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It's been a long winter. Wake up your workforce with a summer party. The Square Meal Venues & Events team shows you how.
Unlike the annual fixture of the Christmas bash, the summer party is too often thought of as a dispensable event – a nice jolly if the company is riding high, an unnecessary expense when purse-strings tighten. ‘It’s the obvious target in tough times to cut away-days and parties but it’s actually, competitively, the reason to have a summer event,’ explains Gordon Tinline, chartered occupational psychologist and director of business psychology specialists, Robertson Cooper. ‘Giving people an opportunity to relax away from the workplace will go a long way in the current climate. The more people are feeling uncertain and insecure about their future, the more important it becomes to build relationships and signal your commitment to staff. Our work tells us that wellbeing and a shared sense of purpose increases productivity.’
This year, when budgets are under pressure, it’s your collective creativity that will be called upon to maximise the impact of the summer party. Just choose a great alfresco space and get some inspiration from our theme pages. For a comprehensive list of outdoor venues, check out the ‘Alfresco Venues’ selections at www.squaremeal.co.uk/venues/london
Set the scene
The Christmas party is often a black-tie sit-down affair so make the summer bash completely the opposite: informal, stand-up, come as you are and leave when you like. A bright open space will do a lot of the de-stressing and reviving for you. ‘There’s a whole raft of research on what sunshine and green space does for your health and well-being,’ says Tinline. ‘When you feel good, you relax and come up with better ideas, spark off each other creatively in a way that you don’t in more pressurised environments. You have space to breathe.’
Rooftops and riverside terraces make particularly inspiring settings for a summer bash. Check out Cannon Bridge Roof Gardens (tel: 020 7265 7065, squaremeal.co.uk/cannon), back for 2009, or the ever-popular No. 4 Hamilton Place (tel: 020 7670 4314, squaremeal.co.uk/4hp), while the stately River Terrace at Somerset House (tel: 0844 811 2534, squaremeal.co.uk/terrace) and beautifully positioned Sugar Quay (tel: 020 7518 2480, squaremeal.co.uk/sugarquay) are two riverside options. Alternatively, you might opt for a quirkier venue – an evening reception at the brilliant Gorilla Kingdom at London Zoo (tel: 020 7449 6562, squaremeal.co.uk/zoo) or sunset on the London Eye (tel: 0870 443 9150, squaremeal.co.uk/londoneye) perhaps?
Don’t be deterred by reduced budgets when it comes to booking a venue this year. Competition for corporate business among venues works in your favour – remember that it’s a buyer’s market at the moment. ‘It’s really worth giving us a call and being honest, telling us what you’ve got to spend and asking what we can do within the budget,’ says Kate Day, event manager at Delfina (tel: 020 7357 0244, squaremeal.co.uk/delfina). ‘There are lots of ways to have cheaper parties at the moment. We can often reduce rates if it’s early in the season, or on less popular days. You can offer reception drinks and have a cash bar later on, or go for cheaper options on the menus, for example.’
Whatever the Weather
As the last two summers have demonstrated, it’s key to have a back-up plan should the weather turn. Ask if your venue can throw in an inside space in case of rain. Summer marquee venues, set up in green spaces across the capital, are the ideal way to hedge your bets, such as The Marquee at Grays Inn (tel: 020 7458 7968, squaremeal.co.uk/grays-marquee), which holds 600 for a reception in pretty private surrounds, or the mammoth 3,000-capacity structure in the renowned Artillery Garden at the HAC (tel: 020 7940 6060, squaremeal.co.uk/artilleryhac). For leaner budgets, gazebos and golf umbrellas are an excellent opportunity for extra branding (every cloud has a silver lining).
If you don’t want to take the risk, there are plenty of indoor venues that have an alfresco feel without putting guests at the mercy of the elements. The Courtyard at the Wallace Collection (tel: 020 7563 9545, squaremeal.co.uk/courtyard) is a hidden gem, all artfully coiffed trees and wrought iron furniture in a glazed atrium that’s stunning for evening events for up to 300. In the City meanwhile, both Cinnamon Kitchen (tel: 020 7626 5000, squaremeal.co.uk/kitchen) and Devonshire Terrace (tel: 020 7256 3233) have good-sized decked terraces that are sheltered in airy splendour in a handsome glass arcade near Liverpool Street station.
