How to plan the perfect office holiday party

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Tis the season for good cheer, shopping and the inevitable company Christmas – er – holiday party. And with it, comes the to-do list on the mind of every party planner, whether you’re a veteran or rookie in the role.

Let’s be honest, it can be stressful to juggle every responsibility to organize a seamless holiday party. You’re already stressed with family holiday homework, and now you have to run your office festivities too?

We’re here to the rescue. We spoke to party-planning experts, Toronto’s Tina Gaisin, President of Fill The Room Inc., and Sharon Diamond, of Ottawa’s Diamond Events. They shared stress-saving tips and insight into pulling off the perfect office party.

  • Budgeting – This first step affects everything else. Questions to answer include: Is this a party for employees with their spouses/partners? A small after-hours gathering in the break room, or a chance to dress up and dancing up a winter storm? Is there a party committee, or is one person in charge of running the party? Is there money for waiters or a clean-up crew? Are people expected to chip in, and if so, how much are they willing to give? You’ll want to confirm the budget with accounting/management in order to know how much you can spend on what.
  • Promote the date at least 3 weeks in advance. Give your staff lots of time to book off the date. The toughest job is when you get replies of “Sorry, this date doesn’t work for me.” You’ll be tempted to find a date that work for everyone. Great idea, but that’s difficult to pull off. If just a few can’t come to the party, you’ll have to roll with that fruit punch. Does the party need to be rescheduled if X amount of invitees can’t make it?
  • Choosing the venue – Convenience is important, as is the size of the guest list. There needs to be enough space for chairs and tables, plus room for mingling. The venue can be off the beaten path from the office itself: an art gallery, rock climbing walls, or science museum. But if your building has a “party room” or covered rooftop, considering keeping the party in house if you don’t want to risk an unproven venue.
  • Choosing the food – Gourmet hors d’ouerves or turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce? Pot luck or catered? Keep in mind all the allergic, vegan, and kosher employees, and offer a variety of munchables to snack on. Make sure there’s enough for everyone, even if you risk over-buying. Running out of food by 10pm is always embarrassing. Have a plan for the leftovers – brought back to the office fridge for next-day snacks, or donated to a local homeless shelter? Diamond says that a good food rule of thumb is “eight bites per person” in order to gauge the right quantity to buy.
  • “Make sure the kinds of foods you’re getting don’t require complicated utensils,” Diamond adds. Getting food that doesn’t require knife and fork usage could be a smart move; haven’t you been to parties where it was awkward to stand chatting with a colleague, holding a plate, cutlery AND cup?
  • Décor – Twinkling Christmas lights draped tastefully around the room, or candy canes and snowflakes? Try to be inclusive of a variety of cultural backgrounds, without turning it from a party to a lesson in multiculturalism. Don’t forget the basics such as streamers, colourful artwork and jokey kitsch. If your company has distinctive colours in its logo, plan the décor look around that artwork.
  • Alcohol. Sometimes, when there’s booze, there can be trouble. Control over-drinking by hiring professional bartenders or servers trained to spot those sauced staffers who should be moving on to water. You can also have volunteers stay at stations to pour wine, suggests Diamond, so it is known who is coming back too often. “If you really want alcohol, serve cocktails or spiked punch in the first hour only, so by the end of the party people are less drunk,” she adds. She also suggested giving out a single drink ticket, with further drinks at a cost. “That often dissuades people from having one too many.” Plan ahead for designated drivers, carpools and easily accessible cab numbers. You can budget to buy a stack of taxi chits to give out at the end of the night.
  • Cultural sensitivities: Ix-ney on “secret Santa,” says Gaisin, but gift giving is OK. Feel free to add a few Chanukah decoration, if applicable. Bonus if you can nab a bunch of dreidels. And if you want to add a sense of pop cultural humour to the party, buy a Festivus pole for a Seinfeld throwback joke.

Photo via YouTube screenshot

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