Have a holiday party that won’t break the bank

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Hosting an employee holiday party is traditional for most companies at this time of year. But it’s not easy to host one that shows your appreciation for a year’s hard work without breaking the bank. Here are a few tips that can help.

You don’t want your employees to see you as the contemporary personification of Charles Dickens’ yuck-humbugging and miserly “Ebenezer Scrooge.” At the same time, you want to reward your employees with some frivolity and fun this holiday season, but not at the expense of your bottom line. What should a small business owner do?

However limited your party budget may be, it will serve you well to show your appreciation for your employees’ years of effort in a tangible and joyful way – to celebrate together in a social rather than corporate atmosphere. This makes employees feel valued and helps them bond with each other, a great step towards team building and improving morale.

Whether you’re having your holiday party on or off company property, there are many ways you and your employees can have a good time without “breaking the bank.”

Office parties

Try to place office parties away from workstations; you want to do what you can to create a “non-business” atmosphere. Bring in a multi-CD sound system and play some popular holiday CDs, or tune your company radio to a local station that plays non-stop holiday music; some do so from midnight on Thanksgiving Day to midnight on Christmas Day.

RELATED: 7 Tips for Hosting Your Office Party

Consider playing some light-hearted holiday games or activities to spice up the festivities. Look online for board game suggestions for corporate holiday parties. Take some employee party photos and post them on your company’s bulletin board.

If your employees have different schedules, try to have an all-shift schedule with holiday food and beverages in a central location so that every employee can participate.

Some suggestions for economical food choices

  • A catered lunch or party after work at the office can be cheaper than a restaurant or banquet outing. Catered foods vary in cost and many caterers have their own set of menus with a range of selections and prices. There are many foods that people enjoy that aren’t necessarily the most expensive choices.
  • Party expert and author Phyllis Cambria of Party Plans Plus shared some popular and very affordable food choices for corporate parties: cold meat platters paired with a variety of bread choices and salads; a variety of specialty pizzas; or, for late afternoon gatherings or just after work, heavy hors d’oeuvres like chicken wings, mini pizzas, and spring rolls.
  • Try something “out of the ordinary,” like these suggestions from PartyPlansPlus.com’s Cambria: a dessert party with cakes, pastries, cookies, and fruit (“amp up the party factor,” and serve with coffee, tea, cocoa, and a few dessert wines or liqueurs); or “an ice cream with different ice cream flavors, frozen yogurt and a sugar-free variety or two, along with all the toppings.”

Parties off site

  • Invite your employees and their “significant others” to your home. Holiday parties at home have a “warm and cozy” feel and can make socializing more comfortable and enjoyable. Hosting a party at your home can also be a bit cheaper for the wallet than a party in a restaurant or banquet hall. Whether serving brunch, lunch, dinner or cocktails, make sure the quality and taste of the food and drinks is superior. This will add significantly to the party experience.

    You might want to give each employee a gift bag filled with some nondenominational seasonal treats like these suggested by Cambria: a votive candle and holder, a snow globe with a generic winter scene, or tickets to a local celebration event like an ice show or pageant. “The best gifts,” Cambria says, “are, of course, the ones that are handpicked for each guest. They should be in the same price range, but something that is personal to each employee based on their taste, hobby or need.”

  • Consider going to a restaurant instead of a banquet or catering venue. Lunches are usually cheaper than dinners. Many restaurants offer a number of party menus to choose from, meaning cheaper menus with less expensive dishes such as chicken and pasta, or more expensive menus with entrees such as steak and shrimp. Those plans that include unlimited wine and beer are also significantly more expensive.
  • If you choose to go “whole hog” and have your party in a banquet hall, there are some ways to keep costs down. Parties held on any day except Saturday are generally less expensive. Consider having a “winter party” in January when rates can also be cheaper. Do your best to get an accurate workforce record instead of paying unnecessary extra money for no-shows. Food-wise, buffets tend to be less expensive than sit-down dinners, or you might consider skipping dinner altogether and just stick to hors d’oeuvres and drinks. Speaking of drinks, think about having a cash bar or handing out a certain number of drink tickets to each guest. Once employees have used up their tickets, they must pay for additional drinks themselves.
  • Consider doing something “off the beaten path,” like PartyPlansPlus.com’s suggestion to “pile the gang on a chartered bus, serve snacks along the way, and visit your city’s light shows.”

Whichever way you choose to go – off Company property or on – keep in mind that serving alcoholic beverages could result in unpleasant, unsafe or litigation consequences: embarrassing or inappropriate behavior, unsafe driving, accidents or claims of sexual harassment. Avoid liability and keep employees safe by keeping an eye out for any excesses and having designated drivers on hand when needed. Be sure to serve non-alcoholic drinks as well.

RELATED: Holiday Cheer or Holiday Nightmare?

The holidays should be a festive and fun time, a time of goodwill and as much generosity as one can muster. With this in mind, reward your employees with a Merry Christmas as a tangible way to express your appreciation for their years of effort. And leave that bah-humbugging to someone else.

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