Should You Drink at a Work Event? A Quick Guide To Alcohol and Networking

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If you’ve ever wondered whether or not to grab a drink at a business lunch, you’re not alone. Alcohol can play a role in certain work-related settings—and if your colleague or boss orders a drink, it might only feel natural to follow suit. 

So, why do people drink at work events? In the right setting, alcohol can help to boost connections and creative ideas between coworkers, clients, and managers. In other words, people use it to build friendliness and team spirit outside the workplace. 

But is it a good idea (or necessary) to drink at work events—and if so, how much? Here’s what you should know.

The Link Between Drinking and Success

If it’s ever seemed to you that wealthy people and executives tend to enjoy drinking, you may have been onto something. Research on social disparities and alcohol suggests that people with higher education and socioeconomic status are more likely to drink alcohol than others.1

well-dressed coworkers raising glasses at holiday party
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels

In addition, one study on younger adults from Addictive Behaviors found that heavier drinking was linked to higher peer-nominated status for both men and women.2 And a 2016 analysis found that people of higher socioeconomic status drank similarly or more than those of lower status—but faced fewer repercussions as a result of their alcohol use.3 

So, yes—there’s a tentative link between success and drinking. But this isn’t to say that drinking improves your odds of success, and you certainly do not have to drink to be successful in the workplace. However, if you enjoy drinking at work events (when appropriate), that’s fine too. Just be sure not to overdo it!

Read more: Which Professions Drink the Most?

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A Quick Guide To Drinking at Work Events

While there are some unspoken rules for drinking at professional gatherings, there’s no universal way to go about it. It largely depends on your workplace’s culture and whether others are also drinking. And if alcohol is welcome at an event, it’s important to choose the appropriate type of drink and stay polite. 

With this in mind, here are a few pointers on handling alcohol at work events:

Business Meetings

Is it OK to drink at a business meeting? If your business meeting takes place at a bar and others are ordering drinks, it’s probably fine to have one too. If you do grab a drink, it’s best to stick to something classier, like a cocktail, glass of wine, or craft beer. You’ll generally want to stay away from shots or other hard liquor. 

When in doubt, stick to what—and how much—your fellow meeting attendees are drinking. And if you get the hunch that it’s an alcohol-free gathering, err on the side of caution and grab a soda instead. 

Business Lunch or Dinner

Many people wonder, “Is it appropriate to drink at a business lunch?” In general, it depends on your workplace atmosphere and industry. In addition, the host—whether that’s your manager, coworker, or the CEO—sets the tone of the meeting, and it’s best to follow their lead. 

For example, if your boss takes you out to lunch and orders a beer, then it’s probably OK for you to have one too. Just be sure to stick to your limits, and don’t drink more than they do.

Work Parties

Should I drink at a work party?” is a frequent question for those attending their first work-related celebration. These events are usually a bit more casual than other business meetings. And if alcohol is being served freely, you probably don’t have to hold yourself back from grabbing a drink. 

With that being said, it’s crucial to keep it light. You’ll want to make a good impression and avoid embarrassing yourself in front of your manager or coworkers. So, be sure to consider how well you handle your liquor, and do your best not to let yourself exceed a buzz.

Read more: How Many Drinks Will Get You Drunk?

What If You Don’t Drink?

Holiday parties and happy hour work events can sometimes feel centered around alcohol. But what if you prefer to stay sober? 

coworkers talking over coffee at daytime meeting
Photo by Alexander Suhorucov on Pexels

These situations can be awkward to navigate, but your well-being comes first. Here are some tips for avoiding alcohol at a work event where everyone else seems to be drinking:

Have Another Drink In-Hand

Keeping an alcohol-free drink in your hand is a clever and classic strategy for avoiding offers for alcohol. When you’re already sipping on a beverage, you’ll blend in with everyone else, and it’s easier to dodge any awkward interactions regarding your choice not to drink.

Address Your Sobriety (Without Turning It into a Full-Blown Conversation)

If need be, you could also be more direct and address the fact that you’re staying sober. As the first line of defense, you could try a clever excuse for not drinking, like that you want to lose weight or focus on your health. 

But if you prefer more honesty, you could also prepare a short one-liner about why you’re not drinking. For example, “I don’t really mix well with alcohol” or “I don’t feel well when I drink” are both easy, straightforward options.

Redirect Attention to Something Else

If you find yourself stuck in an awkward conversation with a coworker or manager, it can help to pivot the conversation to a different subject. 

For example, you can transition to a topic about work, comment about the party, or even ask them a slightly unrelated question about themselves. People love to talk about their own lives and passions—so if you’re trying to change the subject fast, this can be your ace in the hole.

The Takeaway on Drinking and Networking

A drink or two might be appropriate in specific situations, like a holiday party or casual networking event. But depending on who you’re meeting with, you might be better off avoiding alcohol entirely. In any case, remember not to overdo it, and pay attention to drinking etiquette cues from others at the event. 

Ultimately, you shouldn’t feel like you have to drink to succeed—and if you prefer to handle business with a clear mind, you might find it easier to sidestep the booze entirely. This can be tough at first, but the more you practice, the more your confidence will grow.

If you know that binge drinking at social events is a struggle for you, learn more about how medication can help you regain control.

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Written By:
Alicia Schultz
Minnesota-based freelancer and health advocate who aims to empower others through her work.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
NYC-based content strategist with over 3 years editing and writing in the recovery space. Strong believer in accessible, empathic, and fact-based communication.
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