Work parties are terrible. Here's how to escape as quickly (and politely) as possible. [Photograph: Shutterstock]

Dear Molly,

I feel obligated to attend a fair number of parties and events as part of my job. It's not something I enjoy—honestly, ten times out of ten I'd rather be home reading a book—but it would be impolitic of me to miss them. Can you suggest a polite way to limit my stay at these events? I don't want to be rude, but I'm sick of spending what adds up to hours every week at these work events dressed up as fun.

By the way, I'm not talking seated dinners. These events are cocktail party-style with drinks and maybe a few passed hors d'œuvres. Other people seem to go in and out of them with some ease, I'm just not sure how to do it.

Thanks so much,
Stuck at the 'Party'

Ah, the party escape. It's an important skill to learn, a craft to develop, and an art to perfect.

I'm with you on the work "parties." I know plenty of people love them, but like you, I prefer to keep work events and my social life a tad more distinct. Sometimes, though, you can't get out of these things. When that's the case, I suggest the following:

1. Know exactly why you "have" to go. Is it to see a specific person? Meet someone? See how a space functions? Learn about something in your field? Know why you are going before the party starts.

2. Most likely you need to see or meet a certain person. Know exactly what you are going to say to them. It may be just 'thanks for the invitation', or you may want something more—to establish a day to have coffee, to get their email address, whatever. Just know what it is.

3. Arrive on the early side, but not first thing. You want an element of a crowd to have shown up already so whoever you need to see will likely be there.

4. Get a beverage in hand. This establishes to anyone who sees you that you are at the party, not just arrived.

5. Find your target(s). Say hello, introduce yourself. Make some pleasant conversation for five to ten minutes. During this time, finish or mostly finish your beverage. Then say you don't want to take up all their time, but before you go... and then ask for or say the thing you're there for. If all you wanted was to meet them, simply say how nice it was to do so.

6. If there is a clear host or someone specific invited you, thank them for the invitation and the lovely event.

7. Make your way toward the bar for a refill, but just drop the glass off and head for the door. Enjoy the sense of a party well attended.

That's how I do it. I'd love to hear if others have tips for graceful escapes.

More Manner Matters

Ask Us!

We love receiving your etiquette-related questions. Do you have a dining-related pickle (and not the delicious kind that indicates you are in a good deli)? Email


Comments can take up to a minute to appear - please be patient!

Previewing your comment: