I’ve not eaten a canapé for the whole of December. I’m devastated. This time of year is usually stacked with enforced partying at corporate and client gatherings, but because of the excuse of the year — Covid-19 — they have all been cancelled.
You may feel you’ve escaped lightly donning a Christmas jumper for a few hours for your team’s virtual party on Zoom, but the dearth of physical events could have an unpalatable effect on one’s personal finances. We have lost the golden opportunity to schmooze the bosses, push for more cash or, if you’re disgruntled, seek out new opportunities without raising suspicion.
Cocktail parties are a fertile stalking ground. Over the years, I have worked out how best to play these seemingly innocuous events.
Some judge a corporate “do” by the quality of guest list, or the grandiose nature of the venue. I am more discerning and prefer to judge by the quality of the fizz, which needs to be a fine English or tasty and recognisable champagne, poured with abundance and served cold.
Any event where the fizz on offer is Prosecco, no matter how cold it is, it’s a no. If there’s a vodka ice luge, then beware — you’re at a media party and that’s where the official photographer will hang out.
As for the food, if the canapé selection is supermarket or has been anywhere near the “meecro-wav-ay” as Nigella Lawson would say, then I’m out — it simply isn’t worth getting fat for. Life’s too short to tolerate such a poor expression of thanks. If the company in question can’t afford a decent party, they’re certainly not going to be able to afford my daily rate.
When we’re allowed out again, remember that for a corporate party to be useful, you’ll need a strategy. When you arrive, undertake some reconnaissance. Accountants and lawyers will often stand near the door, ready to pounce on anyone who might be a potential client. Stride past them with confidence, otherwise you’ll be stuck all evening (these people charge by the hour, so brevity isn’t generally an attribute).
If you want a night full of chat and hilarious banter, head towards the bar. Deal doers and recruiters will gravitate here, and conveniently, it’s often near the canapé “landing strip”, giving you first dibs on the nosh.
Most importantly, you must work out where the big bosses and grands fromages are located. They won’t be at the edge of the room — they’ll be circulating as they will want to hawk the joint and they’re desperate not to look isolated.
If, and only if, you have something useful to say then now’s your chance. There’s no gate keeper of a PA to stop you, and because so many people actively avoid such an encounter, they will never have been so pleased to see you!
Last year, I attended two particularly good corporate shindigs. The Goldman Sachs festive drinks party, held at the National Portrait Gallery, wasn’t overly lavish, but it was classy, well attended and perfectly catered. I bumped into former colleagues, decision makers, wedged-up entrepreneurs and marvellous storytellers. And the canapés! Edible works of art, all washed down with proper champers.
And the other? Why of course it was FT Weekend’s internal seasonal gathering. Neither overstated nor under provided. It must have gone well, because I’m still here.
One final tip: when the sweet canapés arrive, that’s your cue to grab a couple of the miniaturised chocolate spectaculars or mini brûlées and summon an Uber Exec before you make a spectacle of yourself. Don’t be a straggler unless it’s your party.
For all my wistful reminiscing, will firms return to throwing cocktail parties in the post-Covid world? True, they will have saved a fortune this year — but may actually find they lose out on business. A well-planned and executed event creates significant goodwill and deal flow. If the guest list is strong with a high bar to entry, your attendees will spend the rest of next year ensuring they’re still on your list.
As much as I love a box set, it’s no substitute for a good party. It’s unlikely you’ll prepare a range of visually stunning nibbles to hoover up as you binge-watch The Mandalorian on the sofa with the dogs eyeing your every move.
There is of course a bigger horror ahead — the enforced partying of New Year’s Eve. Corporate hospitality rarely extends this far into the season, making it expensive and usually a let down.
I’m really not fussed that social distancing measures have caused spectators to be banned from the annual fireworks display on the Embankment in London this year. You’ll get a much better view on the telly, not to mention a live set from Nile Rodgers and Chic.
Years ago, I was due to present a New Year’s Eve radio show from a studio near the South Bank. I decided to cycle there, and got caught up in a motionless throng with people tutting: “Honestly, who brings a bicycle with them on New Year’s Eve?”
My only escape was to shout “Doctor coming through!” The path cleared, and I arrived just in time to host a live phone-in littered with drunken callers.
Pre-Covid, the easiest way to avoid the awful pain of New Year’s Eve was to go abroad, but that’s largely off the menu now. Every year, for a decade, I spent a most enjoyable couple of weeks in the Caribbean. The hotel provided everything, from glorious cocktails, dinner, live band, fireworks and even a hangover-curing breakfast the next morning.
Some intrepid sun seekers may have planned to make the annual pilgrimage, but I decided to save the money and avoid the mandatory privately funded Covid test.
By some miracle, at the time of writing, my Essex beachside paradise of Frinton-on-Sea is one of the few parts of the country to have avoided “tier three or four” restrictions. Not that it matters much. Sadly, at the tennis club that I chair, we’ve cancelled our New Year’s Eve dinner.
For those restaurants that can open, they’ll bring forward the traditional countdown to 10pm to sustain the party atmosphere. But I’m going old school — it’s time for the fondue set to make an appearance. And we’ll celebrate early. I’m all in favour of fake bongs, as I’m at an age where any requirement to stay up late has long since passed. I’ll be very happy with a delicious retro dinner, a few glasses of fizz and an early night to end 2020 as soon as possible.
James Max is a property expert and radio presenter. The views expressed are personal. Twitter: If you have a problem for James, contact him at