Start the Countdown
Your opportunity to get staff excited begins well before the party starts. And it doesn’t have to drain the budget. Look at your in-house resources: designers, marketing, IT, editors. You could even make the party production a company-wide project to encourage staff to get involved. ‘Put the event itself up as whole teambuilding exercise,’ suggests Andrew Flynn, MD of Inproductions (tel: 020 7792 3233). ‘Create a company committee so everything is managed in house and different departments can be assigned different elements such as furniture, food, drink, entertainment and activities.’
Commit to a theme early and devise a few carefully presented communications with the help of your experts. This year, the summer party might need a rebrand, says Simon Mitchell, MD of Impulse Events (tel: 0870 383 4595, squaremeal.co.uk/impulse). ‘The way you pitch the event is massively important,’ he explains. ‘The message should be, “We know times are tough and you deserve this.” Word the invite modestly as a thank you and make it clear that it’s an informal event, which will encourage people to come along.’
Build anticipation close to the big day by giving every guest a pre-event goody bag filled with inexpensive summery treats like a hand-held fan, retro visor, bottle of sun cream, fill-in sheet for music requests, beach ball and disposable camera.
Food - Getting Back to
Catering is a competitive market at the moment, so you can expect your suppliers to work even harder coming up with innovative suggestions. If you’re set on a restaurant venue, the D&D London portfolio (tel: 020 7716 7887, squaremeal.co.uk/dd) includes plenty of alfresco, riverside and group-friendly settings with exclusive hire options and excellent set menus. But restaurant menus are a good starting point even if you’re just looking for inspiration. You can then pass on ideas when you’re briefing caterers.
This year, food and drink has a homely, rustic feel. It’s out with square plates, fussy arrangements and tiny portions and in with chunky wooden boards, informal presentation and sharing. Think pork pies and scotch eggs, hog roasts and roasted hams or, if you’re looking further afield, street food from Mexico, South-East Asia and India: cheap, colourful and bang on trend.
To keep energy levels up, graze on smaller bites rather than having a sit-down meal to prevent the party-killing collective post-prandial slump. Go for multi-coloured platters for maximum benefit. ‘Choosing a range of naturally differing coloured foods is an easy way of ensuring that guests are getting a good range of different nutrients as well as looking great on the plate,’ says Kim Porter of the Nutrition Coach (tel: 0845 050 2442). We love the bright summery feel of the menu at rooftop venue The Deck (tel: 020 7452 3796, squaremeal.co.uk/deck), which is serving up barbecued Thai-spiced sea bass in banana leaf, giant tiger prawns with garlic and lemon and baked aubergines with tomato and pesto.
Raw food is a more Hollywood-inspired health trend, from sushi bars and platters of sparkling sashimi to raw fruit and veg. ‘Ideally vegetables are best eaten raw or lightly cooked in order to retain their nutrient content,’ says Porter. At Altitude (tel: 0845 500 2929, squaremeal.co.uk/altitude), Salt & Pepper have a raw detox menu while The Metropolitan (tel: 020 7447 1064, squaremeal.co.uk/metevents) has recently launched a range of ‘Vitality Trays’ offering a virtuous line-up that includes the likes of seared fresh tuna with coconut and lemongrass relish and berry shots.
However, if you’re planning to party into the early hours, don’t forget late-night snacks. We love the idea of an after-party takeaway menu at The Swan at the Globe (tel: 020 7928 9444,squaremeal.co.uk/swanglobe). Guests will be served up ‘posh kebabs’ made with free-range chicken, either served by staff from usherette boxes at the end of the evening or wrapped in paper or branded boxes for the journey home.
Drink - Summer Style
After last year’s craze for South American cocktails like Caipirinhas and Mojitos, 2009 sees a return to classic British summer drinks like the gin and tonic. ‘Gin is making a massive resurgence at the moment, with loads of cool new brands coming onto the market,’ says Gerry Calabrese of hip Shoreditch watering hole The Hoxton Pony (tel: 020 7613 2844, squaremeal.co.uk/hoxton-pony). ‘We’re also using a lot of seasonal and locally sourced ingredients in drinks.’
The Pony is offering a new spin on the traditional afternoon tea party, with cocktails from self-cooling infusion jars or teapots served into platinum-coated teacups. Homely British ingredients such as organic ginger jam, rosemary syrup and bay leaves feature heavily and run with the seasons. An English Bellini is made with English sparkling wine, pear puree and vanilla syrup while the Lady Grey Martini is based on Earl Grey tea.
