How to Throw a Work Party Without Getting Fired
Photographer: Ben Rayner for Bloomberg Businessweek
“Work party” might be the most oxymoronic phrase in the English language. Can you really host people at your home after spending all day reviewing PowerPoint presentations with them? Yes! The extended Etc. team did it recently—and even had fun. So can you, as long as you follow a few rules that don’t always apply in other social situations. Get ready to get down with that crazy crew from accounts payable.
Have Some Manners
Do’s and don’ts of playing host.
Do: Invite everyone But if that’s just not feasible, contact invitees on their personal email or by text, says Lizzie Post, co-author of Emily Post’s The Etiquette Advantage in Business. “Let them know, ‘Hey, please don’t talk about it at work,’ ” she says. Pro tip: Ask about dietary restrictions in the invite.
Do: Be the one who answers the door—not your partner or kid Take coats, offer drinks and appetizers, and invite guests on a house tour. Choose the rooms you’re comfortable showing and put away anything you don’t want to discuss.
Don’t: Talk about the office A good conversation starter is, “So, Jim, what keeps you busy outside work?” says Debra Fine, author of The Art of Small Talk. Questions like that foster friendship better than blather about the 9 to 5. If the person doesn’t recognize your interest as sincere, follow up. Fine suggests: “Seriously, if the office servers exploded and you could never work again, what would you do for fun?”
Don’t: Ask questions that might result in awkward answers According to Fine, these might include: Did your son get into Northwestern? Are you married? Do you have kids? Where’s Steve, your husband? “What if Steve left me? I don’t want to talk about Steve!” Fine says.
Do: Build camaraderie “Guests turn to partners or friends as crutches,” Fine explains. “Once the meal is served, say, ‘Hey, everybody, let’s go around the table and tell everyone what you thought you’d be in high school.’ ”
Do: Have a plan for getting the inevitable drunk guest home That may mean driving him yourself or having your best office buddy get in a cab with him. “Never put someone in a cab alone,” Post warns. Try this approach, she says: “Chris, it’s probably time to get you home. Phil’s driving past your house, anyway.” To avoid being Chris, stick to a “one and done” drink policy.
Prepare an Opening Line
The key to surviving a work party? Knowing what not to say to these classic office characters.
The chief executive officer ...
“I’ll tell you what: It’s nice to spend a Saturday not working for a change. Which isn’t to say I don’t love working on Saturdays—I love working for this company, period. It’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. Becoming a parent? Anyone can do that. But not anyone can be lucky enough to have a job where you truly believe in what you’re doing. I should be paying you for the opportunity. You want 20 bucks? Here’s 20 bucks.”
The co-worker who got the promotion you wanted ...
“I think the best candidate got the job … not. Just kidding! But seriously, I can’t wait to see you fail.”
The office gossip ...
“Have you heard? Angela and Mark are arguing downstairs. I think he just called her the B-word, and I don’t mean ‘brilliant.’ ”
The intern ...
“I just realized we’ve never been formally introduced. Zach, is it? Nice to meet you, Zach, I’m [say name]. Zach, can you explain how Snapchat works? The pictures just disappear? What’s the point?”
The colleague who always gets embarrassingly drunk at every company party ...
“So … did you drive here?”
Bottle It Up
Take the stress out of summer-party planning by buying wine in bulk.
“I’m a huge fan of having ‘house wines’ around for entertaining purposes in the summer,” says Liz Nicholson, buyer at New York’s Frankly Wines. It makes hosting a spontaneous gathering that much easier—plus, “buying by the case often gives you savings.” If you’re dealing with small crowds on just a few occasions, one case (12 bottles) might last, but if your ambitions are larger than that—and shouldn’t they be?—you’ll want at least two. Here are three affordable summer wines to stock up on:
White: Font-Mars picpoul de pinet 2016 ($13; wineworksonline.com*)
The picpoul grape, indigenous to France’s Languedoc region, is grown just a few miles from the Mediterranean. The Font-Mars is crisp and refreshing, with grapefruit, floral, and briny notes.
Rosé: Anton Bauer 2016 rosé ($13; unwinedva.com)
This takes the bright-red fruit tones of Austria’s Zweigelt grape and deepens them by blending in syrah and merlot. Floral, with notes of red cherries and raspberries.
