Company Holiday Party Planning Tips from Chicago’s Industry Pros

June 13th, 2017 | hereschicago

When planning a party, you want your guest to have an amazing experience from the beginning to the end of the event. Here are a few tips to make this experience a memorable one.

Staffing is the key – Always ask about the number of staff ratio when planning your party and have this added in your contract.  If it’s beer, wine and soft drinks only being served, a ratio of 1 per 75 since this is much faster to serve.  If there is cocktails also, I would recommend a ratio of 1 per 50. The little things means a lot, who wants to wait in a long line for a cocktail? Another item I recommend at start time is to have beer and wine ready to be passed on trays at the beginning of the event to eliminate lines.  This way the first 30 minutes of your event, everyone is happy with a drink in hand.

Valet Parking – Nothing is more frustrating than waiting 30 minutes to get your car after the event has ended. I would recommend working with your valet company to ensure there are extra staff. The extra dollars spent will be recognized. Especially if where they are parking cars is far from the venue.

Entertainment – Always make sure your entertainment fits the venue. You also want to make sure they play a variety of genres from several decades.  Giving your guest the opportunity to request songs also keeps them engaged in the event.

Venue Selection – A good tip for selecting a venue is to find a location that is close proximity to your hotel you are staying at or if this is a work function, within a reasonable distance to the office.  It will make your guest happy that they can walk back to the hotel, take a quick cab ride or drive home within a reasonable distance.

Food for All – When selecting your food, keep in mind all of the dietary needs of your guest. Always have buffets labeled clearly and for an amazing menu, I always work with the chef to prepare an amazing menu your guests will walk away talking about their experience to others.

Management Team Welcome – If you have a great management team who wants to get to know their teams, put them to work with welcoming their guests.  It goes a long way making the guests feeling extra special.

MELISSA HAHN, CMP, HMCC – Account Lead, Global Enterprise Solutions | Meetings & Incentives

“Make time to tour venues! Restaurant/Venue Event Planners are pretty accommodating when asked to give tours of their event spaces in person. We are festive personalities that love to plan events…so pick our brains. As the person “choosing” a venue, you can learn a lot more going on a tour of the space than reading an email proposal, or from scouring websites.  That’s only step one.”

–Nicole Salerno, Partner | Director of Events, Rockit Ranch Productions

“Call the Venue Event Planner! If you have interest in a venue, but have questions…don’t use email. Talking through your needs is our specialty. Learn what types of parties have previously been in the space, what entertainment works, if the budget can be massaged to your needs.  Learning first-hand how the event planner understands your needs, will indicate how helpful she/he will be as you create your event.  Lots of cool party ideas and experiences are not reflected on general catering packets that you find on a venue’s website. A quick chat can put you at ease and eliminate lots of back and forth emails.”

–Nicole Salerno, Partner | Director of Events, Rockit Ranch Productions

We find that activities/games are a great way to bring guests together at holiday parties.  Our clients love how easy it is to make that happen at the Chicago Sports Museum.

Joanna DePorter, Vice President, Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group

Keep It Moving

When planning your party room setup, opt for high-boy tables instead of rounds and chairs to encourage conversation. The limited physical space between those gathered at smaller tables promotes introductions. Additionally, consider food stations or passing heavy hors d’oeuvres instead of a sit-down meal. Not only can this save some money, depending on your selections, but it encourages conversation to flow between a variety of guests rather than the few each would otherwise be assigned to sit with at a round of eight.

Janine M. Osborne | Corporate Sales Manager, The Abbey Resort & Avani Spa

In the past year or two, we’ve seen the typical holiday office parties’ shift from being held at restaurants or venues to scaled-back versions right in the office!
There are a few reasons for this. First off…budget. Corporations are scaling back and can save big by avoiding food and beverage minimums, venue fees, additional tax & service fees, as well as staffing or décor fees.

These add up quickly and due to the ideal time period (first two weeks of December with the preferences being Thursday, Friday or Saturday evenings) many venues & restaurants are at a premium and therefore have hiked-up pricing.

Secondly…convenience. Another reason which corporate planners consider carefully is the turnout rate. With family gatherings and vacations approaching, many employees are anxious to get home and consider bad weather and traffic jams major ‘deal-breakers’ for staying late and going to a work-related event before heading home.

With the location right on the corporate premises, planners are guaranteed to save money and have a higher turnout…a win-win situation for everybody!
This leads to a change in the events themselves as well. Where past events may have been structured as formal, seated affairs (which office locales are not ideal for) they opt instead for cocktail parties.

Typically, the designated lunch or break areas within the offices, are easily converted to perfect spaces for cocktails and appetizers with the addition of a few strategically-placed high boy tables.

Corporate planners have realized too, that a capable caterer can easily add the elements of an upscale event by their trendy selections. Simple but elegant passed appetizers in addition to some plattered selections or buffet can serve the purpose of feeding everyone without the hassle of a seated, plated, more formal dinner.
Most importantly, portable full bar service is super-convenient and planners have fun with some unique, corporate-themed drinks with clever names and branded colors.

In addition to the food/beverages, many planners want to include an exciting, interactive element as well. This could be a photo booth, design your own take-a-way candy table, or live musical component.

Nina Madonia, Director, Business Development, Inspired Catering Events

If you’re like millions of other planners across the country, you’re starting to think about how to celebrate the holiday season with your employees. The first order of business? Figuring out when your awesome shin-dig is going to take place! So you open your calendar and immediately start eyeing those three precious Fridays that fall in December but aren’t too close to the holidays. Those golden Fridays are prime picks for many companies and are therefore prime real estate for most event venues. Venues’ rates may be higher, their promotions may not be valid, or they may be sold out because the demand is highest. Selecting a weekday other than Friday can be a huge win for your bottom line! As you’re starting to get information from the venues you’re considering, ask what perks are available for off-peak bookings. You can often score reduced pricing or minimums by making Tuesday the new Friday! As an extra bonus, you may also see increased attendance at a mid-week event as it won’t be competing as heavily with PTO or other parties and events. Kristen Schascheck, Vice President of Sales, Medieval Times

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