On a more exotic tip, one of the hottest trends this summer is rum punch, according to drinks industry bible Imbibe. ‘With its Caribbean heritage, rum is a perfect summer sunshine drink,’ says Julie Sheppard, the magazine’s associate editor. ‘There is a wide range of rum punch recipes to choose from – or it’s easy to tailor your own to the tastes of your guests. They’re super-cheap to put together and very straightforward to serve, since you mix them in large batches, so guests won’t have to wait around.’
However, be wary of serving gallons of alcoholic cocktails, says Lucy Stoddart, MD of Inneventive (tel: 020 7518 2480, squaremeal.co.uk/iv). ‘If you serve lots of spirits, guests will end up trolleyed and they won’t thank you for it next morning,’ she says. ‘You want to create a very positive atmosphere, so keep your drinks offering to wine and beer.’ Make sure you have plenty of appealing non-alcoholic cocktails on offer throughout the evening to break up the drinking.
Pick up a Picnic
Even if your budget won’t stretch to a venue, you can still take an afternoon out of the office and pitch up in one of London’s parks with a picnic and some fizz. For gourmet picnicking, choose from the delightfully traditional range at Fortnum & Mason (tel: 020 7973 5602, squaremeal.co.uk/fortnum), bespoke options using artisan suppliers from Villandry (tel: 020 7631 3131, squaremeal.co.uk/hampers-vill) or luxury French hampers by Bord’eaux (tel: 020 7399 8460) at Grosvenor House opposite Hyde Park, which come with picnic rug and crockery. For larger numbers and smaller budgets, M&S lunchtogo (tel: 0870 240 4000, squaremeal.co.uk/lunchtogo) can deliver great quality sushi, sarnies, finger food and fizz, while Pret A Manger (tel: 0845 205 0000, squaremeal.co.uk/pret) will bring everyone’s favourites in an eco-friendly electric delivery van. Quirky alternatives include the fabulously fruity offerings from Fruit for the Office (tel: 0800 019 4037, squaremeal.co.uk/fruit). How about the Pimm’s O’Clock basket to kick things off?
Music, activities & entertainment:
Every party needs a soundtrack. Nothing mobilises the masses like a live band or DJ, but if the budget doesn’t stretch, plugging in a tailor-made iPod playlist is the next best thing. ‘Pre-program your iPod with playlists from different departments, chosen via email in the month before the party,’ says Flynn. Crowd-pleasing is the aim here, so take inspiration from the phenomenal popularity of the ‘Guilty Pleasures’ concept, which makes a virtue of fantastically uncool music from the 70s, 80s and 90s and gets everyone dancing.
If you want to revive and motivate guests, make your summer bash more than just a cocktail-soaked bunfight. Build in an interactive element but don’t compromise the relaxed ethos of the event with a schedule of structured teambuilding exercises. ‘Offer an interactive element with games that encourage competition and fun, with a running leader board, but don’t over-structure the event,’ says Lucy Stoddart, MD of Inneventive (tel: 020 7518 2480, squaremeal.co.uk/iv).
Moving on Up
Current trends are finding their way back to simple, old-fashioned games and competitions – egg and spoon or sack races, limbo, welly wanging, essentially anything you’d find at a country fair, sport’s day or children’s party. They’re feel-good, budget-saving and require minimal extra kit. ‘We’re seeing increased demand for more hands-on and organic activities,’ says Stoddart. ‘At summer parties, we’ve had groups doing shearing, designing a medal from a gingerbread cookie and singing round a campfire, with guests composing their own songs.’
On the other hand, the new interactive side of technology is opening up budget-friendly add-ons for party organisers. At Altitude (tel: 0845 500 2929, squaremeal.co.uk/altitude) a Wimbledon-themed package includes Wii tennis on the big screen, as well as Pimm’s and strawberries and cream (at 29 floors up overlooking the city). In the City, Eight Club (tel: 020 7621 0808) can incorporate Wii, Xbox or an F1 Simulator into party packages, as can City Golf Club (tel: 020 7796 5960, squaremeal.co.uk/citygolf), which offers a crowd-pleasing line-up of virtual activities from golf to Guitar Hero.
