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With the economic outlook as uncertain as it is, companies continue to watch the pennies. There are areas, however, where extreme thrift becomes a false economy – and the fabled office Christmas party is definitely one.
There is a wealth of research that indicates that the Christmas party is hugely important for staff morale. Two-thirds of UK managers surveyed by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) for its 2011 forecast believe that they are important for staff retention, 62 per cent believe they’re a good way to recognise hard work and 52 per cent think they improve employee engagement.
The benefits don’t end there: if done properly, Christmas parties are also great opportunities for internal marketing and teambuilding. When else will the CEO be able to address the staff in such a relaxed, informal and (hopefully) good-natured atmosphere? In a good year, it’s a great opportunity to say ‘thank you’ for everyone’s hard work; in a bad year, it’s a chance to draw a line under the difficulties and gee people up for the coming 12 months.
If you’re still doubtful, remember that even the Inland Revenue, usually so Scrooge-like, gets into the spirit of things. If a work social function is annual and open to all employees at a particular office/location (or in one of its departments, providing all employees get to attend an event), you can take advantage of a tax break worth £150 per head.
Not having a Christmas party isn’t just mean, it’s downright odd. The CMI forecast tells us that even in the traditionally abstemious not-for-profit sector, 71 per cent of companies will treat their staff to a Christmas party in 2013. Overall, 57 per cent of companies surveyed plan to spend the same amount on their Christmas parties as they did the year before.
So we’ve convinced you: there’s going to be a Christmas party. Now, before you start planning it, ask yourself some simple questions. First of all, would you consider a lunchtime event? Evening parties may be more traditional, but giving up an afternoon’s work wins goodwill and is usually cheaper than an evening do (your corporate card will have done its duty by 5.30pm, after which people are free to continue the party if they choose).
Are spouses invited? Will it be a company affair, or will each department get its own party – or both? If it’s the latter, make sure any departmental Christmas lunches fall on different days to the company bash, or you may have to endure a small group turning up pre-lubricated and possibly incoherent.
Perhaps most important of all, should you create your own event from scratch or book a party package? Think of this as if you were buying a suit. The bespoke option offers an end result that’s tailored to your specific requirements, which, of course, comes at a premium. Buy an off-the-peg product and you might have to make small compromises, but you’ll pay significantly less.
Let’s assume you decide to go ‘pret-a-porter’ rather than couture. The next decision is whether you’d prefer to be part of a shared event, or have the venue all to yourself. Your decision will probably be dictated by the size of your group. The grey area is 50-70. This size of group is on the cusp of being too large to hold parties in a restaurant (unless you take over the whole dining room), but it could also be too small to book a larger venue exclusively. This is where shared nights come in. Packages are usually sold in tables of 10 so they work for almost any group size – and there’s no need to bring your own atmosphere. The cost argument is convincing too: where else could you nail down a three-course dinner at a cool venue – including drinks, theming and entertainment – for under £100 a head?
You might be sharing your office party with hundreds of others, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it yours. You’ll have your own table, so think about quick, simple games you can play within the group, without the need for privacy or silence. Secret Santa is an obvious one – you can slip in and place the gifts on the table before everyone sits down. Goody bags are another easy way to personalise your party without busting the budget. Choose cheap, thoughtful gifts like chocolates, a bottle of water and a magazine for the journey home or some kind of hangover cure for the morning after.
For larger groups, the trick to finding an exclusive-hire party package that fits is to shop around and customise. If you’re booking a whole venue for a night, your party package doesn’t have to be a finished product. A good organiser will allow you to ‘build’ on its packages, adding wow-factor touches to beef up the entertainment or the catering. This will help set your party apart, while still benefiting from the cost-sharing elements that make packages such great value.
Still sceptical? Break down your average all-inclusive party package and you’ll be amazed at the costs it’s swallowed up (see below). From security and production through to liability insurance, the list goes way beyond room hire, catering and entertainment.
If you’re quick enough, you can have your pick of the December 2013 dates. Check out our Christmas Party channel at squaremeal.co.uk/christmas for details of what’s on offer for the coming season, as those in the know bag the prime nights (Thursday and Friday) straight away. So unless you’re prepared to be flexible and are happy to hold your party on a Monday or Tuesday, don’t rely on picking up a last-minute discount for the night you need – diaries get booked up fast in the festive season.
Make sure you give staff plenty of notice, and remember that many will be taking the last few days before Christmas off so won’t be able to attend if you pick a date in late December. If it’s a party for the whole company, appoint departmental representatives, who’ll be able to keep tabs on who’s likely to come (15% drop-out rates aren’t unusual).
Ask for feedback on previous Christmas parties – you’ll probably learn some invaluable lessons – and put some thought into the invite. You might have a captive audience but they’ll feel more appreciated if you’ve made an effort.
Remember that your responsibilities don’t begin and end with sorting out the party. Be sure to organise taxis for afterwards. Not just because it’s the season of goodwill, but because your company
could be held responsible
if anything nasty happens to staff members weaving their way home late at night.
Finally, make sure your staff are aware in advance that behaviour that crosses the line will not be tolerated. If you want to be particularly Grinchy in preventing too much excess, make it clear that employees are expected to come into work at the normal time the following morning. Though a kinder approach would be to simply make sure everyone has enough to eat, not just enough to drink. Festive high spirits, empty stomachs and alcohol is not a good mix.
Before committing to a Christmas party package, make sure you’ve pinned the organiser down on these points (and got it all in writing):
For more tips on what questions you should be asking read our feature,
20 Golden Rules of Event Planning
WHAT'S IN A PACKAGE?
You might think that organising the Christmas party yourself is the cheapest option, but you’d be wrong. Much like booking a holiday through a tour operator (who will get much cheaper rates for hotels and flights), you’ll save money by buying a package. The reason is simple – the costs are split between more people, over more nights. Below is a list of what is usually included in Christmas party packages by top London organisers, priced at around £90pp
Visit squaremeal.co.uk/christmas for 2013 party packages and reviews of reputable Christmas party organisers
This article frst appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events Guide 2013.