thIt’s time for the annual office holiday party. No matter how festive the occasion however, it’s important to remember that a holiday party is an extension of the work environment. While it’s okay to relax and have fun, a professional demeanor is still important because your behavior reflects on you as an employee or as a leader.

Jacqueline Whitmore is an internationally-recognized etiquette expert, author of Poised for Success: Mastering The Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. (Websites appear below.)  Whitmore offers tips to avoid a night of barefaced blunders:

Don’t make a beeline for the food and drink. It’s best to eat a little something before the event so you don’t come to the party hungry. Scope out the crowd first and the goodies second. Stay away from messy or difficult-to-eat foods (anything in a red sauce or on a bone) or large hors d’oeuvres that can’t be eaten in one bite.

Hold your glass in your left hand. Always keep your right hand free for handshaking. No one likes to shake a cold, wet hand. Avoid juggling your food and drink and don’t talk with your mouth full of food. Ladies, leave your large handbag at home. It only gets in the way. Carry a wristlet instead.

No swinging from the chandeliers. An open bar isn’t an open invitation to drink yourself into oblivion. holiday party week ideasIndulging in too much alcohol could have unfavorable repercussions if you’re not careful. To maintain your professionalism, limit your alcohol intake to one or two drinks.

Choose your guest carefully. The person you bring to the party can reflect either positively or negatively on you. Follow the dress code and make sure your date does too. This is not the time to wear your most revealing outfit or your favorite blue jeans and a t-shirt. Keep it festive, yet professional.

Don’t talk shop. Though work topics are bound to come up, this is not the time to plan your company’s next advertising campaign, talk about the recent layoffs, or gossip about a co-worker’s divorce. Keep the conversation light and positive. Be sure to include spouses, partners and guests in the conversation.

NOTE: Additional tips will be presented later this week.