany)*

      Super cute! I think that’s very appropriate for most Christmas parties, but I’d probably check around with several colleagues just to be sure that it hits the sweet spot of the dress code/general level of dressiness.

    5. Isotopes*

      Wear the dress! It’s gorgeous.

      This may be my last ever fancy work party, so I’m wearing a gown this year. Heh. I’ll be a bit overdressed but how often does one have an excuse to reuse a gown?

    6. voluptuousfire*

      Wear that. It’s so pretty! If you can find a green velvet belt to go with it, it would make it Xmassy.

  15. Hummus*

    To the last point, at last year’s holiday party, I casually said to the office manager that she’d done a wonderful job with the event. She hugged me and practically started crying.

    Some of that was the wine, but clearly she hadn’t gotten a lot of appreciation. It cost me nothing to do.

    1. Mediamaven*

      That was really nice. People do appreciate knowing their efforts were appreciated. It always pains me to read these comments from people who hate their company parties and other efforts. I have no idea how my team feels about mine but just reading this makes me want to cancel it all together frankly. It’s ok to just be gracious and have a good time.

      1. LQ*

        I will be gracious but I will be very unlikely to have a good time. You might just have to deal with some people not having a good time.

        That doesn’t mean I’m going to stomp up to the organizer and say how shitty a time I’m having or how I’ve worked 12 hour days so this isn’t how I wanted to spend my only day leaving “early” by only working 10.

        I will be kind and gracious and thank the host and tell them how lovely the food was, or how beautiful the decoration was. But I am not going to have a good time, it’s not just work, but the worst kind of work. I’m sure some people love it, and I’m sure the food is fantastic and the decorations are lovely.

        1. Mediamaven*

          I’m glad you aren’t coming to my party since you’ve already decided you won’t have a good time. And for my party, I’m getting all my staff gift cards to a fancy department store and we’re going to limo to the store and spend them and then go to a nice dinner. If someone didn’t enjoy that, I hope they go work somewhere else.

            1. Mediamaven*

              Thanks! It’s a surprise and I literally can’t wait. I think everyone will like it better than a traditional party.

          1. LQ*

            Spending 2-3 hours in a fancy department store where there is very little I want to buy, and what clothes? They won’t fit me and I despise clothes shopping. Fancy plates? I have the stuff I want already. Jewelry? They aren’t going to have stuff I like, I have a style, it’s not fancy department store, I’m good with that. I don’t know. I guess I’d get something as a gift for my sister and sit around awkwardly while people are all excited and trying on clothes. It honestly sounds worse than I was guessing. I’m glad you enjoy it and I’m glad you work with people you assume enjoy it. But I’m also glad I work somewhere no one expects that kind of performance out of me regularly.

            1. pony tailed wonder*

              You could always get underwear. No one sees that and there is a variety of sizes for it. I had a gift card to use years ago and loaded up on clearance lingerie and underpants once. There would be times when my bra declared Merry Christmas and my panties saluted the Dallas Cowboys in July.

            2. Winterfire*

              Yup. Exactly this. I’m sure Mediamaven’s employees are all people who will love this and that Mediamaven has carefuly considered their choices, preferences and styles before settling on something that everyone will like. And that they know their employees well enough to make those determinations. And that this is not just something that they will enjoy and will foist on their employees.

              But it would be painful and unpleasant for me.

          2. Karla*

            Wow that’s a very nice gift for your staff! I want to come work for you. I won’t get anything being a civil servant.

      2. Sandman*

        I’ve always enjoyed holiday parties. It’s fun to see people in a different context, and I don’t really mind being treated even in a small way (depending on the company) by a place I give a lot of life to. I was reading these comments thinking that I need to make sure I thank the organizers this year. I hope you hear good things from at least a handful of people this year. Organizing is a lot of work.

        1. Mediamaven*

          I enjoy them too. I think it’s true that the organizer and host always enjoys it the most because they like to do something fun for the team, but it doesn’t have to be miserable! I hope you enjoy whatever your party is!

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      A few years ago, I entered our department’s exec admin into the corporate mini-awards software program, for her efforts at morale-boosting. I realized that the other people involved with office social gatherings had all retired — and that she was doing *everything* now. My manager told me that she came down to make sure she (the mgr) knew what I’d done, because no one had ever done anything that for her (the EA) before.

      Here’s hoping everyone who reads your comment & mine will reach out and thank the people whose job it is to set up fun activities for their co-workers — and maybe in particular those whose job it isn’t!

  16. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    Going to add to it:
    For us government workers, if our party is off-site, we usually get social release leave, but we also have to pay for it ourselves. Don’t shame those who don’t go. They might not be able to afford it. :(

  17. Namast'ay in Bed*

    My company party will take place in the middle of the week and doesn’t start until an hour after the office closes. I’m trying to not be a butt about it but I’m annoyed it’s starting so late, especially since I commute into work and after 6pm my train only comes every hour/hour and a half, meaning the earliest I’ll probably get home is 9pm.

