Dining Etiquette for Holiday Cocktail Parties

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Happy Holidays! It’s that time of year again – office holiday party season. For companies where the holiday party is the only office party of the year, many need a brush-up on social business events and dining protocol before partaking in the festivities. The best office holiday parties are enjoyable and relaxing while still maintaining a professional atmosphere. Fortunately, just a few guidelines can keep party-goers both in the spirit of the season and in the appropriate business context.

Dining and Drinking at Cocktail Parties

Many professional holiday parties take the form of cocktail parties. Below are a few dining tips that apply specifically to this style of gathering.

  • First, for any style of holiday party where alcohol is served, limit your alcohol intake. Remember that this is a gathering where your supervisor, colleagues, employees, and even the president and CEO are attending. You must manage your behaviour by accepting only 1 – 2 drinks; any more and you may put yourself at risk of an awkward or embarrassing situation, which could have more serious implications in the New Year. If you think you may have trouble limiting your intake, then stick to the sparkling water or non-alcoholic punch for the night.
  • To (literally) balance eating and drinking at a cocktail event, hold only one item in your hand at a time and keep one hand free. Start with a small plate or napkin of food; when finished, move on to a drink. This will greatly lessen your chance of making a mess, especially if there is limited table space in the room. Also, keeping only one hand occupied with food or drink will allow you to shake hands without juggling dishes.
  • Avoid messy foods. Caterers generally acknowledge that diners do not want to get their fingers dirty when eating cocktail style food, and will plan menus accordingly. However, occasionally you will see buffalo wings covered in sauce or another such item that could cause more mess than it is worth. Steer clear of foods that take extra effort to keep tidy.
  •  Use the utensils provided to you: if there are toothpicks on the tray, take one to lift the piece of food, or get a fork if they are set up next to the plates. If there are no utensils, it is acceptable to use your fingers. In this case, simply be sure to keep a napkin handy along with your plate.
  • Don’t overload your plate with food. If the plates are small, take only as much food as looks appropriate and get a fresh plate if you plan to eat more. Cocktail parties, however, generally do not attempt to serve a full dinner; often the main objective of serving food at cocktail parties is to balance the drinks with small appetizers.
  • Even though this is not a sit-down dinner, use of smartphones and other devices should be avoided, just as they are inappropriate at the dinner table. Even though you are not seated at a table, phones and tablets can hinder the atmosphere of a party; additionally, if you are preoccupied with your phone, this can make you seem unapproachable and inconsiderate of your colleagues. If you do need to make a call or send a text or email, step away briefly from the party.

While many holiday gatherings for businesses are cocktail-style parties, some companies take a more formal approach to their celebrations with a sit-down dinner. Next week’s post will focus on dining protocol for a more traditional dining context – yet still in the spirit of the holidays!


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