How to Handle Alcohol-Friendly Work Parties

alcoholic drinks


Modern work cultures are a beautiful thing. From flexible working hours to team retreats to office kitchens with kombucha on draft, most companies have expanded their approach to team bonding beyond the traditional company barbecue. That’s especially true when it comes to work parties. Since today is National Margarita Day, we figured it was as good a time as any to go over some essential  “drinking while working” etiquette—because a festive cocktail is a great thing, especially when responsibly consumed.

When Planning Events with Alcohol (Tips for Employers)

Don’t forget that not everyone drinks—and it’s often a sensitive topic

You may think you know your employees well, especially if you pride yourself on a healthy company culture and open door policy, but there are certain topics that even the most forthcoming person will avoid discussing. Sobriety often lands on that list. There are obvious reasons why someone might be sober, but some less obvious as well (a not-yet-public pregnancy springs to mind)—Regardless, they shouldn’t feel a need to explain themselves. To spare an employee feelings of awkwardness, make sure you:

  1. offer a clear “non-alcoholic” option, preferably one that’s more festive than soda water (virgin margaritas, anyone?).
  2. don’t imply that the party is mandatory. If someone feels uncomfortable around alcohol, they need to know it’s okay to sit this one out.
  3. plan some regular events that don’t include alcohol, so no one feels excluded.

Don’t make alcohol the sole focus of the event

There’s plenty to love about an open bar, and yes, it’s great when companies pay for their employees’ drinks, but that doesn’t mean that booze should be your selling point. Pick a theme for your party, and plan some activities around it. If you’re hosting your event at a bar, choose one that offers board games, pinball, or even shuffleboard, and plan your budget so that everyone gets free game tokens along with drinks.

Budget for food first

If you don’t have the money to serve plenty of food with your booze, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. Make sure your event budget includes plenty of room for hearty snacks. And, if the event is going for more than an hour or two, plan to serve another round of food half-way through.

Expect that someone will drink a little too much

These things happen, especially at holiday parties or other big annual events when people come ready to let loose. Make a plan for what to do when this happens. Will you call them an Uber?  Do you know who their closest work friend is so you can enlist them to help intervene? Keep an eye out for early signs, so you can catch an issue before it starts. But also, remember that this is normal and you chose to serve drinks—so don’t punish anyone at work on Monday for a minor drinking faux pas.

Pro tip: there’s a reason why drink tickets are often more popular than a pure open bar—they tend to help prevent overindulgence.

Leave early

This isn’t always an option depending on the sort of event you’ve planned, but if you’re throwing a drink-tickets party at a local bar, consider ducking out a little early to let your team enjoy themselves without management there. It’s a great way to help build rapport. Because even the best boss is still, well, the boss.

When Attending Events with Alcohol (Tips for Employees)

Drink only half as much as you normally would at a party

When you go out for Mexican with friends, do you order a margarita pitcher to split? Of course you do. It feels great to let loose with those who know you best, but at an office party, you should plan to drink much less. Cutting your consumption by at least half is a great rule of thumb. And don’t forget to drink water between rounds.

Pick a coworker ally

If you’re going to a work event or party at a bar or restaurant, consider asking a coworker if he/she wants to meet somewhere first and take an Uber together. Doing this means that you’re not showing up alone (always a little awkward, after all), but also that you can take another Uber home whenever you like it. Without your car there in the first place, there’s zero risk of you driving when you shouldn’t.

Keep an eye out for people who do drink too much

Be empathetic. If you see someone who looks like they’ve maybe overindulged, check in with them. One caveat: don’t do this in a condescending way! Instead, offer to grab them a water while you get yourself one, or at the end of the night, ask them if they’ve got a ride home. If you focus on treating them as you’d like to be treated yourself, you’ll be able to help.

Don’t ask why someone isn’t drinking

Per the first point in our tips for employers, you don’t know why someone might choose to skip alcohol at the event. So don’t ask why, and above all, never pressure.

Take a moment to thank the organizers

It’s easy to get distracted catching up with coworkers, especially when liquor starts flowing, so make a mental note now: don’t forget to thank your boss or HR team for throwing the party. Whenever possible, help them with the cleanup, resetting snack platters, whatever they might need. It’s a lot of work (and money) to throw a company party, so say thanks to anyone and everyone who helped out.