    Plus I’ve heard that they are only going to have small passed apps and not actual food, even though the party is at dinner time. That plus the fact that I’m a vegetarian means I’ll probably either be hungry or will have to pack my own food. (Or live off of the dessert tray but I’m also watching what I eat so while that will be delicious and awesome in the moment, the guilt of a dessert-based meal will inevitably haunt me.)

    Again, I’m sure it will be fine, it will probably even be fun! But the guaranteed long day is dampening any excitement I might have.

    1. WellRed*

      I brought my own carrot and celeray sticks last year because ours always consists of lots of heavy, greasy appetizers.

      1. Namast'ay in Bed*

        Good idea! I’ll be sure to stock up ahead of time. Or maybe I’ll just use the hour I have in between work ending and the party starting to actually just go get dinner.

        1. TechWorker*

          The pre-event sandwich is also a good way to avoid drinking on an empty stomach :p

          (We have a very boozy Christmas lunch each year where the food usually doesn’t come out until at least an hour after the drinks are available… it’s all about that late morning sandwich on the train :p)

  18. Helena*

    Does Rule #1, “Do go to your office holiday party for at least a little while, even if you’d rather not”, still apply if your company charges you for the “privilege” of going to the holiday party?

    1. Namast'ay in Bed*

      Oh barf. I have no practical advice but charging you to go to a company party is heinous.

        1. Namast'ay in Bed*

          Hmm I guess that makes sense, but if you have to pay I hope it’s really worth your while!

          However if the industry doesn’t call for paying your own way, then my original comment stands.

          1. Cotton Headed Ninny Muggins*

            We’re going to the Cheesecake Factory! Which, in itself, is not worth my $20, but the 2.5 hours of free leave and cheesecake is.

    2. rldk*

      I’m sorry, what? You’re charged to attend? Is this like a ‘not paid for the time’ deal or do you have to actually purchase tickets? Are you charged automatically or is it opt-in?

      1. Helena*

        Both “not paid for the time” and “have to purchase tickets”. It’s opt-in, so if you don’t go you aren’t charged. My company does multiple events throughout the year, and most of them are paid. It’s really common in my field.

        1. fposte*

          Oh, interesting–can you share the field? It’s the sort of thing I could imagine in my low-budget realm and yet it doesn’t seem to happen. I knew a unit that had a charge-for-the-party event and we all boggled.

          1. Aurion*

            I’m not Helena, but I had the same situation in a past life/job. Party was optional and on unpaid time, we had to pay for tickets, and there was no refund if you bought a ticket and had to back out last minute. I can’t remember how much the ticket was though…$15-25?

            I was working in an environmental testing lab at the time.

            1. fposte*

              Was it government-run? Some people are saying upthread that that’s where they encountered it, but so far my university seems to have avoided that.

                1. Aurion*

                  Nope, private. Just cheap.

                  Upon further reflection, I think the ticket was about $25-30. I vaguely remember asking the office manager what my chances of backing out are since I caught some sort of weird stomach issue that made me unable to stomach most foods for three weeks.

              1. doreen*

                I’ve seen “pay to attend” at private employers in addition to my government employers – but in all cases, the party was organized by the employees, not the employer.

          2. Helena*

            As Amber Rose says, government work. We’re non-profit contractors not government employees, but the contracts limit how and what the money can be used for.

            1. Helena*

              The charges range from nominal to pricey. The most expensive event I’ve ever paid for was $75 a person, and spouses were required, so $150. Plus formal wear rental, because it was black tie (I was eight months pregnant at the time, which made it even more special.) The most junior employees were pressured into going because they couldn’t get enough people to sign up voluntarily, and company leadership didn’t want to look bad in front of the invited bigwigs.

              1. The New Wanderer*

                That’s when they should be pressuring senior management – how can it look okay to have your least-paid employees there and mgmt skipping out?

            2. The Rat-Catcher*

              Yeah, good luck getting a holiday party funded in government without the ever-present whine of “BUT MY TAAAAAAXES!”
              I understand.

      2. Rez123*

        Out holiday party is on voulantary on a Friday evening and costs $15 to attend. It’s public sector but I think it’s worth the money. The food is always really good and we get few glasses of wine. Many people dont attend because it costs, but I don’t mind spending time with my colleagues and paying for good food and wine.

    3. Melly*

      Damn it, I wish I would have read this before I made my comment below. TL;DR: I skipped where I had to pay a significant-to-me amount to attend, and my boss sat me down for a talking to the next week.

    4. Anon Accountant*

      Yeah. $25/person and $50/couple here. Although this is a super expensive time of the year for many people too.

  19. lionelrichiesclayhead*

    Anyone else sitting here thinking “these are such good points” but still not going to their company’s holiday party? It’s a great roundup of questions and if I were a better person I would follow them.

