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Holiday Office Party Etiquette Q&A

‘Tis the season for companies to celebrate the holidays with an end-of-year office party. DePaul University School of Hospitality Leadership Senior Instructor Juan Mendez is an expert on event management and teaches a business etiquette course that is required for all DePaul hospitality majors. We sat down with Mendez to discuss proper etiquette for holiday office parties.

Do you have any overall tips for holiday office party etiquette?

The No. 1 tip is that you have to prepare for the situation that you are going into. This means having an understanding of what type of event it will be. Pay attention to what the invitation says, what time of day the event is being held, who will be there, whether clients or spouses are invited, and where it is being held. You can then make your personal decisions such as what you plan on wearing and how long you will stay. For someone who is new to a company, find a coworker who has been to a company party before and ask them what type of event it will be. It is always better to ask questions and be prepared than to show up in jeans and a cowboy hat when everyone else is in formal wear.

Speaking of cowboy hats, what is appropriate attire for a holiday office party?

From my personal experience, most holiday office parties are business casual. I would definitely recommend dressing more conservatively than something too flashy. Take the medium road and don’t go overboard, but feel comfortable in what you are wearing. If your company is hosting a party at a venue such as a professional club or a nightclub, check the website. If it is right after work or during work, whatever attire you wear during the day is typically appropriate, otherwise there should be more specific instructions in the invite. 

Is it appropriate to drink alcohol at a holiday office party?

My rule of thumb is that you do not want to be the drunk at the party. Be strategic and decide how much you will drink before the party. Take your time and mix in water, especially if it is an open bar and the party is set to last a few hours. Always eat while you are drinking. Have a good time, but remember that you do not want to do anything in a social environment where you are going to hurt yourself professionally.

Just because this is free, you do not have to "get your money's worth." If you do not drink or you do not feel comfortable drinking, that is fine. If alcohol is being offered, it is definitely appropriate to drink, but limit yourself, know how long the party is, pace yourself and have fun. 

Am I required to go to the holiday office party?

It is always important to attend at least a portion of the party. I think managers notice the people who do not attend a party more than those who did. Most companies provide holiday parties as an extra perk to employees. In addition, you should always RSVP to the party and stick it. If you are going to be out of town, make sure you reply no. If you say yes, make it a priority. RSVP’ing is important because it makes it easier for the hosts of the party in terms of food, beverage, location and activities.  

What are appropriate conversation topics to talk about at a holiday office party?

My rule is that you are at a work function and you can talk about work. If clients are at the party, it is more of a business function. If it is just an internal staff party, while work is always a safe topic, it may not be the best to make the entire conversation about work. This could be an opportunity for coworkers to interact and learn about each other in a relaxed atmosphere. Everyone has interests and hobbies outside of work, so having a conversation where you can ask questions to people is always good. You don't necessarily need to talk about yourself, but meet someone new, use work as an initiator and build off the conversation with likes and dislikes about safe topics like travelling, movies, restaurants, cooking and the holidays.

Can I bring a spouse or a guest to the holiday office party?

Make sure that the invitations specifically mentions a guest and RSVP accordingly. Prior to the party, let your guest know what type of event it will be and who will be there. Make sure your guest is comfortable and introduce them to everyone you speak with. If you and your coworkers are only talking about work, change the conversation to something light and airy so you can include your guest in the conversation.

Any last tips?

Don't do anything that you will regret the next day. You want to use this as an opportunity to highlight yourself and not make people question your judgement or abilities. Plan ahead and have fun.

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