Retirement Party Etiquette: 5 Rules to Know Beforehand

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So, you've been invited to a retirement party... 

It could be a breakroom bash or a big blowout at your family’s home. The way you participate will vary for different retirement parties, but it should be a fun time! 

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You might be the host, running around and making sure everyone’s all set. Maybe you’re a distant relative, visiting the retiree for the first time. Whatever your role, you should be able to enjoy yourself.

In this etiquette guide, we’ll share some tips for you to feel comfortable and prepared. You’ll have a good time and help make a lasting send-off for your new senior citizen friend. 

What Should You Wear to a Retirement Party?

Work retirement party attire tends to be similar to regular workwear—unless it’s being held offsite or after hours. If business-casual is fine for your regular workday, business casual will most likely be fine for the retirement party. 

If you know there’s a party that day and your office tends toward casual, aim for a slightly nicer look. Try for nice, non-distressed jeans and closed-toe shoes, for example, just in case the party is a little nicer than expected.

If this is a private retirement party thrown by the retiree’s spouse or children, you might have a few options for attire. If they make it clear that it’s a fancy affair, look on the invitation to get a clue to what degree. Do they expect suits, tuxes, and ballgowns, or would a simple sundress or a button-down with slacks be fine? 

In most cases, the invitation should let you know how to dress. Designations work their way down from “black tie” and “white tie” to “casual” or “beachwear.” 

Some parties are themed. If you are expected to wear a Hawaiian shirt or a particular color, your invitation should let you know. Be sure to dress appropriately. You don’t want to stick out in the pictures or come across as a party pooper. You never know—a special retirement party may be on the retiree’s bucket list.

The goal is to celebrate and make the day grand for the retiree. If you aren’t sure what to wear, contact the party host. They won’t fault you for asking what the style of the occasion will be.

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Do You Need to Bring a Gift or Card to a Retirement Party?

It’s generally expected that you’ll bring a gift or at least a card to a retirement party. That said, there are some scenarios where you might not opt for a gift, or you can pitch in on a group gift. Here are some examples to consider:

  • Workplace party with a group gift. Usually, if your workplace has picked out a larger gift, they’ll give you the option to join in. Usually, there’s a communal card for you to sign, too. If there’s no plan for a group gift, you can suggest and plan for one.
  • Workplace party for someone you don’t know well. If you aren’t close to the retiree at the office, a card with a simple gift, like a reasonably-priced restaurant gift card, works fine. If you aren’t really in a position to do gifts at all, the card will suffice.
  • Workplace party for a close friend. Get a gift and a card, but keep the gift to a reasonable amount for the party. Extravagant gifts at workplace parties may make others’ gifts look paltry. Focus on making the gift meaningful, rather than spending big bucks.
  • Non-workplace party where the honored guest doesn’t want gifts. Expectations for a retirement party outside the workplace can be different. Consider writing a nice message in a card or organizing a group gift. When people say they don’t want gifts, they often don’t want a lot of new stuff. A large gift could be an experience, like a gift certificate for a favorite activity or a day at the spa.
  • Non-workplace party for a close friend. Aim to pick a meaningful gift for your friend. This could be a book they’ll now have time to read or a board game they can play with their grandchildren. You know your friend best, so pick something that honors your friendship.

Whatever the scenario, focus on showing you care while being flexible based on the general expectations of the party.

Is Money an Appropriate Gift?

In most cases, money isn’t an appropriate gift to give at a retirement party. Cash can go toward a group gift, as mentioned above, but retirees aren’t usually the recipients of direct cash gifts.

There are contexts where contributing to a fundraiser, such as one related to a medical ailment, might be an appropriate way to gift money. 

For the most part, focus on a small but meaningful gift and a card. Money is more common for occasions like graduations or weddings, less so for retirement.

Do You Need to Pitch In for the Party?

If you’re worried about your coworkers paying out-of-pocket for an at-work party, talk to the lead organizer. See if the company has given them a budget, and how they plan to supplement it if needed. 

Some companies, for instance, won’t pay for food if the group goes out to a particularly nice meal. Some might organize a set menu with fixed prices so people can decide whether to attend based on their budgets.

If the organizer has chosen to go over-budget, find out whether they're expecting you to pick up the tab as part of the team. Discuss where to spend if you don’t feel comfortable spending too much. Being proactive and part of the planning process can give you more control over how much you might be expected to contribute.

That said, if you express interest in a budget-friendly party, the rest of the team might still overrule you. You can always refuse to participate, though it may come with some office politics. In most offices, it’s okay to say that you’ll put your contribution towards your own gift, not paying for the party. 

Asking early and staying in-the-know can help you avoid feeling guilt or the need to pay hand and foot. 

Will You Need to Bring a Dish to Pass or Pay for Dinner?

This will depend on the party organization. These are common options. 

If your team or family skews frugal, bringing a dish to share can be an inexpensive way to make an abundant buffet for the attendees. 

If your company or family are accustomed to nice dinners out, reserving a private room at a nice restaurant may be standard. It's generally expected that attendees will pay for themselves unless the company specifies it is picking up the tab. 

Some companies pay for heavy hors d’oerves at a happy-hour-timed party, but won’t spring for an open bar. Talk to the organizer to know what is expected and how you can prepare for the expense.

Conducting Yourself With Great Retirement Party Etiquette

The biggest thing to remember at a retirement party is to focus on being happy for the person who is retiring. 

There’s really no room for grumbling about one’s job, frustration at losing a skilled team member, or complaining that you or someone else should have been able to retire first. 

Instead, focus on the excitement of the occasion, discussing the person’s fun plans, and celebrating their achievements at the company. If you are the retiree yourself, enjoy this experience and then, of course, send your thank you notes!

If you're looking for more retirement party ideas, read our guides on saying goodbye to coworkers when you retire and the best retirement gift ideas.

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