    I’m participating in the rest of the office festivities on-site but not the Friday night gala affair held off-site.

    1. AnonyNonNon*

      I was able to opt out of the after hours party last year because I was away. This year I’ll still be in town…I don’t want to go, its way out of my way, at the bosses house, in the dark (it’s super dark on my drive home) and cold.

      I think we exchange small presents or something, don’t want to do that either! The previous boss would just do a happy hour at a place near the office, so it was literally right after work, then a regular drive home.

    2. Anon for this*

      I work in a small satellite office for a big company, and our small office hosts holiday parties during work hours at a nearby bowling alley. My boss is based in another office, at HQ. Last year, I had recently returned from maternity leave and tried opt out of going to the party, but my boss absolutely insisted I go. I just felt that if I was going to spend half the day at work not working, I would prefer being home with my baby. I didn’t know my boss very well at the time, so I decided to make an appearance at the party, grab a bite, and took a selfie with a couple of coworkers to share with my boss (documentation that I was present), and went home.

      They are good points, but I’m just not that into office holiday parties.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      That would be me! I am also in management, so double-shame on me. I went to a weekend company function this year, and that’s my annual contribution. I am on-call constantly and spend more time with these people than my family, so I’m not paying for a babysitter. The beauty of working for a 500+ person organization (especially when they do +1s) is that it’s harder for them to remember you weren’t there. I know that there are people organizationally higher up than me who don’t attend firm social events either. I’ve been to about 15% of holiday parties since I started, and it’s not seemed to have an effect on my status within the organization.

    4. Us, Too*

      I’m not going. I work for a giant tech company on the west coast and the party is way north of my job. I live South. The party is a Friday evening which means my kids are at daycare. So I’ll have to commute in rush hour to go home/daycare (40-50 min), get the kids settled with a babysitter ($$$$), then drive in the opposite direction in rush hour traffic for another 40+ miles. My driving/commuting time just to get there is going to be 2-3 hours minimum. Then at least 45-60 minutes to get home. The company provides shuttle buses for this but I’m still looking at a ton of logistics and sitting in traffic so that’s a NOPE for me. Not to mention the $100+ I’ll spend on a sitter. NOPE NOPE NOPE.

    5. Gatomon*

      I’m ditching our party this year for several reasons:

      – It got moved to a Wednesday night, and it conflicts with a standing appointment I have. I can move this, but combined with the other reasons I have, I don’t want to go through the effort.
      – It’s at a theater so there’s a play after the food. I would either have to leave before the play (feels like a not-good move) or sit through the whole thing and get home later than I would like. I don’t care much for the play that will be presented.
      – They changed the no kids policy due to the play. I try to avoid kid-friendly events because unruly, potentially screaming children trigger a lot of anxiety for me on top of my existing social anxiety. And kids at a work dinner + play are bound to get bored and tired.
      – I’m very close to finishing my degree and I am trying to squeeze out as much studying time as possible. I’m pretty burnt out and I barely have enough bandwidth to get through my work day at this point.

      I almost always volunteer for our annual customer meeting and volunteer days though, so I hope that makes up for it in the eyes of the C-suite!

    6. Asenath*

      I never go to the bigger, off site events, just the lunch with the 10 or so people I work most closely with. That, we organize and pay for ourselves, and not everyone goes, so it isn’t compulsory either. And no one noticed or cares if I have an alcoholic drink, water, or nothing with your meal. I doubt if anyone even notices that I don’t go to the big affairs – many people don’t, it’s a big place, and they can probably have a crowd with only a fraction of the workers attending. I don’t go because I dislike crowds and big parties.

  20. MLB*

    I’m not a fan of company holiday parties. I’m selectively social and not a fan of forced merriment. My first holiday party at my last job was fun. Until the co-worker I rode over with decided to get hammered, put her keys somewhere in my purse that I couldn’t find, we had to bum a ride back to the office with someone else, and she puked in his nice new Mercedes on the way back. And then I found her keys in my purse. I’m thankful that now I work in an office of 4, with a team of 2 others that come to town once a month and I only have to have dinner with a small group of people that I actually like.

  21. agnes*

    Please please don’t drink too much! I’ve been to so many office parties over the years and almost all the drama, embarassment, and hurt feelings have been caused by people drinking too much. I realize that a lot of people see it as a chance to imbibe on the company’s dime, but too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.

  22. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

    Is there consensus about how much you can/should drink if you are the date to the party? Obviously getting visibly out of control (vomiting, slurring words, hitting on other party attendees, etc) is bad, but short of that…?

    I’ve been told by people in different circles that “you can do whatever you want if you are the partner” but I’m a little bit suspicious of these claims.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Tipsy. Tipsy is a good place to be. When you’re sort of buzzed and feeling good, switch to the non-alcoholic drinks.

      Your partner at least will thank you for not embarrassing them.

