As the year draws to a close, your employees and leadership teams have a lot to be proud of: an entire year of hard work and success. Consequently, a company holiday party is the perfect way to celebrate nearly a dozen months of performance with an event that’s both fun and memorable for all. The problem is, how exactly do you make that happen? And more importantly, how do you make sure everyone feels properly included? In this article, we’ll share the insider industry tips you’ll need to make your next company holiday party the one other event planners will try to replicate every year afterward, including event planning tips for beginners, how to plan a fabulous corporate holiday event, and much more!
Corporate Holiday Party-Planning Checklist: Top 6 Tips For Success
With the holidays just around the corner, there’s no better time like the present to start making your corporate event planning checklist. Here are some tried-and-true event-planning tips to ensure your next corporate party is a smashing success:
1. Decide on a date as soon as possible: Your corporate holiday party planning checklist needs to start with a date and time. The sooner you know when you’re having your holiday party, the easier it will be to secure a venue, get a trustworthy guest list count from your staff, and put money towards incidentals. Remember, your company is one of many in your immediate area, so there’s a good chance that restaurants will fill up on reservations, caterers will be unavailable, and entertainment for corporate events will be sparse if you drag your feet.
The ideal date should:
- Give employees enough time off work to get dressed, ready, and relaxed: If you plan on holding your event on a Friday evening, for example, it would be a smart idea to let everyone go home on a half day when the day arrives. This will also show a little appreciation to the employees that aren’t able to attend – without making them feel penalized for opting out.
- Bear in mind any last-minute projects that are coming to a close: No one wants to feel forced to choose between well-deserved fun and responsibility to their work. Either time your party to fall after the to-do list is light, or give express permission to hit the pause button on progress in order to enjoy the party.
- Factor in travel time and traffic for employees: If you have employees who telecommute or have the ability to, try holding the event mid-day, or start it well after the worst of rush hour traffic has cleared. This will give them more time to relax and enjoy the party, rather than sitting in a traffic jam before or after.
2. Find the perfect venue that all can attend: Any venue selected should be accessible with ramps, handrails, and handicap parking to make all employees and guests feel welcome. Remember, your employees give their all during the workweek and their spouses or domestic partners might not get to spend a lot of time with them – a holiday party is a perfect excuse to do so. Emphasize that your employees can bring a +1 that they aren’t romantically linked to if they prefer, as well. If group size is a concern, layout stipulations such as mandatory RSVPs for pre-ordering food-per-person.
3. Select affordable and crowd-pleasing refreshments: Between vegetarians, vegans, flexitarians, keto-lovers, and other specialty diets, planning food for a company-wide event is a struggle. Here’s how to plan a corporate event that’s ready, willing, and able to feed an entire office full of hungry revelers. Note: No matter which method is used, it should incorporate, at the least, one vegetarian and/or vegan option.
- Let them pick off the venue’s menu: Footing the bill for a restaurant meal out is a no-stress way to ensure everyone gets something they want. The cost of this approach, however, is not for the faint of budget.
- Assemble a buffet with the venue: This option allows a company to decide which dishes they’d like to serve and allows employees to serve themselves. It’s economical but can also lead to situations where there is too much food or too little to go around.
- Offer a prix-fixe menu on your RSVP-required invites: By having each employee select what they and their guest(s) would like to eat, the cost stays predictable and food selections are customized.
- Have the event catered: While caterers offer what is arguably the most flexibility in terms of company customization, they do book up fast as the holidays approach. Discuss realistic timelines for decision-making and up-front cost with the caterer(s) of choice to make sure they can deliver a workable solution. It may seem obvious, but make sure your venue of choice allows outside catering before putting down your deposit. A fun option for catering is to hire a few food trucks that offer different cuisines and specialties. Guests will love hopping from food truck to food truck, satisfying the palate from all angles.
4. Send response-required invites for an accurate headcount: The difference between 80 and 100 guests can be substantial for a company locked into a venue’s “package” cost. Knowing exactly how many employees are attending will help manage cost expectations, ensure enough “goody bags” or similar swag is on hand to give away and help with seating arrangements. Emailed response-required invites (with a once-a-week reminder and a cut-off date) will give event planners a central location to check attendance while putting some responsibility on the attendees.
Again, be sure to clearly state what is expected of your employees at the company holiday party: X number of guests, yes-or-no on bringing children, when the meal or refreshments will be served, what kind of dress code should be adhered to. Emphasize, if you will serve alcohol, that non-alcoholic drinks will be available: any employee may be sober for their own personal reasons, and they should feel comfortable to do so. Always put the full address of the venue, the date and day of the week, and the time of the party on the invitations. Also, build in a designated person or email to contact with any changes in response, such as an inability to attend after RSVP’ing.
5. Document the event, particularly when everyone has just arrived: When everyone in the office is stressed and working on a project the following spring, an office newsletter with a picture of the “good times” will help boost morale. By taking photos or videos earlier in the evening, you’ll capture compelling images of bright-eyed, excited employees, rather than semi-sleepy, foot-out-the-door revelers digesting a big meal and ready for a nap.
Be sure to mention beforehand that you’ll be taking pictures if you’re snapping individuals or a group. Some employees may be camera-shy for a variety of reasons, and they have a right to their privacy. Better yet, consider setting up a “photo booth” with props to allow employees and their guests to have fun taking photos on their own terms. If you really want to impress your guests, there are some high-tech photo booths that can turn your photos into a GIF or 3D photo. Warning: If you receive a web link to access the photos after the event, refrain from sharing it with the company. Many guests like to sneak into a photo booth to take romantic pictures with their +1 and would be extremely embarrassed if those leaked!
If your company is very large and you expect hundreds of attendees, consider creating an event-specific hashtag and encouraging everyone to use it as they post on social media. This will allow you to easily find post-party team-bonding collage fodder with a single click.
6. Book an act (or two!) but vet them first: Whether it’s a dance team, a stage magician, a singer or band, or a stand-up act, an entertainer can lighten the mood and create great company culture. Make sure beforehand that no potentially offensive material is included in any act you’re considering. This important step will safeguard both employee comfort and enjoyment and company liability: a few laughs at the CEO’s expense might be okay if they have a sense of humor, but risqué, politically-oriented or other “un-PC” jokes are typically inappropriate for most business-oriented holiday parties.
An excellent “two-for-one” idea for a company holiday party is a caricature or sketch artist. Not only will your party guests have an interesting act to watch, but they’ll also receive a take-home souvenir of the party. If you’ll have more guests than one artist can reasonably handle, consider asking them if they have a peer or two that you can also hire for the event. Depending on your industry and the general feel of your workplace culture and venue, chair massages, wandering musicians, and even face painting may be excellent crowd-pleasing activities as well.
Last but not least, try your best to transform the space with holiday decor and lighting. Whether your theme is “Winter Wonderland,” “Holiday in Hawaii,” or something totally different, there is plenty you can do to create a unique atmosphere for your guests. If you’re going for a classic look, try filling up the table and counter space with candlelight and winter garland. If you’re going for a sparkly look, try hanging a variety of glass balls from the ceiling to look like ornaments. Regardless of the specific theme, a sweet treats area with holiday cookies and bites will be a hit. There are so many ways you can decorate the space for the season – so just roll with it!
Knowing how to plan a corporate event as iconic as an annual holiday party is simply a case of smart planning (company holiday party ideas on a budget) – and anticipating the questions and needs of employees. When your staff feels appreciated (and maybe even a little bit spoiled) around the holidays, they’ll be happier and more engaged in the workplace well after the last piece of holiday décor is boxed up for storage.