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How to Dominate Office Happy Hours

This article is part of our Post Grad Survival Guide that we’ll be rolling out this summer. Join our email list to follow along all summer and email if you’d like to guest write.

Yes, it totally sucks ass that we’re being forced to go back to the office. But when one door closes, another opens and never has that been clearer than the topic of work happy hours. After 18 long months of battling Zoom happy hours and no free booze, we are finally back to the potentially awesome, potentially career-threatening minefields that are in person office drinking events.

Today we’re going to cover etiquette for all you heading back into the field for your office happy hours. And before we get into it, yes you should go. We know you want to skip since you’re so mature and “go to the gym” and “see your therapist” but all that stuff is a waste of time. Be social, get drunk on the company time and advance your career through schmoozing since God knows you have no technical skills to speak of.

Office Happy Hour Etiquette

Pro-Tip 1 – bring a Kangol hat just in case you’re set up for a date with your secretary’s friend.

1. Be the 4th drunkest

For longtime WRDies, this has been our consistent advice since Day 1, but it bears repeating since some of you just don’t seem to get it. At any work drinking function, you want to get drunk enough to have a good time without being the story.

It’s tempting to take advantage of the corporate card and get bombed off 11 Old Fashioneds, but you will pay the price for that decision the next day at work in the form of shame and humiliation. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself and find your charming golden zone though. Here’s how you manage your drunkenness without ruining your life.

Eat Some Food

The biggest problem with happy hours is food timing. 5:30 isn’t really the ideal time for dinner unless you’re under the age of 75 or Mark Wahlberg. But you need something in your stomach, otherwise you’ll end up drunkenly telling your boss how hot his wife is and asking if his daughter is considering interning there next summer. Woof.  

Do yourself a favor and order a plate of French fries or nachos once you arrive and get a base layer of booze absorbant in your system. Don’t worry about eating the entire thing – people will nibble at it with you and secretly be glad you ordered it. Once 7:30 rolls around, start casually dropping the idea of getting dinner and see if you can incept it into everyone’s minds.

Stick to Beer or Wine

Basic shit. Mix in a water here and there so you don’t wake up with a hangover tomorrow. Shots should be avoided at all costs, but are definitely an option once you move to the second bar with the actual cool people.

Find Someone to Sabotage

This is a ‘break in case of emergency’ tactic, but in the cutthroat world of office happy hours, it’s every man for himself. Sometimes you gotta play a little dirty.

If you feel yourself getting on the express train to blackout town, rather than slow down, consider finding a work rival to force feed vodka sodas until they humiliate themselves. Everyone will be so busy focusing on how Mark from Sales took his shirt off at Wicked Willies and asked everyone to do body shots off his admittedly impressive abs that they won’t notice you’ve been passed out in a bathroom stall for the better part of an hour. Hello promotion!

When Mark from Sales was kind of mean to you once so you spike his drink at the office happy hour and he publicly humiliates himself

2. Talk to the Right People

I get it. You want to spend the happy hour hanging out with your friends, talking about things that aren’t work for once this week. And there’s definitely a time and place for that.  

But don’t forget that happy hours are great opportunities to meet new people and do some schmoozing. It might feel a little weird, but don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with a VP or someone in a different department. Follow their lead, but try to avoid talking shop as much as you can. This isn’t your chance to wow a department head with your genius ideas for the business that they’ve definitely already thought of. You can be memorable just by being a normal person who can have a normal conversation.

Talking about fantasy football, their kid’s Little League team, or different bars on the Jersey Shore with your VP isn’t immediately going to get you promoted. But it will help them remember your face (and your name if you’re lucky) the next time they see you in the elevator. And they’ll go to themselves, “hey that’s the guy who told me to draft Justin Herbert in the 5th round. Good kid.” That’s gotta count for something.

3. Listen More Than You Talk

Yes, I stole this advice from Aaron Burr. Yes, that’s the second Hamilton reference I’ve made in a calendar year. But it’s a very catchy soundtrack, a rich piece of history, and also has some very good professional advice.

Happy hours are hands down the best place to get workplace gossip. You’ll be surprised what you can learn about your boss after his admin has had a few glasses of Chardonnay. Or what Bob really thinks about his new role. Or how many times Chad drunk texted Sarah last weekend (11, plus 4 FaceTimes and a pretty alarming Snapchat of him standing on the subway tracks that was never explained.)

However, you want to be the person who knows the gossip, not the person who gossips.  Sure, there’s a normal give and take of information that you’ll have to partake in, but be careful about what you personally are sharing. This is an information gathering session only and your goal is to stockpile intel. Hopefully, you never have to use it but if you need to, you’ll be prepared to blackmail your way to the top (sr. associate brand manager who gets paid below market rate.)

4. Know When to Stay and When to Leave

One of the greatest life skills that I’m still learning today is when to leave the party. It’s important in normal drinking situations, but absolutely essential at work happy hours.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • You can’t lose your job if you go home early

Lame, but true. A kid I went to college with got too drunk at a happy hour as a intern, lost his apartment keys, and ended up sleeping in the foyer of the office building one night. The CEO found him when he showed up at the office at 7 am the next day. Let’s just say he did not get the full time job offer.

  • If you’re a boss, people kind of want you to leave.

I don’t care how cool of a boss you are, your employees won’t feel comfortable letting loose until you leave. Go find your other boss friends and do boss stuff together.

  • But the second bar is always the most fun bar.

Some of my favorite nights have come once a crew leaves the happy hour and heads to a second bar. This is when you turn work friends into actual friends. Capture these moments whenever you can.

5. You Have to Face These People on Monday

Just a healthy reminder to think of the consequences of your actions at all times.

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