    2. Aurion*

      I think anything more than a very, very light buzz is too much. As the date, any alcohol-induced foolishness will reflect badly on the employee bringing you to the party.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, it’s a tough situation as a date. You’re basically there to be the employee’s wingman, not to enjoy a party.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Same rules apply as to the employee. If anything, you need to be *more* cautious because your behavior will reflect on them. You’re not there to kick back and have an awesome time; you’re there supporting your partner.

    4. Kat*

      My husband drank so much he fell over and gave himself a concussion last year (full story further down in the comments). I am still getting teased about it. I am still super embarrassed that it happened, even though my company has been really chill about it. Definitely refrain from this level of behavior.

      1. Drunky smurf*

        Nah it’s all relative. You want to be more sober than the foolishly drunk but sloshed enough not to be responsible for them

      2. Nox*

        Nah, last night I was a guest at my husband’s company which happened to be my former employer as of a month ago. I took shots both honey jack and verbally at my table during their dull raffle.

        If anyone has been following my saga with the former company – they still were angry that I posted my new job on my LinkedIn even though I had already left their company and was under no obligation to keep that private even though they failed to notify a few of my clients of my departure. Since the company was bought out in 2015, the former “owner” spent most of his time trying to poopstir with me by being passive aggressive, avoid me when he realized I laughed him off and paid no attention and then make grumpy faces when my husband and I were waiting for the valet and people were asking me about my new job and how I’m “glowing”.

        Same fool who wanted to have me sign a loyalty contract at 45k a year and made a joke in front of me and a room full of overpaid executives about how at most i’m only worth 50k. U mad?

    5. TechWorker*

      I’d say ‘slightly less drunk than your partner’. If it’s the sort of party where it’s ok for them to get drunk then I certainly wouldn’t see why you can’t get tipsy :p but I totally agree that if you do anything embarrassing it will reflect on your partner and not in a good way! (Plus you might have to see all the same people next year, you don’t really want one drunken event to be their lasting memory of you!)

    6. Seeking Second Childhood*

      My husband’s company still does the old-school over-the-top holiday affair with open bar. I limit my drinks to the amount of wine the state says I can drink and still be safe to drive. Sometimes the person going to the bar has protested bringing me ginger ale when the company’s paying. I joke that I make it up in SHRIMP cocktails when I’m the driver, and so far that’s made people laugh…and bring me my ginger ale.

      I figure I have enough trouble connecting names & faces when I see these people twice a year, I don’t need to add any alcohol to the mix!

  23. Miss Mouse*

    One year we scheduled our holiday party with department members from our two sites as well as our volunteers – the intent was to go all out and celebrate as one large group and include our volunteers for once. Everyone brought in food and gifts and had a great time up to the gift exchange. We played a game where you passed gifts right or left based on a story, so you needed to purchase something that could be enjoyed by anyone who got it – man or woman, early 40s through late 70s. I think the limit was $10 or $15, and people gave things like tree ornaments, bake sets, and flashlights. In fact, the flashlights were very popular ( we’re not exactly a wild bunch), so imagine the shock on everyone’s faces when the oldest person in the room, a volunteer and great-grandmother, opened her gift to reveal two magazines. Yep, she got a magazine about Florida travel (she didn’t travel anywhere and had no plans to go to Florida) and one about bodybuilding. MEN’S bodybuilding, that is, with an oiled up man in a small swimsuit posing on the cover. Did I mention that the recipient was a frail great-grandmother and she and some other people in the room were extremely religious and conservative? Someone shouted “Check for lottery tickets!” and we all perked up as the volunteer shook the magazines, expecting tickets to fall out. Nope, nothing, the gift was just the two magazines. Turns out our department head boss was the person who gave them, and she was laughing and smiling while the rest of us uneasily glanced about the room while avoiding all eye contact. After that we hurriedly opened the rest of the gifts, cleaned up the food and room, and went back to work. We all quietly offered to give our gifts to the offended volunteer but she refused. We could never figure out just why our head boss thought that magazines, and especially magazines about Florida tourism and men’s bodybuilding, would be appropriate gifts. Of course, this is the same person that gave our former head boss who she was replacing a cat o’nine tails at his retirement party. There was a noticeable sound as everyone sucked in then their breath upon its reveal, and I then turned to my one-up and whispered in a horrified tone, “That’s a whip from a sex store!” Unfortunately, my one-up was an extremely religious and rather sheltered woman who asked me if I was sure and why would people use a whip during “relations”, and at that point I just shut up because I was not willing to have that sort of a conversation with her where we both would just wind up very embarrassed. Looking at the others in the room, you could see almost all of them had a knowing look on their faces but a few of the others simply looked confused. Those of us who knew it was from a sex shop gathered after the party to try to figure out just what in the world made her think this was an appropriate gift to give your retiring boss IN PUBLIC. Again, she was laughing and smiling during the reveal. She was not know for her sense of humor or as practical joker or even someone that deliberately liked to embarrass others. As far as we can figure out, she just simply has no clue about what constitutes appropriate gifts, and I privately think we learned a lot about her between the whip and bodybuilding magazine.

