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January 29, 2008

PARTY ON: Making sure your guests have a good time

Did you know that, even though it’s only February, it may already be too late to book your 2008 Christmas party?

Of course, this depends on the numbers involved, what kind of an event you’re after and where you want to hold it, but rest assured you are by no means guaranteed to secure you first-choice venue.

“Most desirable venues are booked out up to 12 months beforehand for any date in December,” says Benjamin Hunt, business development director at Archer Young.

Donna Briant, conference manager at corporate booking agency Inntel, agrees, adding: “You need to start planning your Christmas part as soon as possible, ideally immediately after the last one has finished. Employees are demanding so much more these days and innovative venues will always get booked up, so it’s best to start looking around early.

“Even if you’re not ready to confirm numbers, you can express an interest and provisionally hold space. There are always a few key dates in December that get very busy, so it’s best to at least provisionally book somewhere as soon as possible.”

Book it, but don’t rush it

That said, rushing into a decision is the last thing to do. Whether you organise the event yourself or bring in a professional organiser, you need to make sure the event is appropriate for your employees and any others who may be attending. At a time when people with the right skills are difficult to attract, a well organised, exciting Christmas party can have a great effect on staff motivation and loyalty. But people’s idea of what constitutes fun varies, and if you get it wrong, not only have you wasted money, you could also find you have a disgruntled workforce.

“It’s vital to take your audience into account,” says Hunt. “Events should be tailored to fit the age, size, culture and expectation of your guests.”

So make sure that they are involved in deciding all aspects of the event, from location and food, to entertainment and activities. This will give you the confidence that the party you plan to hold will be a success. What’s more, your employees can also be a great source of inspiration, and choosing an unusual venue, location or theme can help to ramp up the entertainment factor.

Forget Christmas

One scenario is that your employees may not actually want a Christmas party at all. They may prefer to celebrate when the weather is better.

“With many companies enjoying a multi-cultural and multi-faith workforce, the relevance of a traditional Christmas party is fading,” says Hunt. “We now see invitations to ‘Year End’ parties with an emphasis on non-Christian themes and imagery.
“As Christmas is a time of great expense and there’s a lot of pressure from all sides, many companies are now looking to substitute the traditional Christmas party with a summer event. By holding your event in the summer you have a much greater choice of venues with availability, as well as the option to hold all or part of the event outside. Swap turkey and tinsel for summer frocks and Pimms on the lawn. A summer event also has the potential for involving the families of your staff and rewarding them too for the sacrifices your people have made in spending time at the coalface, away from them.”

This family element is possible, because these kind of events work better during the day and when there’s access to the outdoors, which of course you have in summer. Also, as this is a quiet time for venues and organisers, costs should be quite a lot lower. The same can also be said for holding a New Year party in January instead of a pre-Christmas festive bash.

Save on expense, but not quality
Once you’ve decided on the kind of party you want and are sure your guests have bought into this, it’s time to get organising, or outsourcing this to a professional. Either way, you’ll still need to set a realistic budget – and that doesn’t mean the cheapest option, because employees will spot corner-cutting immediately. These days quality is everything, from the venue and entertainment down to the food and the service. However, there are ways to make your budget go further without compromising on quality.

“Since the Government raised the tax ceiling for employee benefits before getting hit with the National Insurance liability, Christmas parties have had a boost in popularity,” says Hunt. “Employers can now afford to have a party on more than the traditional shoe-string, and a conference room with a dodgy disco in the corner is no longer the only option.
“For small groups, you have the opportunity to book a table at ‘joiner-parties’ and enjoy the party atmosphere that you can only get with larger numbers, although these can lack the personal touch. Larger groups have the chance to book exclusive use of venues and with the help of creative event management and theme companies, can create a party that will leave your guests breathless.”

More cost-saving options
To save money, you could use a booking agency like Inntel, which can use its buying power and expert negotiation skills to get the best venue rates, but you need to make sure the fee for this service doesn’t negate the discount it secures.
Inntel’s Briant also suggests booking in advance or using the same venue a couple of years running, which may help you secure the previous year’s rates – although this won’t help to wow your guests second time around. “Try and get 'extras' thrown in – for example Christmas novelties, an extra desert option or pre-dinner drink,” she continues.

Meanwhile, Emma Piniero, event director at Organza Events, suggests “ordering a buffet instead of a full three-course meal, which saves on staff serving costs”.

“Bowl food is also a good option if numbers are large and instead of an unlimited bar, a drinks package that includes beer, wine and soft drinks, while having a cash bar for spirits ensures that you can keep control of costs and still cater for most tastes,” she continues. “Money can also be saved by having a party earlier in the week (such as on a Monday or Tuesday) and also by having a lunch package instead of an evening one.”

It has never been more important to make your people feel valued and motivated, so whether you reward them with a party at Christmas or any other time of the year, make sure you get their input and try to give them an experience they’ll never forget.

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