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Hands On

It’s Not Too Early to Plan Your Holiday Party

By Shannon Byrne
·
24th August 2017

Imagine Thanksgiving rolling around and instead of panicking about the impending holiday season you feel calm and collected because your company’s holiday party has been planned for months. Feels pretty great, right?

To avoid the rush and stress that surrounds the holidays, start planning your office festivities as early as possible—yes, even in the summer. By starting early, you increase the chances of securing your ideal date, venue, and top vendor choices and you may even lock them in at lower rates before peak season.

Starting early also gives you a chance to turn your annual celebration into a team building opportunity. At its best a workplace holiday party is an event that embraces your company’s culture, feels inclusive, and is an opportunity to celebrate what your company has accomplished together over the past year. A well-planned, meaningful celebration can encourage workplace friendships to form and deepen, which, according to Harvard Business Review, can boost employee satisfaction by 50 percent.

With advance notice you can create a holiday party task force and recruit interested team members to help you out. This also ensures that you don’t have to shoulder the entire party-planning burden. When planning the party is a group effort you can encourage collaboration between people on different teams, work to align your celebration with your workplace culture, be transparent about your party budget, and stay accountable and on-task so no detail gets overlooked. Below are guidelines to get you started planning the perfect holiday party for your office.

Plan the right party for your company

Your party is a chance for your entire team to mingle and get to know each other. Your theme, activities, entertainment, food, music, venue, layout, and party vibe all play a role in setting the tone for your party.

Before you leap into logistics, your first task is to clarify your team size, guest list, and budget because those will influence the type of party you will plan.

Next, think about the vibe you want to create. Do you want a quieter event where people will be able to chat in small groups? Maybe you want quiet background music and your team could create a playlist together. More energetic group? Perhaps a DJ bringing the dance tunes would be a better fit. Does your team have hidden talents and enjoy participation? You could include a dance-off or karaoke contest.

If you choose to have a theme, it could be a natural extension of your company’s product and culture. For example, a travel company might have a theme that references their top destinations from around the world. Or a pet supply provider would could have a pet-themed and pet-friendly party. Not sure what theme will resonate with your colleagues? Choose a few of your strongest ideas and create a poll for your colleagues to vote on their favorites.

Having a sense of these types of details at the beginning will help guide you as you research and confirm a venue and consider your options for entertainment and refreshments.

Find the perfect venue

Once you have a sense of what type of party you want to put together, focus on securing a venue. Work with your party task force to create a list of potential venues that have capacity for your group and will be a fit for your budget and the vibe you want to create. Other factors to consider when choosing a venue include: location, public transportation options, accessibility, sound system, and whether food and drink are included or you need to bring in your own.

Reach out to the spaces you are considering for pricing as soon as you can—three to four months in advance, if possible. Ask what types of packages they might be able to offer you, such as an open bar or discounts on food. Before you sign a contract discuss liability, insurance, the deposit amount, and what is required in terms of setup and cleanup. Spaces fill up fast as the holidays approach, so once you’ve found the perfect space for your event, be prepared to book it!

You may also decide that you would rather save money and host your party in your office. If this is the case you can focus on planning for decorations, food and activities, but be sure you have the space and capacity to accommodate the type of party you are planning.

Review Vendor Contracts Carefully

It should go without saying, but be sure to review or create a contract for every vendor. Your contract should outline the cost, payment schedule, and who’s liable if something breaks or someone gets hurt. It should also include details like load-in time, drop off, pick up, how many staff members the vendor is sending, and what type of insurance they will provide. Finally, your contract should detail what exactly you expect to receive and what happens if your vendor doesn’t show up or deliver what you agreed upon.

Select the right food and drinks

Great refreshments can make a party. What you decide to serve is entirely based on your theme, team interests, and budget.

Ordering food for a party is always a balancing act. You want to make sure to order plenty of food and drinks, but try to create a rough estimate of how much people will eat to avoid being stuck with heaps of leftovers. Consider the timing of your party. Will party-goers expect dinner or are hors d'oeuvres sufficient? Are you serving alcohol? In addition, take into account the dietary needs of your colleagues and their guests, including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. If your team and party is smaller, ask them about their dietary needs beforehand and account for those rather than ordering more food than you need.

