how to make your office holiday party less of a disaster

how to make your office party less of a disaster

As I’ve mentioned previously, office holiday parties have a bad reputation. They are either terribly boring or so boozy that it’s an HR nightmare. If you have any pride as a planner at all, you will try a little harder this year and try to prevent both scenarios. While we are well into December and many holiday parties are already planned, here are some suggestions you can try to work in at the last minute, or just start taking notes for next year.

Order more food than you think you need

Food is where most parties try to skimp and the result is a bunch of super-drunk employees who haven’t had enough to eat. That’s not to say that by providing food that people won’t still overindulge, but at least they won’t just be getting tipsy because of drinking on an empty stomach.

Think about the makeup of your employees. If your group is heavily male, order more.  Especially if they are youngish and male. (Sorry to stereotype but it’s true). Do you have interns that will attend the party (you should probably rethink that if you do)?  Triple or quadruple your food order. Interns that are either unpaid or underpaid will consume “free” food at an incredible high rate.

If your party is timed around dinner time (which is any time right after work) people are going to expect dinner. If you don’t have the budget for a full dinner, go as heavy on the hors d’oeuvres as possible.

Order the right food & Offer the right environment

Think strategically about your menu. Offer foods that are hearty and filling. Avoid overly salty foods, which make people thirsty.  Make sure that your food items are easy to eat – don’t make your guests choose between holding a drink or holding a plate. If space allows, have plenty of cocktail tables scattered around the room so people can place their drink down while they eat. Anything you can do to make eating easier will help people actually eat.

If you can’t eliminate the bar, limit the bar

The concept of a dry office holiday party might seem like blasphemy.  While many planners (and lawyers) would love to eliminate the bar entirely, I know it’s just not a reality for many companies. Instead, try and limit it.

You can offer beer and wine only, with a festive signature cocktail, instead of a full open bar.  You can limit the number of hours served – I think two hours is plenty long enough. After two hours you can either end the party or switch to a cash bar. I would just be up front with the invitations that the has a start and end time so if guests roll in late they aren’t disappointed.

You can make it difficult to get a drink. This is a tough one, because long lines at the bar are something guests are sure to complain about, but if you make it super easy to get a drink, people will drink more.  But I have a trick that usually works – have the number of bars be on the low end for your numbers (the standard is 1 per 75 or 1 per 100 guests), but have servers pass drinks to guests as they arrive. I usually have sparkling wine or a signature drink passed because it just feels elegant and classy (see – we’re starting the office holiday party on the right foot with the façade of classiness!). I usually do this for just the first 30 minutes of the party to cover the time when guests arrive. Most guests will just grab a drink off of the tray, leaving the lines at the bar relatively low.

Some offices can do drink tickets – this works for some offices but not for others.

And of course, it goes without saying that you should always have a licensed bartender serving, not an employee.

Give people something to do

If all there is to do is sit (or stand) around and drink, that’s all people will do. Try hiring entertainment of some kind – from a band or a magician, to a photobooth or games, if you occupy people they will usually not drink as much.

There are plenty of other ways you can change the office holiday party – from moving it from an evening reception to a luncheon, making it a family friendly party, or even doing a team building activity instead of just a reception. But my guess is your plans are made by now, so if you can make a few small tweaks on the margin, you might end up with a classier affair.

This was just from the event planner’s lens – from an HR perspective, this blog post from Integrity HR is an interesting read.


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