How to Toast Employee Success Without Crossing Boundaries

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — At many small businesses, bosses may seem more like friends, subordinates may seem more like fraternity brothers and cutting loose is part of the company culture. While that's usually a good thing, it can be easy to spend too much time and money partying and end up overstepping HR guidelines. Experts weigh in on the best ways small businesses can reward and celebrate their team without crossing any boundaries.

There's a happy medium between rewarding employees with a catered lunch at the office and going all out with a celebratory booze fest, says Richard Cohen, a labor and employment attorney with Fox Rothschild.

"You don't have to have just a plain old lunch. There are lots of different types of events you can have with alcohol and lots of ways that you can be smart about it," Cohen says.

For example, if you're having the party at your office or at an event space, make sure there is a professional bartender on site, he says. Bartenders are trained not to serve intoxicated people, and they can be helpful as just one more "adult" on-site, making sure that things don't get too rowdy. You can also have a conversation with your bartender before the party starts and let them know your policy — if you have a two- or three-drink maximum, and so on.

A great way to enforce the drink maximum is by using drink tickets, says Traci Bild, CEO of executive coaching and recruiting firm Bild & Co. Each employee can get two drink tickets to use for the evening, and once they're gone, the party is over. This is also an excellent way to cut costs associated with an open bar.

"I believe if you have a great team, they know better than to order drink after drink," Bild says. "But you can also tell the restaurant or bar that no more than two drinks per person are allowed because this is a company event. Bartenders will halt any attempts to drink more."