10 Etiquette Tips for Hosting an Elegant Holiday Office Party
The author, Sharon Schweitzer, an expert on international business etiquette and protocol, will host an etiquette dinner in early 2017. Check back for details!
With the start of the holidays comes the joy of holiday business parties. We all know there are parties that we look forward to, while others fall into the category of (yawn) obligation. From happy hours to formal dinners to buffets, what makes the good ones special, while others fall flat?
It’s not just the style and personality of the hosts that makes the party. Much hinges on their sense of business etiquette. From black tie affair to cocktails, it’s the warmth, enthusiasm, and overall spirit that count—and that includes keeping cultural intelligence and business etiquette in mind. Even what you call the party can make or break its success. If you call it a Christmas party, it is not as inclusive as a Holiday party.
Here are my top 10 etiquette tips for hosting an elegant office holiday party:
- Carefully craft & manage the invitations.
Invitations in both electronic and printed form should be sent 21 days in advance. Include all the vitals on the invite, especially RSVP specifics, attire, start and end time, and who is (and who is not) included. Does Plus one includes dates and spouses, but usually not children. Clarity saves confusion. Then follow up with non-responsive guests, in case their invitations got lost in the holiday crush. Our modified postal system also presents challenges.
- Pay attention to the guest list.
Plan your guest list early and carefully. If your party includes clients, consider circulating an internal email before the party that includes your VIP clients’ photographs with short bios. Be sure your staff is prepared to visit with top clients and inquire about their interests and industry news. Boasting about your own accomplishments is not only boring, it’s inappropriate.
- Include all co-hosts in logistics.
With corporate parties, include all possible co-hosts—owners, partners, and directors, for instance. Make sure the event reflects your company brand. Should it be held during the day or in the evening? Consider the flow of alcohol and what kind of food will be served, and make sure it’s replenished often. There will be different guests invited by each host, so make sure everyone feels welcome.
- Nosh like an etiquette pro.
Eat a small amount of protein just before the event so you’re not playing host on an empty stomach. If a client insists you join them in a buffet, don’t place more than three items on your plate, and avoid eating in the buffet line. With passed hors d’ oeuvres, pick up the item with a toothpick or tongs and place on a napkin or plate first, and then place it in your mouth. Avoid the temptation to remove food from the server’s tray and pop it directly into your mouth!
- Greet guests with warmth.
Provide a warm and friendly environment. Choose music of an appropriate genre, played at a volume that allows for conversation. When guests arrive, make sure they’re greeted warmly. With hired photographers, provide a company escort so they can capture the right shots. Designate specific areas for the photographer, gifts, and coats. To keep security tight, provide a single entry.
- Make impeccable introductions.
It is the host’s responsibility to make sure that guests are introduced to each other. A good introduction includes adding something of interest about each person to start the conversation, such as, “Jamie handles our social media,” or, “Jason is our creative website designer.” Then say “excuse me, I’ll let you two take it from here.”
- Mingle, circulate, and mix.
Hosts are mobile ambassadors expected to work the room and participate in the party, so mix, mingle, and enjoy! There is nothing worse than going to a party where the host gloms onto one or two people the entire time. Instead, give personalized attention to as many guests as possible: they’re here because you invited them, and they want to visit with each host for a few minutes.
- Be discreet but firm with woozy guests.
Even when the drinks are not overly strong and there is plenty of food, plan for the inebriated guest. Pre-party, advise the bartenders to refuse to pour alcohol for an inebriated person. Instead, instruct them to pour a substitute beverage, while calling you to the bar. Then, privately tell the guest that the bartenders won’t serve them. Be firm but discreet. Send them to their home or hotel safely via Uber or taxi. The next day, the guest will be thankful you saved them from further embarrassment.
- Be gracious with uninvited guests.
Among those little surprises that inevitably occur will be the appearance of additional guests. Be gracious. If an invited guest brings along three unexpected friends, despite what the invitation indicated, explain the situation discreetly by stating “We wish we could accommodate your friends, however we are sorry that we don’t have their RSVP. We can’t make room at this time.”
- Send guests off warmly.
Designate an appropriate person to thank departing guests at the door, preferably a co-host. Stand near the exit, ready to say goodbye, thank each guest for attending, and consider offering a small party favor or a bottle of water. If you know the guest brought a gift, make sure to thank them. While small hostess gifts don’t require a written thank you note, more elaborate gifts do.
Preparing well and thinking like a guest will ensure the success of your holiday party. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of knowing you hosted a memorable event. Master these modern holiday party manners, and you will succeed! Your guests will go beyond thanking you—they will clear their calendars to ensure they can attend every year!
Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is an award-winning entrepreneur, cross-cultural trainer, modern manners & international etiquette expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, is the resident etiquette expert for CBS Austin’s We Are Austin, regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and other media. She is the international award-winning author of the best-selling book Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015, and recipient of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.