The holidays are upon us. Among so many other challenges and festivities at work, it also means increased opportunities for blurred lines between business, eating and drinking. Here are a few simple rules to remember in some common situations.

Group Meals

Even when they can feel like mandatory fun, group meals may be the simplest social scenario to understand and follow the rules. And rule No. 1 is follow the lead.

In other words, do what the host does. From what to order to how long to stay, take a cue from the host to determine how to proceed. When in doubt: ask for recommendations and use those as a guide to decide whether and what to order.

Second, remember basic etiquette rules apply. While it is not necessary to brush up on Emily Post, it is helpful to execute common sense.

For food: order something that is simple to eat; remember to excuse yourself and put the napkin on the chair; and do not eat or drink too much or too loudly. And for conversation remember basic business rules still apply. Stick to safe topics, talk with those closest to you when seated, and do not stand for a toast unless asked or attending a roast.


Part of the magic and challenge with alcohol is that it can lower inhibitions. If you do not want to drink, don’t, but try to keep judgment at a minimum.

It is still work, so religious, personal, or other reasons not to drink are not required topics of discussion and are best left off the conversation list.

Instead, in groups where no one or only a few may hear you order, order something that looks like it could be something else. Or, in a small group setting where your order is clear, feel free to note you are not going to drink tonight but will be living vicariously through your teammate. In other words, keep the focus off the drinking and on the festivities.

If you are drinking, and there are only two of you, sit at the bar; otherwise, find a place standing or sitting where everyone can easily face and hear each other. Stick with drinks you can handle, and drink less than you should.

If it feels like the alcohol is hitting harder than it should, do not hesitate to order a snack for the group or a seltzer back for your drink. If the point of the meeting is to discuss business, then stick with a more standard drink: red wine, whiskey, or something simple. The chocolate flaming martini may be amazing, but unless you are trying to woo its inventor, skip it for something simple.

Any Situation

Arrive on time, which means early. Be kind to the people working. Stay professional, even at the risk of being made fun of for not loosening up.

Know and play to your strengths — if you are an extravert, work the room, help others connect and magnify your magic. Introverts, do not try to fake it, embrace your comfort level and stay within it; stick to small group or one-on-one conversations, just make it a point to make them meaningful.

If you are the host, pay for everything, set the stage clearly on what is expected when it comes to anticipated time of the engagement (apps and desserts are on me!), level of ordering expected (lobster and Moet for all!) and be clear about the reason everyone is there.

Whether it is one person and the goal is to close the deal or the whole team is being recognized for a great year, say it early, clearly and with eye contact.

The bottom line is whether you are an introvert boss hosting the team’s holiday lunch or you are pitching your brilliant idea over drinks, just remember it is still a business setting. Follow these simple rules and the engagement will be a success.