Also plan for the amount and type of alcohol you will serve and consider how this fits with your company guidelines and culture. Will you need to hire a bartender with a liquor license or will the venue provide this for you? Most of us have experienced office gatherings that got a little out of hand, so think about how you want to promote responsible revelry beforehand.

As you consider caterers look at reviews and ask friends and colleagues for recommendations not just about taste, but also timeliness, delivery, and service of catering companies they have worked with. If you can, try to get samples or go in for a taste test. Consider catering services like Cater2Me, FoodtoEat, or ZeroCater which will help you connect with the right restaurants for you and estimate how much you need to order.

Choose the right activities for your party

Once you’ve secured your venue and taken care of food you can concentrate on the fun stuff: planning the activities. If your party centers around food, music, and mingling you may not need to provide additional entertainment. However, games and activities create a more interactive environment and can help break the ice if your team doesn’t know each other well.

Work with your party task force to define what type of activities your team would enjoy that fit with your theme and reconfirm your budget with your leadership team. This TINYPulse post suggests sticking to one or two entertainment options to encourage bonding rather than distracting your team. As you choose activities consider what will feel welcoming, inclusive, and fun for all of your team members.

Here are some activities to consider:

  • Vintage arcade games or pinball
  • Photo booth or gif station
  • Theme-related board games
  • A live band with dancing
  • Pizza making or cupcake decorating station
  • Art or drawing station

Work with your party task force to decide on activities. While having your larger team weigh in on general ideas like a theme, asking for input on specific details from a large group of people can create a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario after you have worked hard to narrow down options that are on-theme and within your budget.

Don’t neglect planning for setup and cleanup

Whether you decide to host your party in your office or at a local venue, be sure to schedule time for load-in, setup, and cleanup. Consider hiring extra help, such as assistants from Managed by Q, to help move furniture, neaten, and clean before and after the party so you can also relax and enjoy the event you have planned. If you are hosting the party in your office you consider scheduling a deep clean to ensure your office space doesn’t suffer from any post-party regrets.

It’s party time!

It’s worth repeating: the earlier you start planning your company’s holiday party, the better. Save yourself time, stress, and money by locking in the details early so everyone can relax and enjoy the great party you have planned later. I highly recommend using a tool like Trello to help keep track and collaborate on all the moving parts of your event. Think of it as a live to-do list that is accessible to everyone.

To help your party planning, I created a checklist for company holiday parties. I hope it helps put your mind at ease and plan just one step at a time.

Most importantly, as you plan keep your company culture and togetherness at the forefront of your mind. Remember, this is a celebration of what you’ve accomplished together—keep it fun!

Your Party Planning Checklist:

3 to 4 months in advance:

  • Set approved budget
  • Recruit a party planning task force; designate responsibilities
  • Identify a theme (if applicable)
  • Create a guest list and headcount
  • Find and secure a venue
  • Set a date
  • Decide on food type, secure caterer (if not offered by venue)
  • Find and secure entertainment/music (DJ, band, playlist, PA system, stereo, etc.)
  • Hire a valet company (if applicable and not offered by venue)

2 months in advance:

  • Collect addresses or email addresses for your guests from team members and vendors
  • Create or order invitations
  • Secure a photographer
  • Book or rent games and/or activities (i.e. photo booth, arcade games, portrait artist)
  • Review and submit all contracts and deposits

1 month in advance:

  • Confirm head count
  • Place food and drink order
  • Send invitations
  • Order or make decorations (if applicable)
  • Put swag bags together (if applicable)
  • Hire or assign any additional day-of roles (check in or greeters, coat check, security, setup and cleanup, etc.)

1 week in advance:

  • Send reminder to invitees
  • Confirm timeline with all vendors and venue
  • Confirm roles with all volunteers or staff
  • Pick up any last minute decorations or supplies
  • Take a deep breath and relax because you have everything under control

Party day!

  • Double check your logistics
  • Remind your colleagues about the party location and start time and share how excited you are
  • Arrive at the venue early to set up
  • Check in with all volunteers and staff before party time about timeline and expectations
  • Celebrate!
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About The Author
Shannon Byrne
Shannon Byrne is a freelance writer and marketer, crafting words and building communities for startups. She's also the founder of A Song A Day, a collective of curators sending songs to thousands of inboxes daily. Say hi at @ShannnonB
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