Expert Insights

13 insider tips for planning a Christmas party (yes, already)

4 April 2017 by Lucy Cacchio

It may only be spring, but if you’ve been tasked with planning the office Christmas party, you’re going to need to be one step ahead when it comes to refining the festive celebrations. 

With event planners now looking ahead to Christmas party season, here are a few of my essential tips:

1. Keep your venue ideas fresh

A Christmas party is to reward your employees for a year of hard work, while giving them the opportunity to let their hair down. To build excitement and help set the scene for this night to remember, a new venue will give your event a buzz. We can certainly help with some ideas!

It’s particularly important to check that the venue is able to cope with the number of people you’re expecting. It’s all very well to devise an elaborate five-course dinner for 10, but can they do the same when they’re scaling it up for 200?

2. Ask your guests for feedback

Asking previous Christmas party attendees what they liked (and didn’t) is a great way to build a more concise event brief: a quick questionnaire is very useful. You can also ask your team whether they’d prefer the budget to be spent on food, entertainment or a quirkier venue, so that you’re fulfilling expectations on the night.

3. Build your brief, know your budget

Once you’ve got pointers from your colleagues, you can build a detailed brief and attribute a budget to different aspects of the event. For example, if food isn’t so important, perhaps ‘finger food’ or a buffet is the preferred catering option, allowing for some out-of-this-world entertainment and a couple of drinks tokens per person. The more information that you provide at the brief stage, the more likely the end result will be successful.

4. Use the midweek budget trick

If you want to keep costs down without compromising on a choice of venue, consider holding your party midweek. Scheduling a midweek event can also help to secure availability at a popular venue during the busy festive period.

Of course, if selecting this option, it’s worth considering the impact of tiredness on the following working day. If you think it’s likely that the party will have a big impact on productivity levels, it may be that this drawback outweighs the money that is being saved.

The alternative is a New Year party, which gives everyone something to look forward to as the January blues begin to loom – all while making your budget go further!

5. Remember, the usual venue contract rules still apply

As your meetings and events experts, we’ll recommend some venues and negotiate with suppliers based on your needs. Don’t forget, however, that contractual obligations will apply: if you cancel on a venue, it will usually impose a fee.

Also, be realistic about the number of guests you’re expecting. A price based on a group of 500 people may look attractive, but it’ll sting if you sign the venue contract and can’t meet its minimum numbers – you’ll still have to pay for 500!

6. Don’t make a theme faux pas

Theming your event will make everything from food to entertainment a more immersive experience for your guests. But choose your theme carefully, and know your audience.

Even the most elaborate event theme, with the most exclusive entertainment, will be a washout if it doesn’t marry with guests’ tastes. For example, a full-on festive event might not appeal to those who don’t celebrate, or don’t care for, Christmas.

If you’re on a tight budget, then the theme doesn’t have to be costly. When it comes to decoration, a few inexpensive table centrepieces can set the scene.

7. Get creative with your entertainment ideas

When choosing entertainment, consider the scale of your event. Stage shows work well for particularly big audiences. Acts such as aerial performers can add a wow factor and a different dimension (and you won’t need to worry about whether your guests can see the show!).

Alternatively, if it’s a party for a more intimate group, an acoustic band or iPad portrait caricaturist could be enjoyable and more personal additions.

8. Make it memorable

A memorable party often includes activities outside of the main entertainment. It’s great for guests to have something to keep them busy.

The possibilities are endless, but our tried-and-tested ideas include ‘selfie’ mirrors, photo booths, green-screen sets with props to fit your party theme, casino tables and sport simulators.

Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of simple, low-cost activities in bringing people together. The classic block-stacking game of giant Jenga is surprisingly effective, while quizzes or talent shows are great icebreakers.

9. Whatever you do, don’t forget the food

Many of the guests we talk to judge a Christmas party entirely on its catering. Good food is a must, but make sure it fits your theme and mood.

There will always be those who prefer a traditional festive dinner – but will serving turkey and all the trimmings detract from your Cirque du Soleil-themed extravaganza?

Depending on the mood you want to create, and your budget, you could consider a three or seven-course taster menu, or more relaxed, buffet-style food.

For some events, a lighter bite may actually work better. If networking is one of the purposes of your party, serving smaller helpings of bowl food allows people to keep mingling.

Similarly, canapés on arrival or a themed drinks reception work well for more informal festive events where you want guests to circulate freely.

10. Ask for a dress rehearsal

When organising a Christmas party, we arrange planning meetings with venues and customers whenever possible. To ensure everything is perfect on the night, we also hold food tastings and run risk assessments in advance. We’ll also pre-plan the guest flow through the venue, to not only keep cloakroom queues at an absolute minimum, but to also ensure everyone arrives in from the cold and ready to embrace the Christmas spirit as quickly as possible!

11. Build momentum

Release pre-invitation teasers to get people talking, and think about investing in a customised event website. This can be used to collect RSVPs and provide guests with key information, as well as help you set the mood and introduce the event theme.

The online questions don’t need to be logistical; you could ask each guest what their favourite tipple is so that they’re able to receive a surprise room drop – now that’s a great way to say thank you for all their hard work that year!

Interaction and engagement doesn’t have to stop on the event night either. Your website can be used to share photos from the evening and collect guest feedback to help you plan next year’s success.

12. There are subtle ways to help keep things professional

Make your event memorable for the right reasons. To keep things as responsible as possible, we’d always advise getting the venue to bring out canapés before cocktails, and ensure there are plenty of non-alcoholic drinks on hand.

If you’re holding the party midweek, it’s a good idea for your management team to clearly let people know what is expected of them the next day.

If they turn up late to the office, will there be any consequences – or could their usual start time be relaxed a little, in the spirit of seasonal goodwill?

13. Give them a nudge about the dress code

Last but not least, make sure you communicate a dress code, so people know whether to dress up or keep it more casual. Some people feel there’s nothing worse than being the one wearing the wrong outfit at a Christmas party!

Interested? Let’s have a chat about your company’s travel, meetings and events objectives - from the stuff that keeps you awake at night, to the everyday experiences of your employees! Call us on 0330 390 0340, or submit the details below, with an idea of the times that suit you for a call.