    1. Miss Mouse*

      OOPS! This thread is for holiday party etiquette, not holiday party horror stories! Mea culpa. Well, if anything my stories merely illustrate the wackiness that is not to be missed, so I recommend slapping a smile on your face, going and making nice small talk, and then ducking out early with a regretful and vague line (“The babysitter, you know…”), and then going home and talking about how crazy your office is.

  24. Snow Drift*

    I dislike in-office parties from the perspective of my department being scattered around a large corporate campus. Realistically, my option for the “correct” party requires me to put on a coat and trek a couple of blocks to another building for food. I can then either stand around idly, snacking and wasting time (which looks bad), or carry a paper plate full of food back through the piercing wind and across a slippery sidewalk, to eat it ice-cold at my desk (which tastes bad).

    Last year the trees were late to lose their leaves, and by the time I got back to my desk, I had a mac and cheese bowl full of maple samaras. Yum.

  25. MsMaryMary*

    For all of you who hate small talk and/or feel uncomfortable doing it, here are some of my favorite conversation starters. I socialize a lot for work, so I’ve built up a reserve. Yes, many of these topics are banal. That’s ok! It’s small talk, not meaningful conversation.

    – Pay the other person a compliment, particular something they’ve chosen rather than a physical attribute. “I love those shoes.” “Nice tie. Do you have other holiday ties, or is this your one festive tie?”
    – Comment on the venue. Even if the party is in the break room, maybe someone added a little tinsel?
    – “Are you travelling for the holidays?” (‘holidays’ includes New Years)
    – The weather. I know, it’s a cliche. But people love to complain about the weather. Tell a story about a time the weather impacted your holiday.
    – Ask a long tenured employee about any particularly memorable previous holiday parties. Or tell a story about a favorite prior company outing – even if at a previous company.
    – Sports. Even if you don’t like or know much about a certain sport, if you have a little background you can ask people’s opinions. For example, I live in Ohio and I do not care about college football. But I can ask everyone who they think should coach the Buckeyes next year.
    – Ask coworkers with small children what their kids have asked for this year. Ask if they do the Elf on the Shelf and if they’re run out of creative ideas yet.

    1. Smarty Boots*

      Yes, sports — you really don’t have to know much. “How about those Cubbies, huh? What a year!” (if you say it like that, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the right sports season and it doesn’t matter if it was a good year or a dismal one). Periodically interject: “I know, right??” “Yep, yep” “OMG, that was RIDICULOUS” (covers good and bad events) and “what do you think their chances are for next year” (this one’s tricky because you have to know or pick up from context that the season is over).

    2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Great examples. I can’t agree enough about the sports thing. It reminds me of a college professor I had. She would randomly give us a quiz with one question. “Who won the game between A and B last night? Bonus: What was the score” She would also ask about the stock market “Did the market go up or down, yesterday, how many points?” and other random front page newspaper type questions.

      She explained that since we were all business majors, it stood to reason that we would be interacting in our careers with other people. We were expected to be able to chat with people we don’t know. The best way to do that was to know a little bit about common subjects.

      Honestly, it was a good lesson to learn and has served me well.

    3. LQ*

      Yes! This is super helpful. I always go for venue and weather. They are so neutral that they are good. Plus people love to complain about the weather which I always come back with my love of seasons and sometimes a seasonal activity which can lead to a little more conversation and then the panicky lull but like a good 2 minutes there and sometimes the 2 minutes is enough.

      I especially like the previous memorable holidays thing, I’m not quite sure how I’d work that here, but I do think that I have an equivalent that will work for the next couple months that I might lean on especially in the next couple conferences I have to go to.

      (I love when people give small talk suggestions, they are always helpful because they always feel bad but they help me prep.)

    4. Delta Delta*

      This often works. Unless it doesn’t. I was at my spouse’s holiday party once where a man I didn’t know tried to make chit-chat with the opening line, “nice lipstick.” I immediately recognized he was going for small talk and not going for creepy, but even so, that’s just not a thing you say to anybody. As far as sports go, you have to be a little careful about this, too, as certain sports team alliances run very deep (Wolverine here. I have significant feels about the Buckeyes).

      But by and large, I agree with all these. It’s handy to have a little bit of a bench of fairly uncontroversial topics. Of course, this can lead to different topics of conversation but you’ve got to get there somehow.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Movies work too. Some years ago I triggered an Avengers conversation where a group of engineers & lawyers (male & female) indulged in a gloriously geeky “which superhero is stronger” debate.
      Last year Coco provided a good communal ground between the people with children and the people who go to movies to watch fantastic movie techniques.

