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Career Corner
Office Etiquette -- Outside the Building

Alexandra Levit -- Relax, tell jokes, have fun -- but don't forget that business is business and you're still on the clock.

Happy Hour, team lunches, you name it -- there are plenty of opportunities to socialize in Corporate America. Partaking in these outings gets you out of sterile Cube City and allows you to pretend you actually have a life. The thought of free food alone is enough to put you in a good mood.

So by all means, go to it and have a blast. Just keep a couple of things in the back of your mind.

It's tempting to let loose with your colleagues, especially when you're out of the office. However, you should never let alcohol (or drugs) get the best of you. Remember how your college roommate said you were the biggest blabbermouth on campus after you'd had a few? Just think of what you might have to say about your job, your boss, and your co-workers if you get smashed with them.

When your boss waves his corporate Amex, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of free rounds on the company, so you should prepare for this situation in advance.

A few hours before you go out to the restaurant or bar, eat a hefty meal and drink plenty of water. Once you're there, do not get drunk. It's tough enough to maintain your corporate persona when you're perfectly sober. When alcohol steals your inhibition, you find yourself saying and doing things you'd ordinarily consider big no nos.

I'm not going to say you can't consume alcohol because we're all adults. In fact, if you repeatedly shun drinking in your colleagues' company, you might be perceived as weird or a loser.

The key is to find the middle ground. No matter how much peer pressure comes your way, you should stick to one drink (two if you have a high tolerance). Pretend it's Pepto Bismol, sip it super slow, and it will last the whole evening. Take heart -- you can still party with the best of them, just save it for your best friend's tapas party or your Friday night poker game.

The good news is, drinking is not typically the focus when the boss takes the team out for lunch. The bad news is, you have to watch what you say and do even more because people are actually paying attention.

When the group arrives at the restaurant, don't sit next to your manager at the big table. You'll look like a brown-noser to your co-workers, and if conversations split off, guess who you'll be stuck talking to?

Also, don't be the first one to order. Note whether your colleagues are ordering drinks and the price of their entrees. Then, follow suit with a selection that is perfectly in line with what everyone else is having.

And roll your eyes if you must, but I have to put it out there -- watch the table manners. Remember the dating rules your mother told you when you were getting dressed for your prom? Avoid talking while you're chewing and don't order anything you have to eat with your hands or is a stain waiting to happen. If the table is sharing dishes, don't hog.

Eating out with the team is different than eating out with your friends. Relax, tell jokes, have fun -- but don't forget that business is business and you're still on the clock.

Alexandra Levit worked for a Fortune 500 software company and an international public relations firm before starting Inspiration @Work, an independent marketing communications business. She's the author of They Don't Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business World (Career Press 2004), This excerpt was reprinted, with permission of the publisher, Career Press, Franklin Lakes, NJ. All rights reserved.

© 2005 Alexandra Levit

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