Red: Ca’ La Bionda Valpolicella Classico 2016 ($18; moorebrothers.com)
Valpolicella is a classic, light summer red—and it’s good when served chilled. Its cherry and gentle spice aromas are rounded out by a smooth texture and long-lasting finish.
*If you’re ordering wines by the case, especially at these price points, it’s a better value to buy local and avoid shipping costs. At this volume, most merchants are willing to order a wine for you, even if they don’t normally carry it.
Do Better Than Burgers
Six caterers to sate your guests’ appetites.
Philadelphia: Poi Dog Philly
The owners of this food-cart catering company, Kiki Aranita and Chris Vacca, have roots in Hawaii and Philadelphia, respectively. Dishes such as scrapple musubi meld their sensibilities: Instead of Spam, the canned ham beloved in the islands, it’s made with Pennsylvania’s favorite mystery meat. Buffet-style parties start at $15 per person.
Chicago: Big Delicious Planet
When menu planning, caterer Heidi Moorman Coudal walks clients through the 50 raised beds in her urban garden, pointing out which of the 100 varieties of organic vegetables, fruits, herbs, and edible flowers will be in season for their event. For a summer dinner party priced at $35 a head, she’ll turn her harvest into side dishes such as purple cauliflower tabbouleh and roasted rainbow carrots, serving them alongside grilled chicken with a harissa marinade and a stone-fruit pie.
Los Angeles: Taste of Pace
Pace Webb’s menus interpret regional Italian flavors by way of California’s farmers markets. She strives for zero waste in her kitchen—even turning orange rinds into fresh marmalade. A dinner party with duck salami, salmon rillettes, and wine-soaked goat cheese to start, followed by dishes such as grilled hanger steak or beet and ricotta gnudi, starts at $125 per guest.
San Francisco: Izakaya Rintaro
Guests will definitely want to Instagram Sylvan Mishima Brackett’s wooden shidashi boxes. The chef fills them with things like gyoza, squash croquettes, and sashimi, and carefully plates each one on antique Japanese dishes. Besides shidashi, Izakaya Rintaro also offers full-service catering and will even set up a grill to cook yakitori if you have outdoor space. Off-site events start at $500.
Houston: Agricole Hospitality
The people of Houston have been lining up lately for the inventive, farm-fresh dishes at Agricole’s trio of restaurants. Since the company began offering off-site catering two years ago, you can customize menus with dishes from all three. Starting at $50 per guest, your party can include hors d’oeuvres such as arancini with salsa verde from Italian joint Coltivare; mini tacos stuffed with pork, shrimp, chicken, or Brussels sprouts from the whiskey-and-taco-focused Eight Row; and beef sliders on pretzel buns styled after the burgers of Revival Market butcher shop.
New York: Harvest & Revel
The extended Etc. team’s afternoon started off with a rhubarb-ginger spritz made by using local Greenhook Ginsmiths gin and fresh rhubarb-ginger syrup. Co-owners Sara Elise and Ora Wise followed that up with rhubarb, coriander, and chili-strewn lamb ribs served with minted labneh; a salad of halloumi cheese, avocado, little gem lettuces, pickled sweet peppers, and Castelvetrano olives; and a vegetarian corn carbonara with housemade ricotta and lemon zest. They finished up with two ice pops: blueberry-lemon cream and chocolate-dipped cashew banana. Prices start at $90 per person (with a $1,000 minimum).
Get the Right Gear
Make sure there are plenty of comfy poufs.
As pictured in top photo:
CB2 braided hemp pouf
Govino shatterproof wine glasses
$18 for four; govinowine.com
Bambu 7-inch plates
$8 for eight; bambuhome.com
Terrain tasseled linen throw blankets
$98 each; shopterrain.com
Preserve 24-piece medium-weight, disposable cutlery set
CB2 three-piece Amici vase set
UE Wonderboom speaker
Small speaker, big sound.
Goal Zero Yeti 150 portable power station kit
The USB ports will be lifesavers when everyone’s phone dies.
54-quart Coleman stainless steel cooler
Handles make it easy to haul; the drain spout makes cleanup a nonissue.
Lumio classic lamp
Literary crowd? These books hide bulbs that give off a soft glow.