Perhaps this is the time to make wellbeing the focus of your summer bash? ‘There’s been a big change in what people are looking for in parties,’ says Joel Sutton, E-Rejuvenation consultant at E-Rejuvenation Centre (tel: 020 7650 0718, squaremeal.co.uk/energy). ‘They want to feel good the next day and the boss wants to make a better, healthier team.’ Parties at the venue include activities like Chinese yodelling, in which vibrations of different sounds resonate in different organs to release stress, and Chinese energy hammers to release blocked energy, or a rejuvenation session to stop stressful thought processes and encourage relaxation. ‘It wouldn’t work as an add-on to a boozy party but we can take the concept to parties if they’re the right type of event,’ adds Sutton.
To energise through your entertainment, Adam Sternberg of Sternberg Clark (tel: 020 8877 1102, squaremeal.co.uk/sternberg) suggests making guests part of the show. ‘Why sit around and listen to steel band and watch a limbo performance when you can join in yourselves?’ he says. Recruiting a team of professional entertainers who can perform as well as coach gives you an all-inclusive package that includes activity and entertainment. Think simple, traditional or downright ridiculous - Sternberg recommends an old-fashioned tug of war or morris dancing to really lift spirits and raise a collective smile.
After the Main Event
A good party doesn’t end when the music stops. A carefully thought-out goodie bag will ensure that your summer bash is the talk of the office for weeks to come. Include thoughtful but inexpensive summery gifts – a beach ball, flip-flops, Berocca vitamin C tablets for the morning after, nail varnish (for the ladies!), a summer holiday novel, a sun-visor, seed pouches – and present them in a beach bag. Think about including a feedback card asking for ideas for the following year. Even if you don’t get a huge response, it’s always refreshing for guests to feel that their opinions are being taken into account.
News, Offers & Bright Ideas
BOX CLEVER. The smart folks at Old Laundry (tel: 020 7535 7330, squaremeal.co.uk/oldlaundry) are offering clients the option to brand their own picnic boxes.
CLEAR YOUR CONSCIENCE. At new-to-the-market St Paul’s Garden (tel: 0845 230 3899, squaremeal.co.uk/dce), a Covent Garden oasis, half the profits go to the church.
GO GREEN. Packages in the lovely private gardens at Grays Inn (tel: 020 7458 7968, squaremeal.co.uk/grays) are available from 24 June – 24 July, starting at £3,950 +VAT for evening marquee hire with menus from £25 per head (inc VAT).
SOAK UP THE SKYLINE. The new 200-capacity roof terrace at the Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre (tel: 020 7021 1650, squaremeal.co.uk/coinst) has views across the South Bank. It’s £2,000 +VAT for the day.
KEEP IT SIMPLE. Take super-summery setting – the Roof Terrace at No.4 Hamilton Place (tel: 020 7670 4314, squaremeal.co.uk/4hp) – and add great food: vibrant barbecued meat and fish, salads and desserts for 50 plus, from £40 per head +VAT.
IN THE YARD. The newly opened Millennium Courtyard at Southwark Cathedral (tel: 020 7367 6722, squaremeal.co.uk/southwark) is an atmospheric space for entertaining. Barbecue packages start at £62.50 +VAT.
BOWL THEM OVER At the world-famous Lord’s (tel: 0844 824 6206, squaremeal.co.uk/lords), combine one of the smart alfresco spaces with canapé and bowl food starting at £45 +VAT per head inc. drinks.
DOUBLE UP. Hire a pitch for team games in Regent’s Park before retiring to nearby RIBA (tel: 020 7307 3888, squaremeal.co.uk/riba) for a terrace reception (£2,500 for up to 150).
SUMMER SAIL? Bateaux London’s Naticia (tel: 020 7695 1800, squaremeal.co.uk/bateaux), with her retractable glass roof, is offering party cruises with dinner and music for £57.50 per person (inc VAT).
SHUCK ‘EM AND SEE. Enjoy Champagne and oysters against the London skyline at 120-capacity terrace The Deck (tel: 020 7452 3796, squaremeal.co.uk/deck). It’s £25 per person plus room hire at £3,400.
MAKE LIKE A MONKEY. Invite families to a fun-day at London Zoo (tel: 020 7449 6562, squaremeal.co.uk/zoo) or host a reception in one of the animal houses. We love the Gorilla Kingdom and the Clore Rainforest Lookout. Packages start at £75 +VAT.