  26. Melly*

    This could probably be my “regretful things I did early in my career” story. I was the “employee engagement” director and skipped the after hours holiday party. I had sort of legitimate reasons (the number one being, you had to pay to attend and I was underpaid and strapped for cash, plus would have needed to hire a sitter). My boss sat me down the next week to give me a talking to about skipping it because of the optics of the employee engagement person not engaging. I had never thought of it like that before, for some reason.

    1. The Rat-Catcher*

      Wait – they charged people to attend and then guilted you for not coming? Maybe I’m off base, but that doesn’t sound reasonable to me. The compamy could have funded your attendance if it was THAT important to them that their employee engagement person be there.

      1. Melly*

        They also thought “employee engagement” meant being friends with everyone and throwing pizza parties. They pushed back hard when I suggested we equip managers with supervisory coaching and mentoring skills and resources. It was a fun time.

  27. Kat*

    Don’t be my husband, whatever you do. He got so drunk he fell over and hit his head really hard, giving himself a concussion. He threw up all down the Uber on the ride home, and then I had to take him to the ER the next morning (missing taking my kids to see Santa, including my daughter’s first visit!). We have now implemented a no-shots rule.

    Thankfully, I work at a very small company with a very party-hearty culture so they all think it is hilarious, but I was and remain mortified. Don’t drink so much you get a concussion and then fall asleep on the bathroom floor and then get hauled out by the COO. Just…don’t do it!!

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yikes. I assume he went sober for a few months after as an apology/get-his-act-together exercise?

      1. Kat*

        Thankfully, he very rarely ever gets to that level. I hadn’t seen him that drunk before and he swears I won’t again. Our Christmas party is on Friday…he’s promised to stick to only beers, and stop after three. Of course in the lead up to the party, all my coworkers have been teasing me about him. I’m not sure I will ever live it down!

  28. Seifer*

    Our holiday party is on a Thursday this year… we’re all taking off the Friday, sanctioned or not.

  29. Galahad*

    Re: Higher ups should attend…
    “One caveat here: The higher up in your organization you are, the more expected you might be to make every effort to attend. If you’re very senior, your absence might be more noticed, and you risk coming across as someone who wouldn’t deign to socialize with people lower down the corporate ladder.”

    I was in a professional consulting organization of approx 600 people across 3 offices in our city. There were 4 “top” execs and then approx 12 persons responsible for all the hiring / firing /management, with the day to day help of “team leaders”. I was one of these top 16 persons, and fully understood that my attendence was mandatory… but in addition I always attended these things for the reasons that Alison listed.

    Our parties required a small upfront price, $10, for a $100 event, and spouses were permitted. As a flat org, all people were treated the same. I was out of town working with clients but was back in the home office 2 days after ticket sales began — to find out that this year they were already sold out. Apparently, due to low attendence (about 1/3 of staff) in prior years, they used the same money to book a better but smaller venue for only 400 persons, instead of the usual 650 out of the 1000+ people that could have bought tickets with spouses. With the new venue’s high end reputation and the fact that they had cancelled any and all department holiday lunches that year (to treat all people with the same policies) this was the only Christmas event for the company.

    So, the year I was promoted to a top manager was the year that I was not permitted to attend the company Christmas party. What a mess. These things are intended to be a thank-you and an opportunity to mingle / talk to other departments and the management.

    I found reasons to not attend in future years, after that. It was always possible to book important billable out of town work over the stated date(s).. after all.

  30. EditorExtra*

    Between this and some other recent posts about office stuff (like today’s person whose coworker demands to be greeted) I forget how much I miss out on as a full time remote worker. I…do not miss working in an office. However, it was hard moving to a new place as a remote worker, and meeting people. I still haven’t really found any friends locally.

  31. Xarcady*

    I just found out that temps and contract workers are *not* invited to this year’s holiday party and I couldn’t be happier. I have never known what to do at parties. No one seems to want to talk to me, I don’t know what to say to anyone else and I never know what to do with my hands. I’m in my 50s, and my party-going skills have only declined from when I was a kid and going to birthday parties.

    I do have to attend the department pot-luck, but have managed to secure one of the “dessert” slots, so I won’t have to worry about keeping food hot while transporting it.

    It’s a win/win holiday season for me!

    (The rule at this company is temps and contract workers are invited to things held in house. When something is off-site, they are not. This is a long-standing rule; this is not some evil plot to dis-invite hard-working temps.)

    1. OhNo*

      I’m always thrilled that, as a part-time worker, I don’t have to attend my company’s Xmas event, since it starts before my shift officially begins. If I want to come in early to get in on the catered lunch, I can, but it’s neither required or expected. It’s lovely to be able to read all the horror stories and know that I don’t have to worry about accidentally recreating them!

    2. WellRed*

      “I never know what to do with my hands”

      This, my friend, is what drinks are for. Drinks of any kind.

