A Look Inside Your Typical Wall Street Holiday Party

holiday party

Photo: By Yelp.com on flickr

Your MD is standing on top of a table downing shots of whiskey.Meanwhile, your assistant is pole-dancing in front of everyone as the associate you’ve been thinking about murdering the entire year offers you tequila.

The bottles are free and the models are looking even better than usual – most likely due to those free bottles.

No, it’s not a lucid dream: it’s the holiday party at your investment bank.

Or at least, it was – before holiday parties were banned.

The Grand Tradition of Holiday Parties

Back in the day, holiday parties at banks were huge – in financial centres like NYC and London thousands of people would show up and get obscenely drunk.

Banks held them at places like the Waldorf Astoria in New York and rented out entire hotels for the night.

Everyone from the CEO and the most senior Managing Directors all the way down to admins and support staff was invited – everyone except for the clients themselves.

And you got unlimited food, drinks, and mayhem as the icing on the cake.

One year Barclays even spent $1.2 million USD on its 3,000-guest party in London.

It fit in perfectly with the banker mindset: work hard, play hard. The holiday party was the one night of the year when you could have fun no matter how many all-nighters you had pulled.

Work slows down around the holidays – unless you get an insane client who just needs to close a deal by December 31 – so taking a break is easier.

In my first year in banking, there were 2-3 week periods where my roommates didn’t see me at all, so they assumed I was locked away in a Siberian prison.

But after I got back from the holiday party that year and told them all the juicy details, they started asking me what’s it like being an investment banker and whether I could write them a recommendation.

(At which point I told them to stop thinking about it and ran away.)

What Do You Mean By “Play Hard?”

Holiday parties are (were) amazing because you could do things that would normally get you fired – but then escape the ax by claiming it was all a drunken shenanigan.

Spending millions on parties happens whenever there’s a bull market and all desire to maintain a good image goes out the window.

You’d see:

  • Secretaries and support staff going home with bankers
  • 60-year olds dancing hip hop
  • People relieving themselves in… places that were not the bathroom
  • “Extracurricular activities” afterward like strip clubs (and yes, females tagged along)

Sometimes banks even had traditions at their parties:

  • A certain secretary would pick a different analyst to go home with each year
  • All the analysts had to perform a skit or sing or doing something else embarrassing
  • New hires would have to give speeches

So even if your bank didn’t spend millions on a holiday party like Barclays did, you’d still have a pretty good time there.

Aside from training, it was the most fun you could have as a junior banker.

The Pathetic Shell of Holiday Parties

In a post-bailout world, though, most banks have cut back on or eliminated holiday parties altogether.

When you’ve just accepted a $50 billion bailout from the federal government, the last thing you want to do is rent out the Waldorf Astoria and have drunken people jumping out of windows.

So in times of recession and financial crisis, holiday parties are more likely to be individual groups or teams going out to bars and the MD buying drinks for everyone.

Or maybe a quick trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the cafeteria, or… the public library.

Sometimes there won’t even be an official holiday party at all – in which case you invite friends out and turn it into the best night possible given that you’re worth a few million less than your MD.

What NOT to Do at Holiday Parties

I won’t lie: it would be a miracle if you got to go to a real holiday party in the smouldering remains of the post-bailout financial world.

But in case that happens, you need to know what to do and what not to do – and as with fashion, it’s easier to give advice on the “what not to do” part.

Get So Drunk You Assault Your MD

You can get away with a lot at holiday parties, but you can’t get away with everything – so avoid getting so drunk that you start fighting people or accidentally reveal your secret life as Patrick Bateman.

Comments you make could still be held against you later on – just like every interaction with a banker is an interview, everything you do as an analyst or associate counts toward your ranking and bonus.

Bring Your Significant Other

If everyone else is bringing theirs, sure, go ahead. But otherwise you’ll run into problems as you blurt out things that no one else should hear, or as you start eyeing that cute guy/girl you’ve been interested in since training.

You’ll probably break up with your significant other before you even get to the holiday party – but just in case you defy the odds, watch out.

Hook Up With Co-Workers

This is still a terrible idea, and it’s even worse if you do it in a drunken stupor.

Imagine the awkwardness of dating co-workers in normal times… and now realise that instead of 40 hours per week, you’ll be seeing them 80-100+ hours per week.

Once (not “if”) you break up, you’ll have an awkward situation at work.

So resist the urge and if you really have to satisfy your needs, go for the support staff rather than fellow bankers.

Be Boring

There are 2 big mistakes to avoid here:

  1. Not show up in the first place due to “too much work.”
  2. Stand around by yourself and not talk to anyone else.

No matter how slammed you are, you can always take 30-60 minutes out of your day and show up to say hi to everyone.

If you don’t show up, it will backfire as senior bankers start to wonder if you’re a loser and whether you’re social enough to get promoted and wine and dine clients one day.

#2 is easier to avoid because everyone else will be moderately to extremely drunk – so unless you go out of your way to hide in the corner, others will approach you.

Yes, you need to burn the midnight oil as a junior banker but you also need to be likable – being boring subtracts from your “likability” points.


If you’re in a more senior position (i.e. not a newly minted 1st year analyst or associate) and you’re making tons of money for the firm, you might still get away with inappropriate antics anyway.

It depends on who likes and defends you – if the head MD of the office worships you, he’ll overlook how you were hitting on the associate’s wife, even if the associate wants you fired.

And if you’re on your way out anyway, you might get away with even more since it won’t matter much.

But take those risks at your own peril – and don’t blame me if you get fired for hooking up with that assistant who used to be your MD’s mistress.

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