Holiday Parties With Alcohol: A Checklist for Successful Events

Holiday Parties With Alcohol: A Checklist for Successful Events

Do you serve alcohol at your company’s holiday celebration? If your partygoers drink too much and hurt themselves, or injure other people, their behavior can expose you and your business to potential liability.

In these cases, courts may consider you to be at fault, especially if you cause intoxication or continue to serve someone who’s already intoxicated. As a result, some companies ban alcohol and hold “dry” parties, with nothing jollier to drink than carbonated beverages, juice, water, coffee, and tea.

If your holiday party won’t be the same without breaking out the bubbly or setting up a bar, plan ahead for safe, happy festivities. This checklist can help you make your party a pleasant experience for everyone in attendance.

  1. Prohibit any work activity whatsoever at the party.
  2. Hand out year-end bonuses before or after the celebration but not during it.
  3. In advance, give all employees a written policy statement that reaffirms how you expect them to behave at the party.

Reinforce responsible alcohol consumption.

Remind employees to abide by company conduct rules, including those prohibiting sexual harassment.

Warn employees that “I was tipsy” is no excuse for saying or doing things that violate company policies.

Include a clear set of consequences for inappropriate behavior and equally clear directions for reporting it.

  • Set up your holiday party as a voluntary-attendance event with no penalty for failing to attend and no compensation for attendance.
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  • Avoid nighttime and weekend holiday party dates, and invite employees’ families to attend. The combination of family members’ presence and the need to come to work the next day can encourage responsible drinking.
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  • On your holiday party invitations, list the event as “business casual attire required” or make it even more formal so employees won’t treat it like an impromptu gathering.
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  • Hire a DJ, hold the event at a skating rink, or find some other activity on which to focus the party so the alcohol becomes secondary to other entertainment.
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  • If you must schedule your holiday party as an evening event, rent an off-premises venue with a liquor license and professional bartenders. These pros are experts at knowing when and how to cut off service to over-eager imbibers.
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  • Arrange for some employees to serve as designated “chaperones” who assure that anyone who overindulges gets a safe ride home.
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  • Cap the number of drinks at a per-person maximum. Use drink tickets that employees must redeem for alcoholic beverages, and don’t allow anyone to obtain or use more than the maximum number of tickets.
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  • Open a cash bar. Donate the proceeds to a charity that your company supports. Alternatively, use some of the proceeds to pay for rides home for employees who overindulge.
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  • Skip self-serve beer kegs, open bars, and roving waiters with refills. Require that a bartender serve every drink.
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  • Ask bartenders to refuse continued service to employees who are over the drink limit or clearly incapacitated. Remind the bartenders that this policy applies to everyone from senior management to the mailroom clerk.
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  • Require an ID from anyone whose age you don’t know, including employees’ family members, and refuse service to anyone who is underage.
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  • Include non-alcoholic options along with beer and wine. Skip hard liquor and punchbowls to minimize the intoxication risk that accompanies drinks with alcohol content that’s difficult to estimate.
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  • Begin serving alcohol after the party starts and end service at least an hour before the event is scheduled to end.
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  • Include a range of food options, and continue food service even after alcohol service ends.
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  • Set up a place for employees to sober up. Don’t rush people out the door if they’re clearly intoxicated. If you must vacate the premises at a specific time, start the process of departure well before your cutoff time and verify that everyone has a safe ride home.
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  • Drive intoxicated employees home or pay for their safe transportation. Assure that whoever is involved in providing rides does not drive an employee to a bar or other place that serves or sells alcohol. If an employee who needs a ride refuses to accept one, confiscate his or her vehicle keys, or contact law enforcement.
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