Cocktail Party Etiquette

SinatraCocktail parties, client receptions, and networking hours can be wonderful career-developing opportunities for you. You get to know others – and they get to know you – all while in a relaxed environment.  But don’t make the mistake of “letting your hair down” simply because you have a drink in your hand!  These functions are still business in nature and best used for making new connections, finding resources, nurturing existing relationships, and staying on the inside track, NOT partying till the cows come home!

Keep these guidelines in mind:


  • Your company is expecting you to work the room in order to connect with clients, prospects, board members, competitors, vendors  – to build bridges, deepen relationships, gather intel, and find new business.  Even when it’s a purely internal event, this is your chance to put faces on that org chart and get the skinny on clients, projects, openings, etc.
  • If you enter the room and don’t immediately see someone you know, try to make eye contact with a friendly face or head toward an already-formed group of people who look like they’re having fun.
  • Don’t clump! It’s okay to hang out with your friends for one drink or a few appetizers, but then it’s time to disperse and find new people to talk with.
  • The best places to stand are either by a food table or in the center of the room.  Food tables attract foot traffic so they’re great places to find people to engage in conversation. Food also provides good conversation starters (“Have you tried that?” “Do you think the green sauce goes with that?”).  And everyone moves through the center of the room during an event making it another good place to connect, disengage, and connect again.

Respect Boundaries

  • Use a filter when you talk. Don’t let company secrets slip out in your conversation or share something off-color or controversial. You don’t want to be next week’s “hot topic”!
  • If you’re not on a first-name basis with someone between 9 & 5, you’re not after 5:00 either.
  • Don’t monopolize any one individual. 10-15 minutes per person is a good amount of time for small talk.

Don’t Overindulge

  • Limit your alcohol intake to 1 or 2 drinks. If you don’t drink alcohol, don’t feel pressured to do so. Choose a soft drink or water instead.
  • Don’t pile food onto your appetizer plate. Better to make a few trips back to the food table to replenish, than to advertise you’re starving and the frig is empty at home.

One Final Tip: Go with the attitude that you’re the host of the party, even when you’re the guest. Keep an eye out for people who need help with their coats, finding their name badge, or locating a colleague. Doing what you can to make the party a success will shine a nice spotlight on you.

© 2012 Jill Bremer • All Rights Reserved