Tips for the Office Holiday Party—How Drunk Can You Get?

It’s that time of year again — A time for twinkling lights, holiday carols, the crackle of the fire — and, wait, what’s that sound?

Photo: Don Bayley | Getty Images

Ah, yes. It’s the sound of your co-worker getting too drunk and embarrassing himself in front of the boss at the office holiday party.

If it’s the right co-worker, and by right I mean THAT GUY who drives everyone insane, it can make you feel all warm and fuzzy. If it’s you, it can feel like a slow-motion crash — the faint tinkling of broken glass and metal scraping metal.

So let’s review a few ground rules for the office holiday party, so we can all look each other in the eye tomorrow, OK?

First, let’s adjust the attitude. Enough with the eye-rolling and complaining about having to spend more time with co-workers. Let’s look at it for what it is: The company doing something nice for you, with free food and drink, and a chance to talk to co-workers, bosses and people from other departments in an informal setting. And let’s be honest, what were you going to do on that night anyway? Probably go home and sit on the couch in your sweats watching some kind of marathon of bad TV like The Housewives of Ice-Road Truckers — am I right?

And look, no one said you have to stay forever. Go collect your bonus — free food and drink — and make sure you talk to the boss so he or she knows you were there. Say something pleasant and/or amusing and then you’re out. Seriously, what’s the big deal?

Now, getting it right may not come easy to everyone. So, here are a few holiday-party pointers based on advice from etiquette expert Diane Gottsman:

1) Show a genuine interest in what other people are saying. In other words, don’t look over their shoulder to see if there’s someone better to talk to or if they have more of those mini pigs-in-a-blanket.

2) Be aware of your body language. In other words — seriously, are you looking over my shoulder?

3) Do your homework. In other words — Hey, what did I tell you about eye-rolling? I’m trying to help you here. — Remember when you got tongue-tied talking to the boss last year? Just come up with a few non-controversial things ahead of time — a few talking points to make sure you have a nice, non-embarassing chat. Pick a couple of fun current events, like Alec Baldwin being kicked off a plane for playing “Words With Friends” or how popular, on a scale of 1 to 10, Rod Blagojevich will be in prison. Or, you can talk about the wackiest holiday present you’ve ever received. In a recent CareerBuilder survey, some of the wackiest gifts reported were a zombie figurine, a keychain that shouts expletives and a bacon of the month club membership. Whatever you do, don’t show up without material.

Also, something we learned last year — be positive. If you’re going to complain about the company, the boss or the food at the party, have the sense to do it when the entire company including your boss and your boss’s boss aren’t around. You never know when someone might hear you.

Also, this would be a good time to mention that alcohol AMPLIFIES VOLUME. So, whenever you open your mouth at the holiday party, imagine the boss is standing right behind you.

If you’re wondering — you were, weren’t you? — how much you can drink at the office holiday party? First, let’s not get nuts — it’s OK to have a drink at the party. It helps relax you and make conversation more easy. That being said, it’s a fine line.

Matthew Latkiewicz, who writes about drinking for’s Grub Street, says the first step is to determine “how closely your company allows your Work Identity (W.I.) to acknowledge your Party Identity (P.I.). Do you have to hide who you really are at work? Or, are you celebrated for your shenanigans? The more closely those two I’s are at work, the cooler your company is.

He offers a handy checklistfor how to determine your company’s cool factor, which includes: There is a pool table at the office, unique facial hair choices are not discouraged and your holiday party is held in a loft.

Get this wrong and you might find yourself like Latkiewicz, apologizing the next day for “that whole shirtless ABBA thing.”

The perils of miscalculating how much the boss had to drink cannot be overestimated.

Upon hearing the whole shirtless Abba apology, Latkiewicz’s boss replied: “I don’t remember anything from last night.”

If you remember nothing else, remember to never leave evidence from the company holiday party. You might be able to get away with mooning a passing car because 1) no one saw it or 2) they were too drunk to remember but if you photocopy your bare butt at the office holiday party — that’s going to leave a mark. And by mark, I mean on your permanent record and almost certainly on Facebook. You might be able to get away with blowing a stop sign on the way home but steal a stop sign from in front of the building and there’s probably a cellphone photo being Tweeted around the world as we speak and some call-center operator in Bangladesh has 10 co-workers around his desk, laughing uncontrollably about this idiot in America.

Of course, the boss can always get away with drinking more than the rest of us because, well, he’s the boss. Interns can get away with drinking more than the rest of us because 1) they’re adorable, 2) they remind us of our younger selves and 3) no one wants to see an intern go to jail over a harmless keg stand.

So, it’s those of us in the middle that should be the most careful and, just to be safe, limit it to two drinks. (Look, you can always go home after those two drinks and polish off a bottle of wine with no one but the dog there to judge you.)

That being said, Latkiewicz notes that if you are a self-professed PCITM — plateaued cog in the machine — then there are only two guidelines for you. 1) if you work for a cool company, have however many drinks it takes to get you where you need to be, and 2) if you work for an uncool company, let’s say six or seven. “Just don’t throw up on anyone you might want a recommendation from in the future,” he cautions.

He notes a couple of exceptions — If your boss is so drunk he’s slurring his speech, go ahead and tack one extra drink on to whatever your number is. And if you have a crush on someone at the office and you or they are married, sorry, you go to zero drinks. If you have a crush on someone at the office and you’re both single, however, add one drink. If wrestling should break out among any co-workers at the party, you are off the hook and can add three drinks to your total.

OK, so quick recap:

  • Show up
  • Positive attitude
  • Bring material
  • Keep your shirt on
  • And no Abba — unless the boss is drunk

Now get out there and get your merry on.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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