Ask The Salty Waitress: I'm Too Broke For Office Happy Hour

Dear Salty, I'm a college student with a summer internship at a marketing firm in San Francisco. I like the job overall—the people are nice, I'm learning a lot, and I get to do real work. But while it is a paid internship, I'm barely making enough to cover my portion of the expensive rent. The problem is on Fridays, when a lot of my co-workers go to happy hours after we're done with work.

They tend to pick trendy bars near our office, where even a simple glass of wine costs at least $12 and cocktails are $15 or more. They order appetizers, too, and I could easily blow my entire weekend food budget on these snacks alone. I track every dollar I spend these days, and I'm running out of ways to cut corners. The happy hour is an informal social thing, so the company doesn't pay for it, but I think it's valuable for me to go for networking reasons. I've skipped a few, but I worry my coworkers will think I'm antisocial if I don't go. Going but just ordering soda also seems weird, and like they'd think I might have a problem with alcohol?

Just wondering if you have any tips for eating and drinking cheap, or whether I should just not go.

Thanks,Broke And Trying To Fit In


Dear Broke,

I've never had an unpaid or underpaid internship, but I do know a thing or two about eating and drinking on the cheap. Cozy up and let's see if Salty can't help you save a few bucks.

I think you have options, and it's probably best to mix and match some of these together. Remember that while you might feel like your coworkers think you're antisocial for not attending one, they probably don't. And while you might feel they're watching every sip and bite you take, they're probably not. Unless you make a big deal about what you're ordering or not ordering, I bet they won't notice.

So, what to do?

  • Skip a few happy hours every month. I don't know the culture of your office and how not-mandatory-but-actually-sort-of-expected these things are, but if you only showed up to every other week, would that really be a big deal? I mean, don't your coworkers have dates and life and travel and stuff, too? Make an excuse every now and then—say you have a show to go to, or dinner with your roommate, or whatever.
  • Ignore the shared apps. These are a budget-killer—I once ate two coconut-fried shrimp off a huge platter and owed like $12 when we split the bill. Bullshit. Again, you can say you're planning to eat later or just aren't really interested in splitting anything. If you're being seriously peer-pressured into communal chicken wings, that's weird.
  • Order on your own, and pay cash. This one's key. If you pay for your own drinks as you go, you're less likely to get rolled into some big tab that you have to awkwardly haggle over at the end. Order the cheapest happy hour beer and nurse that baby for all it's worth.
  • Show up late. This is how I roll to most social functions I'm secretly dreading. If your coworkers head to the bar at 5, can you stick around the office "finishing up something" until 6? They'll already be drinking and not paying attention to what you order, and you can nurse one drink until the thing winds down.
  • Find a plan B. Not sure how much say you have in the happy hour planning, but if they are as low-key as you say, could you suggest a cheaper place? "Hey, Dive Bar has $5 pitchers on Fridays! Could be fun to do something more casual this week?" You could also skip the happy hours altogether—say you have a standing commitment, if anyone asks—and find other ways to network and socialize, like getting coffee with a coworker.
  • Hope these help. If your coworkers are as nice and well-adjusted as you say, they shouldn't pressure you to show up to every happy hour or else. If you do good work and are pleasant to be around, I highly doubt they'll hold a grudge because you don't want to share bruschetta.

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