by Christian Garceau March 20, 2017

In the 2016 Holiday movie “Office Christmas Party,” T.J. Miller plays a regional director of a large software company and is planning a big holiday party in appreciation of his staff. Needless to say, the party is wild, alcohol makes a very big appearance, and hilarity ensues. In the real world, the events that unfold would result in many, many awkward HR meeting the morning after.

But alcohol is no longer making an exclusive appearance at Christmas time, and being the real world many awkward HR meetings are in fact taking place. From team building cocktail hours to office luncheons and milestone achievement parties, it’s now more important than ever to know how to both plan these events responsibly, and how to responsibly attend them.

I’ve attended many social work events where alcohol was a big part of the party. I’ve experienced first-hand the best and the worst of what factor alcohol can play at these events. Below are my best tips for successfully navigating alcohol, and its effects, in a work context, from planner to attendee.


  • First and foremost, make sure your HR and legal department know an event with alcohol will take place: Depending whether the event is offsite or in the office, there could be legal, licensing and HR issues that need to be considered. Your company may take a more casual approach to alcohol, but it’s best to be sure.
  • Beer and wine are safest; be cautious with hard liquor: Beer and wine have a relatively low ABV (alcohol by volume). If the event is only a couple hours it’s unlikely someone will become intoxicated enough to raise issues if you’re only offering beer and wine. Hard liquor like rum and vodka can quickly take your attendees from sober to loaded. Consider offering a pre-determined cocktail list featuring low ABV drinks. You can find a great list here:
  • Avoid a self-serve bar at all costs: A certified bartender is a relatively small expense compared to what can happen when you’re giving people free range to scotch and vodka!
  • Serve food: It will slow down the absorption of alcohol and avoid any messy drunks.
  • Serve it both early and late: Too many parties feature a bounty of food at the beginning, which is great for “drinking on a full stomach.” But often as the night progresses, all the food is gone once the alcohol takes effect and stomachs get hungry. This leads to messy drunk. Stager and ramp your food service to ensure no one is going home on an empty stomach
  • Consider drink tickets: This may not work with every company culture, but you can easily limit alcohol consumption by giving attendees 2 or 3 drink tickets for the event.
  • Make water easily accessible: Don’t have your guests line up at the bar to ask for a small plastic cup of water. Have coolers filled with bottles of water available with ease, or place water carafes and glasses throughout the room to make staying hydrated effortless.


  • Stager with water: Many experts recommend limiting yourself to 2 drinks. This can be dull at an event lasting throughout the night. Instead, more practical advice is to make sure you have a full glass of water between every drink. Sparkling water is great if you don’t want your “staggering” practice to be too evident.
  • Carry your beverage in your left hand: More a social tip than alcohol tip, but don’t be too busy drinking to shake hands with your co-workers and executives. Carrying your drink in your left hand ensures the right one is always free for handshakes and greetings.
  • Show gratitude: If you’ve had too much to drink and feel your lips getting loose, don’t complain about the lack of vegan options or the bar running out of your favourite wine. Someone went to a lot of work to plan this event — show your gratitude. The last thing you want is to appear entitled. And if your lips are getting too loose — leave!
  • EAT: Enough said.
  • Observe company culture: Some companies place great emphasis on social interaction with your team, and sometimes alcohol plays a bigger role in that culture. In that case, have that third drink if you can handle it responsibly. Other companies will frown upon you if you’re spending most of the night in line at the bar. The only way to know what to do is observe the company culture and do your best to adhere to it.
  • Know what kind of a drunk you are: If you know that one shot of tequila will bring you from “fun-person” to “mean-person,” avoid it at all costs, even if your boss is asking you to join them for a shot.  No one knows your tolerance and triggers better than yourself. Remind yourself of that as you navigate the tipsy waters of alcohol in the workplace.
  • Know your limit: At the end of the day, you’re an adult who is working for a company that chose you to be a team member based on your ability to make responsible and informed choices. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with your co-workers, but also remember that people will notice and remember your behaviour, so it’s always best to err on the side of caution.

With proper preparation and following some simple etiquette, a work event with alcohol can be a fun and social experience. 

Need help planning an event? Working with A Social Affair Event Management guarantees a stress-free, uniquely created event. Our emphasis is on style, impact, and a strong contingency plan while delivering unparalleled client service. Contact us today for a free consultation.

Christian Garceau
Christian Garceau