Planning the perfect Christmas party

Jane Longhurst, chief executive of the Meetings Industry Association, explains what you need to know when planning for the end of year office festive event

‘Tis the season to be jolly. As the days start becoming shorter and memories of Summer holidays slowly fade, it’s inevitable thoughts of tinsel, baubles and Christmas start to re-appear. If you haven’t already got your office Christmas party booked, now is the time – September is one of the busiest months for Christmas bookings and it could be your last chance to grab an early bird bargain.

While the annual Christmas party is one of the highlights of the calendar for many employees, it can also be one of the biggest causes of stress for event planners. Putting on a party that pleases everyone while keeping to tight budgets is no mean feat, but with advanced planning and careful consideration it can be done.

Budget is of course one of the most important things to consider, but current trends, finding the right venue and event management all need to be taken into account to ensure your Christmas party is a festive success.

Managing the budget
The office Christmas party is about celebrating your team’s hard work throughout the year and ending the year on a high – but what do you do in the age of austerity when flashing the cash can be seen as ostentatious and unwise?

Luckily there are ways of cutting back and saving money without sacrificing enjoyment. First of all, you need to establish exactly what the budget is so you can plan accordingly. If your company or department is having to cut back this year it doesn’t mean the party is over, you will just have to be a little bit more savvy with your spending.

Top money saving tips
There are several ways of saving money on the Christmas party, starting with deciding how much of it is going to be company-funded. If you can afford a party where everything is paid for, from the free bar to post-party accommodation, your team will love you for it, but these days all-inclusive parties like this are the exception rather than the rule.

Deciding to pay for just the venue, food and drinks on arrival or wine with dinner is perfectly acceptable. Guests hoping to keep the party going can always pay for any additional drinks themselves. It is also increasingly common to ask for an employee contribution to the cost of the party, particularly with public sector groups, but if you are going to do this make sure that you notify the team in advance so they can budget for it.

Planning your party in advance can help achieve savings with early bird discounts, as can opting for a less popular date, as venues will often have reduced price packages. Try choosing a November or early weekday date, as Thursdays and Fridays in December are usually the most popular dates.

If you have a large number of employees you can often secure reduced rates for large bookings, but if you’ve got a smaller team, looking at a shared party night could offer better value for money than exclusive hire. Booking a package can also save you money, while making your job easier by the venue planning and providing everything you need.

Location, location, location
The most important element of your party is going to be the venue, so how do you go about selecting a venue that’s remembered for the right reasons? It can seem like there’s an overwhelming amount of options to choose from but using a venue finding search tool can make the job a lot easier.

To help event planners find the perfect venue for their event, the Meetings Industry Association (mia) has an online search tool at that allows you to search all of the UK’s AIM accredited venues, filtering the results by location, facilities and budget.

AIM accreditation is the UK’s nationally recognised standard for venues and service providers in the meetings, conferences and events industry. By choosing a venue that has the accreditation you can be assured that it meets the strict criteria for excellence, including everything from legal compliance, accessibility and quality of facilities, to the customer service proposition and experience, ethical codes of conduct and best practice standards. There are more than 500 venues across the UK which are AIM accredited, so there are plenty of choices to suit different budgets and requirements for Christmas parties.

Aside from an assurance of quality, some of the key things to consider when choosing a venue are the location, the packages available, the catering and the style.

Depending on where your office is based and the geographical reach of your employees, you will need to choose a venue that can either be easily reached by public transport or you may need to provide company transport to reach it. If your party is bringing together offices from across the country the accommodation may also need to be considered - either paid for or subsidised by the company.

Choosing a venue that offers Christmas party packages can make your life a lot easier as your venue will look after all the details for you. It can also make budgeting a lot simpler too, as you can see the combined cost of venue hire, catering and theming all in one.

When it comes to catering and theming, the sky’s the limit – venues are getting much more creative with their Christmas party offers, so whether you want a traditional Christmas dinner or a fully themed night of entertainment there’s bound to be somewhere that can provide what you need.

2016 Christmas trends
Christmas parties tend to go one of two ways – very traditional or completely trend-led. Once you’ve decided which direction you want to go in it will make it much easier to choose your venue, catering and theming. Seated lunches and dinners tend to be the most popular option, compared to the standing canapé receptions which work well for summer parties.

If you want to go for something traditional, then it’s all about luxury and making it feel as special as possible. Heading outside of the city to a country house hotel can help give your party the feeling of a quintessentially British Christmas and everything else should match – from turkey with all the trimmings to Christmas crackers and festive entertainment.

There are also some themes that never go out of style – think old school Hollywood glamour, masquerade balls and black tie dinners – which are well suited to both traditional and modern venues. You can also bring Christmas menus up to date by serving traditional dishes with a contemporary twist in the ingredients used or the way dishes are presented.

For companies that want to keep up with the latest trends, two of this year’s hottest Christmas themes are set to be alpine ski lodge and opulent luxe.
The winter wonderland theme has been around for a while and alpine ski lodge can be thought of as a more modern, stylised and stripped back version of that. Think a frosted arctic colour palette with hints of earthy browns and greens, metallic accents and an element of the outdoors with natural woods and leaves and handcrafted decorations.

Opulent luxe is all about indulgence and drama – bold, dark colours with gold and sparkling jewels, rich fabrics and lavish decorations. More is more with opulent luxe and it will give guests the perfect excuse to dress to impress and feel valued at your Christmas party.

Entertainment is an important consideration too, to keep spirits high throughout the evening. The classic ‘dinner and dancing’ is still a favourite, but you can keep things fresh and fun with the addition of a photo booth and props, a wandering magician or interactive games and activities.

It's the most wonderful time of the year. So, however you decide to wrap up your Christmas party this year, the right venue, menu, theming and entertainment can make it one your team won’t forget.

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