  32. Smarty Boots*

    A big YES that the higher up you are, the more obligated you are to attend and to stick around. We have a holiday lunch or party, plus another mid year as a thank-you-for-being-great-employees party. Our boss almost never makes it these parties, and usually doesn’t even bother to make an excuse. She is otherwise a very good boss, but everyone notices and, especially at the thank-you party, feels put out — as in, what?! you can’t even bother to show up to say thank you? (She does pay for the events, but that doesn’t make up for the hard feelings.) The rest of the leadership team attends.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Really? “Have a good time on me” sounds like a pretty good “thank you” to me. I wouldn’t need her to be on hand in order to feel thanked.

    2. Lis*

      I’m not sure about the stick around bit, one of the best work parties I was at the head guy showed up, talked to lots of people, then left early saying “I want you all to have fun and not be worried about being appropriate in front of the boss so have fun” and left a card with someone who wasn’t managment with the provision there had to be a receipt from the venue for what was spent. We had a great night.

  33. Close Bracket*

    Years ago, while in graduate school, I and another grad student had to explain to a 3rd grad student that you should not get blitzed at a holiday work party. Her response was, “If you can’t get drunk, what’s the point?” She wasn’t particularly ambitious. Every time there’s a conversation about getting drunk at work parties, I wonder whether she goes to them and what she does.

  34. Anon Accountant*

    I have other plans thankfully but it’s a BIG thing here to not have a date of a partner or spouse. I don’t have either and most of my friends have young kids they’d rather spend the evening with so I can’t ask them. It’s on a Saturday night also and this is super busy time of the year for all of us so…

    I’ll post in the Friday thread about this but 2 coworkers here got super obnoxious about me being single and were wildly out of line.

  35. Okayest event person*

    Hi! I’m on the venue side (events manager) of this. I’m not sure if this applies directly to this thread, and I’m most likely projecting, but here goes:

    Please don’t get mad at me when you call for availability on Monday and the date you want is gone on Wednesday. I can pencil you in, but I can’t read your mind. Also, 50 other companies asked about the same date.

    Plan early. It’s not my fault your old assistant forgot. I will absolutely try my best to fit you in, but if we’re booked we’re booked.

    Please don’t try to change the food or headcount or time the day before the event. The kitchen already ordered everything and the staff has been scheduled. (That being said, if your sales or event person didn’t send you an event order, make sure ask for one. We screw up details too! And it’s bound to happen with 100 events in a week).

    No glitter. No confetti. Please and thank you. It’s been a rough day at work today. :)

    Thank you for letting me vent.

  36. AnonyMouse*

    So… how crucial is it really that you attend your office holiday party? So my department does ours at our bosses house (there is also a company wide one that is during office hours, but I’m already likely to be out of the office on that day anyway) and it’s just… uncomfortable. Anytime I attend one of these I really feel the difference between where I am in age/life stage compared to my coworkers. I’m single and in my mid-twenties. All of my coworkers are married, with kids/expecting kids/planning for kids, etc. Outside of the office, I just have trouble relating to them. The last time I went to one of these gatherings, they all talked about whether or not they had sex on their wedding night or if they were too tired to!! I’ve notice our admin assistant usually skips out of these, so I was planning on coming up with a last minute excuse this year… I just really don’t want to force myself into an uncomfortable situation. Would it really be terrible of me to not attend?

    1. The Rat-Catcher*

      I was leaning toward “go and leave early” until I got to the topics of discussion, and now I don’t think you should force yourself to go. I am married with kids, late twenties, and there are zero circumstances where I discuss my sex life at a work or even a work-ish event. I don’t want to hear about theirs either.

    2. Argh!*

      As a childless never-married woman, I cringe at the thought of being the only on of my kind at any event. Hanging out with the men is no good, either. I have this imaginary scenario in which they’re talking about something I could relate to until I show up, and then they switch to football.

      It’s awkward to show up, make an appearance, and then leave quickly when it’s a private home, but if you can make up a white lie about having to go to some relative’s party afterward, nobody will take offense.

      If you want to go and stay awhile, you could be the official photographer. You’d be “there” but not there for a longer period of time.

  37. Overeducated*

    Colleague in another department (about 10 minutes before the end of the 2 hour office party today): “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to stay for TWO HOURS at a work party.”
    Me: “I don’t know, some of us are so isolated in our work and desperate for social interaction that two hours of talking to people we don’t work with every day is awesome.”

    I said it in a light tone because I actually did appreciate the party, and everyone knows that my department has lost most of its staff this year, but…still probably too direct. I think the other person took it in the spirit it was meant, but I should probably shut my mouth more.

    1. WellRed*

      Actually, I think your response was perfect. The other person was rude by implying how horrible she found spending time with coworkers. I mean, it can be horrible but no need to say it.

