By Nadira A. Hira
June 8, 2007

Today, our final new Friday feature — “Burning Question.” It’s a straightforward one: You ask, and I figure out a way to answer. And to start, I thought we’d tackle something lots of you have already written me about — drinking. But this is only the beginning, so ask yourself what you’ve always wanted to know, post it here or send it to me at nhira@fortunemail.com, and I’ll see what I can do. Have a great weekend!

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Carolyn from Kansas City, Mo., asks “how to act in a corporate culture that involves a lot of drinking — is it OK to get drunk with a firm partner? Everyone else is…”

Carolyn,

Based on my few years of corporate experience, it’s usually really not okay to get drunk with a firm partner, no matter what everyone else is doing. We all know it happens, but it’s better to be above reproach. If only because, as Elvin Yavuz put it in a comment recently, “people end up talking.” And since they’re going to do that anyway, you’d rather they only had your big promotion or awesome presentation to discuss, instead of your dance routine on the bar at the last happy hour.

But what do we know? To find out the real deal on after-work socializing, I went to the experts. No, not Dr. Phil. I headed to one of my crew’s favorite happy-hour spots, Midtown Manhattan’s Pazza Notte, to ask one of the lounge’s busy bartenders what he thought.

The best advice? If you’re at a drinks event for work, says bartending vet Abdelghani Elmardi, think, “Nice, smooth, and weak.” That way, not only will you be able to resist the temptation to show off your skillz when “I Will Survive” comes on, you’ll be lucid enough to say something winning and witty should the CEO happen to end up next to you.

With six years at Pazza under his belt, the 27-year-old Elmardi — who serves 250 to 300 of the bar’s signature (2-for-1 special) martinis a night to the well-heeled Midtown after-work crowd — has more than a few good war stories. Here, some of his bar-rules to live by:

  • When in Rome… Much like most other workplace situations, take your cues from the leadership. If your boss is having a glass of wine or a beer, chances are you’ll be safe doing the same. Of course, if he or she’s a big old lush and downing them all night — or s/he’s drinking scotch on the rocks, and you know you’re lucky to survive a cosmo — just use your common sense. Don’t do (or drink!) anything you wouldn’t around your grandma. And rest assured that managers who get trashed aren’t likely to last too long — and even if they do, you probably won’t if you act like they do — so don’t follow their example.
  • Beware of those bearing gifts. Coworkers more or less take care of each other at the bar, but even the coolest colleagues can sometimes be your undoing. Elmardi recalls one night when a group of young employees from a nearby company decided to “treat” a coworker: “I got the sense that he was a bit of a ‘smart guy’ at the office,” he says, “so they brought him in, said, ‘the drinks are on us,’ and before you know it, he’d had 12 watermelon martinis. It was kind of funny for me that night, but I don’t think it was so funny for him the next day.”
  • Don’t be a hero. Resist the urge to get competitive, no matter how well you think you can hold your liquor. And realize that the same people who’re cheering at your tenth shot tonight will probably spend the next morning laughing about how drunk you were. “Don’t try to act tough,” Elmardi says. “You’re really not fooling anyone at all.”
  • If you can not drink, don’t. Gauge the vibe of the event. If it’s a celebration or venting session — i.e., the sort of gathering where having a drink with the group is a sign of solidarity or camaraderie — then have one. But if it’s a regular hangout session and you can get away with ordering a cranberry and ginger ale (one of my favorite alcoholic-looking drinks), by all means do.
  • Mix, mingle, but remember — it’s not match.com. Happy hours and other after-work mixers can be a great way to meet people at different levels and build relationships (little “r”) with them. These events are not, however, the best place to build Relationships (big “R”) or worse yet, to have relations. If you’re having the urge to dance on a table, hit on a bartender or waitress, or bring someone of the opposite sex with you to the bathroom, it was time to go home 15 minutes ago.
  • You’re always on the clock. Just because your boss seems too busy throwing back a few to look over your shoulder doesn’t mean s/he’s not still watching you. Elmardi points out that some companies hold recruiting events at the lounge just to observe candidates’ behavior there. So have fun, but represent yourself well. If the boss takes you and a couple coworkers out to drinks, don’t be the person who orders everything on the menu. And when there’s an open bar, ask if the company’s covering tips, too, and leave something if not; it’s a good way to show you’re a decent human being.
  • DON’T GET DRUNK. If you’ve spent the last several minutes scoffing at all this buttoned-up behavior, does Elmardi have a cautionary tale for you! One year, at a company party, an employee got so drunk that the host of the party — who hadn’t been drinking at all — had to help her to the bathroom. En route, she tripped, dragged the host down with her, and the sober person ended up in the hospital with a broken arm. Don’t let that drunkard be you. And besides, you’ll have a lot more fun if you can stand…

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