If you’re meeting a contact for drinks after work, you might think it’s safe to get hosed. After all, you don’t work at the same company, and you’re off the clock. Nope. Unless it’s a good friend who happens to be in the industry (in which case, stop calling them a “contact” and don’t refer to your plans as “work drinks”), this person is potentially someone you hope to work with in the future. Getting sloppy when you don’t know someone too well is not a great prelude to asking him to refer you to position at his company. Also, it’s after work, and you have no idea what obligations this person has at home. Don’t expect him to stay out all night. One drink is always fine. Two is acceptable if there’s time, you're having a great conversation, and you can hold your alcohol. Three’s too many. And if you drove, remember to keep track of how long it takes you to sober up -- if you only have half an hour of the person’s time left, skip round 2.
Like work drinks, the majority of people you’ll be interacting with at a networking event are new or not well-established contacts, so your goal is to make a good impression. Going shot for shot with the drunk dude at the bar will not accomplish this. Instead of making one temporary drunken bestie, you want to talk briefly with a multitude of people, which means your drinking should be on the conservative end. For one thing, you don’t want to waste too much time getting the bartender’s attention. But more importantly, you want to be sober when you make an initial introduction with a new face. A larger industry holiday party is the only exception to this rule. If the event is at a club with an open bar and DJ, you don’t want to be the stick in the mud only talking about work. That’s not to say you must drink to be cool, but if you want to, you’re welcome to enjoy a light buzz. Just don’t get sloppy, sick, handsy, or twerky.
When you’re at an event that’s exclusive to your coworkers, err on the side of conservatism, especially if HR or your boss is there or you’ve got a lot to do the next day. An official work party is not a place to get trashed and should be treated more like work drinks. That said, if you’re close with your coworkers, no one with the power to fire you is around, and the gathering is more of a happy hour than a sanctioned event, consider yourself 95% off the clock. It’s still never a good idea to get so drunk you do something embarrassing or inappropriate, but if you truly trust your coworkers as friends, you can let loose. If you’re out with a mix of people -- close coworkers and some folks from another department you don’t really interact with -- don’t let your guard down completely.
And what if you don’t drink? It can be hard to avoid alcohol in Hollywood, but it’s doable, and totally okay. Grabbing coffee instead of drinks or ordering a soda at the bar is totally fine. Never let anyone pressure you to imbibe anything you don’t want to -- even if it will “get you ahead,” you probably won’t be happy running in a crowd where you’re judged more on how many tequila shots you can down instead of how many scripts you can sell.