  38. Hmph*

    I’ve never worked at a place with a “real” holiday party. Potlucks have been it. Honestly, til AAM, I thought they were a relic of a prior time that made for good sitcom storylines. I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with a party and drama. And if you want me to bring something to a potluck, know that it’s store bought. Or I’ll chill in my office.

    1. TechWorker*

      I promise, not all parties are terrible and/or drama filled! It is possible to even enjoy an office party ;)

  39. PennyParker*

    The only office holiday party I ever attended was when I was an LTE at the local district attorney’s office. Granted, this was quite some time ago (1985) and in Wisconsin (drunkest state in the nation), but it sure gave me an education (I was still young and naive). Every district attorney at our party got stinking drunk. They were so drunk it was a wonder they could stand upright. And, every one of them drove themselves home with no worry of the cops as they were the court reps for anything the cops wrote up. Absolutely disgusting and I have never forgotten it!

  40. zaracat*

    I work in a field where the teams are a mix of employees and non-employees (not contractors exactly, as they bill the clients directly, but similar). I am one of the non-employees and fill the same team role across multiple different workplaces, which can be quite socially isolating. For this reason I LOVE going to end of year parties! – it’s a great chance to socialise with people I wouldn’t otherwise get to meet and feel part of the organisation. The different workplaces all have different arrangements. The best parties are usually employee-organised and jointly funded by people attending plus a contribution from the employer. Worst ones are the “official” employer-funded ones where the venue and food are high quality but there are a lot of boring speeches, and where employees attend for free, non-employee team leaders are invited and don’t have to pay (because they bring in the big money for the org) but rarely actually go, and other non-employee team members are either excluded or have to pay the full cost (last year was $70). I guess a fancy meal is a way to reward employees, but this setup doesn’t exactly enhance team bonding.

    But yeah, definitely don’t get really drunk or do anything stupid. Your co-workers may think it’s funny/makes a good story, but the bosses won’t share that view.

  41. Liz*

    Sometimes I see sites recommend pacing your drinking against your boss’s.

    I am here to say that this is a bad idea if it turns out your boss is an alcoholic.

  42. Bowserkitty*

    My aunt STILL recalls the time she got so wasted at her husband’s holiday party she was dancing on tables.

    He doesn’t work there anymore. (but he is a contractor and this was ages ago so I am sure the party had nothing to do with it)

  43. Courageous cat*

    Respectfully, I think “It’s fine to have a drink or two, but if you feel yourself getting even the start of a buzz, switch to water” is a bit… ridiculous. Even the start of a buzz, really? There’s a pretty big valley between completely sober and inappropriately wasted, and it’s not hard to find a safe middle ground where your senses are still intact. One of the reasons I like holiday parties is because it’s so much easier to socialize when everyone’s a little pleasantly drunk and happy. This just seems overly cautious to me in many reasonably casual office environments (of course, I can see it being different in more formal workplaces).

    1. JS*

      I think it’s good advice considering that valley’s size depends on the person. I thought I was a lightweight because some of my friends back home can out drink me by a mile but once I moved to a new city I realized my “I’m smashed and sloppy” after 8-9 drinks is actually a lot. My mom for example had a 1.5 pints of beer and needed to lean on me walking back to the car 5 blocks.

      I usually end up sticking to wine at work functions and end up having a bottle to myself (not carrying around the actual bottle) and am perfectly coherent but I have friends now who would be bouncing off the walls.

      I think optics wise unless your work is a party scene sticking to wine is the smart option for anyone. People tend to get the warm and fuzzies on wine but alcohol can produce some mean drunks. If an altercation or situation does go down, people are more likely to think the person drinking the rum and cokes started it rather than the person sipping on pinot.

  44. Aphrodite*

    I have to say that while I like the idea of a potluck the reality of knowing which women I work with don’t put the lid down before flushing, don’t wash their hands properly or do wash them and then touch the door handle going out, wash with water only or just a quick rinse, and other, rather icky bathroom habits before and after they eat, I will never–and I mean NEVER–touch any food anyone brings, holiday party or no.

  45. Dr Wizard, PhD*

    I hope we get a chance to talk about holiday party envy too!

    I work for the government, so it’s very muted – we take an afternoon off and go for lunch at a nice restaurant, which we have to pay for (though to be fair the managers usually pay for the wine).

    Meanwhile my best friend and flatmate, who works for an international consulting company, is being flown internationally to London for an overnight stay to attend the company party held at the Tower of London! His quiz team at the party won so many bottles of champagne he had to leave one behind in his hotel room…

  46. Michaela Westen*

    Years ago I had a personal problem with my boss which was never resolved because he pretended it didn’t happen.
    While I was reading the article I thought maybe I should go to the party this year. But I just…can’t… don’t make me…
    Luckily he’s never held my non-attendance against me!

  47. crookedfinger*

    A few years ago, one of the young guys in my office brought not one, not two, but THREE dates to the holiday party. I don’t know if he thought it would be impressive or what, but he’s been teased about it ever since.

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