How To: When You’re Invited

The first invitations have started to populate the inbox. After a blissfully uneventful lull of a couple of months, people I don’t know have started to request – with pleasure – my company at various gatherings. It’s as if the patron saint of Christmas Drinks sent my doubtful mind a confirmation today when the lingering scent of mulled wine hit me in the office corridor this afternoon: “Dear child, it’s here. End of year drinks season. Start running.”

So here you are, a 10-point plan from the Rita Konig* of networking cocktails:

1. Anyone who sends an invitation less than one week before the event is not serious. It is also possible that no-one RSVPd to their original invitation and they are now desperately scraping the barrel for warm bodies to fill the function room. You will not want to be one of them. Decline. 

2. Visualise yourself at the event the previous night when choosing your outfit. It will inevitably be hot. There’s alcohol involved. In my case the combination of these means that my face flares up to a colour far beyond “rosy”. This rules out chunky knits and polo-neck sweaters. Also remember that you will not be the only guest enjoying a hot, dark-red beverage from a flimsy paper cup in a room packed full of people. It is highly likely that someone will trip and pour the contents on your outfit: thus avoid white and cream. 

3. If there are colleagues present, small-talk will flow naturally. “Busy, huh?” is an opening line that has never failed me and easily elevates things to the next level. 

4. If you don’t know anyone, I suggest you busy yourself with the brochures. They are often displayed on a separate table, usually conveniently placed close to the entrance/exit. With any luck you’ll get an USB-stick/pen/reflector in exchange for your keen interest out of pity. Win-win. A more sociable option is to hover around the high tables and (always accompanied by a friendly smile) help yourself to the sweaty cheese-cubes or salted nuts arranged in ridiculously small little pots on the tables – all the while avoiding eye contact. 

5. No matter how famished you think you are, don’t attempt to casually enjoy hors d’oeuvres that make the rounds amongst the crowds, unless you have both hands free and preferably a set of steel cutlery in your purse. They are what I like to call the “gourmet burger- deceit”: visually pleasing, but impossible to eat. Bread-based cocktail snacks will become soggy the minute they leave the kitchen. Unless you shove the whole thing in your mouth in one go (and risk choking on it), the soggy base will suddenly give in and you’ll end up with greasy tapenade all over your fingers and the front of your outfit, possibly with the addition of various garnish stuck between your teeth in the most unbecoming way.

A word of actual warning: never attempt anything that at later inspection turns out to be a potato (often camouflaged with cream cheese and/or fish). Don’t –  even if they’d look manageably small in size. There might eventually not be enough space in your mouth to either chew it into smaller bits or to turn it around to attack it from a different angle. Potatoes can be surprisingly hard like that, even when boiled. The only way out of this situation alive, literally, is to make a discreet exit to toilet. You’re welcome. 

6. Try to arrive after the speeches if you can. Rather self-explanatory, but surprisingly many people seem to make this rookie mistake. (If you know of Christmas drinks where non-awkward speeches can be enjoyed with a side of beverage, please make these known.) 

7. This is not a style blog, but making comments/demanding explanations for why people are not drinking alcohol is a huge faux pas. It’s 2018 and there are more pressing issues in the world to worry about. Let people eat and drink what they want. For perspective, Tom Cruise wanted to eat his kid’s placenta back in 2006. 

8. Have a contingency plan. Dinner reservation is never a bad idea, because we need to eat, and meeting people you actually like will wipe away the networking experience. 

9. Remember, it’s not called networking for nothing. 99% of people at any work-related social function would rather be somewhere else. You are not alone. Once the horrors of the season are firmly past us, it will be another couple of months until people will  want to mingle in a depressingly lit hotel vestibule over flat Prosecco.

10. “I have to buy a scented candle and the shop closes in 15” is a valid reason not to attend any event.

*I used to be a big fan of Rita Konig and her tips for entertaining until I realised I don’t like entertaining. 

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