TEE OFF. Transform a Davy’s Winebar (tel: 020 7407 9670, squaremeal.co.uk/davys) into a mini Wentworth with a session of mini-golf, from £500.
ATTENTION. Hire the 300-capacity Atrium and terrace at Chelsea’s National Army Museum (tel: 020 7730 0717, squaremeal.co.uk/nam) for £2,650 +VAT per evening.
SHOOT TO THRILL. Head straight from the office to West London Shooting School (tel: 020 8845 1377, squaremeal.co.uk/westls) for an evening shoot followed by a barbecue and drinks. Prices start at £145 +VAT per head.
GET INTO THE SWING. Hire the elegant Cambridge Cottage at Kew Gardens (tel: 0844 873 3959, squaremeal.co.uk/kew) during Summer Swing Week (7-10 July) and all guests get tickets to that night’s concert. Book for dates before 6 July and you’ll receive a pair of tickets yourself.
CHECK YOUR CHI. Take inspiration from deluxe Wiltshire retreat Whatley Manor (tel: 01666 822888, squaremeal.co.uk/whatley), which offers summer Tai Chi sessions in the loggia garden to energise groups.
PLAY IT SAFE. For indoor parties, One Alfred Place (tel: 020 7000 1999, squaremeal.co.uk/onealfred) and 15 Hatfields (tel: 020 7827 5920, squaremeal.co.uk/15hat) are two new openings with plenty of light, bright spaces if you don’t fancy dicing with the weather.
HIT THE DECK. Take in the riverscape to the sounds of live jazz on the deck of the handsome HMS Belfast (tel: 020 7403 6246, squaremeal.co.uk/hms). The all-inclusive Sailor’s Package starts at £69.50 +VAT per head.
MAYFAIR PLAY. Hire the 200-capacity terrace at the handsome Caledonian Club (tel: 020 7333 8722, squaremeal.co.uk/caledonian). The usual £900 hire charge is up for negotiation.
PITCH UP. Get rare access to Stamford Bridge’s hallowed turf at a series of summer dinners at Chelsea FC (tel: 0871 984 1955, squaremeal.co.uk/cfc) during May and June.
SHOOT HOOPS. Spend a summer evening on the croquet lawn at Corney & Barrow Exchange Square (tel: 020 7265 2500, squaremeal.co.uk/corney). Lawn hire, including kit and a croquet steward, starts at £500 with food from £28 per head (inc VAT).
GET OUT OF TOWN. The Somerset outpost of the Soho House group, Babington House (tel: 01373 812266, squaremeal.co.uk/babington) is available for exclusive hire between Monday to Thursday, from £30,000.
CLUB TOGETHER. For summer decadence in the West End, Home House (tel: 0207 670 2000, squaremeal.co.uk/home-h) offers an elegant 250-capacity garden setting with a range of differently styled indoor spaces.
CUT YOUR COSTS. Stylish restaurant group D&D London (tel: 020 7716 7887, squaremeal.co.uk/dd) is waiving room hire fees and minimum spend on all bookings until September
AT THE RIVER. Impulse Events (tel: 0870 383 4595, squaremeal.co.uk/impulse) is bringing its popular summer party packages to the 350-capacity Westminster Boating Base for the last two weeks of June. From £60 per head +VAT.
SQUARE UP. The view across Parliament Square from the 40-capacity roof terrace at RICS (tel: 020 7334 3781, squaremeal.co.uk/rics) is impressive enough, but the venue has also held its 2007 prices: £1,235 (inc VAT) per half-day.
TERRACE TO GO. Book the Garden Room at the City of London Club (tel: 020 7588 8558, squaremeal.co.uk/cityclub) and get the pretty tiled terrace, holding 100 standing.
INTO THE GARDEN. The Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill (tel: 020 7486 5800, squaremeal.co.uk/hyatt-churchill) now has use of the lovely private Portman Square Gardens for events. A barbecue or afternoon tea perhaps?
PIG OUT. At Newbury Racecourse (tel: 01635 40015, squaremeal.co.uk/newbury), choose from regular pig to water buffalo for your organic hog roast, accompanied by lashings of Pimm’s. The package is £32 +VAT per head.
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Spring 2009.