Planning The Christmas Party: 18 Steps to Organising the Perfect Celebration
The thought of planning the company Christmas party is, for many, an uncertain and scary prospect. This is often due to the large amount of pressure, lack of time and the stress of wanting to organise a really good night for the people you work with.
Perhaps it sounds a little early to think about Christmas, but if you haven’t already, now is the time to start planning it – others already have!
In this post, I’ll give my best recommendations for planning the Christmas party from an event organiser’s perspective, intending to inform you about the options available and help you organise a memorable celebration.
#1 – Set The Date
Christmas is a busy period and diaries fill up fast, so get something pencilled in asap.
Send potential dates around the office to find the preferred date and responses will give you an indication of numbers for the event. Usually when selecting a date, the majority rules and remember you can’t please everybody. Typically, Thursdays and Fridays are most popular, so earlier days in the week tend to work out cheaper – but don’t expect a productive workforce over the following days.
Some companies organise their party in January to kick start the year and get better value for money.
To ensure a good turn out, I recommend, sending a save the date email to everybody as soon as you’ve settled on one. At this stage it doesn’t matter that you don’t know any details about the party, it’s more important to get as many people to the event as you can. To make life easier, later on, request info on any special dietary requirements or allergies that you’ll need to consider when selecting menus.
#2 – Get The Budget
The size of your budget will ultimately impact on the type of Christmas party you organise.
Find out how much money you have to spend
Allocate the budget by what is most important to your group. This will depend on the type of company you work for and the expectations of the people you work with. Remember that the Christmas party is a ‘thank you’ to the staff, so should be organised for them and not to please directors.
Leave some money aside as a back up
#3 – Establish The Type Of Christmas Party You’re Organising
There are a variety of Christmas parties you can plan, which will depend on the location, budget, the amount of people attending and how much you wish to be involved in the planning and management of the event.
You’ll need to decide whether you’re planning a day event, evening event or both
Do you have the budget to accommodate husbands, wives and partners? These are the people who support your people so it’s good to thank them if you can afford it – but don’t compromise the quality of the party over it.
Bespoke or packaged Christmas party? If this sounds confusing, here is a breakdown:
Organising a bespoke Christmas party - where you start from scratch, bringing together different suppliers (e.g. activities, catering and theming) and entertainers in a venue or the office (if you have the space).
Using what’s available in your area – dinner in a local pub or restaurant is not uncommon for smaller companies, usually followed by a bar crawl or finding somewhere to dance. You could investigate alternative ideas in your area combined with dinner and drinks, such as city cruises, cookery workshops, cocktail making, going to a roller disco, ice skating, bowling or watching a show at the theatre.
Buying a packaged Christmas party – this is an ‘off the shelf’ Christmas party organised by either a venue or Christmas party planner. Where they theme an entire venue or function room for December, with the same entertainment and serve the same menu every night.
This option is ideal for large companies that don’t have time or budget to organise an event from scratch, so buyout one of the nights exclusively for their company.
For smaller companies there are shared party nights, where you buy tables at an ‘off the shelf’ large Christmas party, sharing with a variety of companies. This is ideal for companies that want the atmosphere and inclusions of a larger event, but don’t have the budget, amount of people or time to put something bespoke together.
If investigating these ideas sound like a lot of hassle you could contact an event company to do all the hard work for you, and you’ll just have to select the best option. Some may charge for their services and others may just take a commission from the venue, Christmas party planner or suppliers.
#4 – Source The Venue
The earlier you book the venue, the better – good venues go quickly!
Identify suitable venues that have availability, are within budget and easily accessible for guests – the internet is the best tool for this. Request a quote from each based on your requirements.
Make the most of the events team at the venue, they’ll know the space really well and will have seen plenty of events there – so fire your questions at them!
Place preferred locations on hold provisionally
Organise site visits to find the best option (check out this post for more details on planning a site visit) and take photos to help when planning the theme
Ask the venue events team about what you’ll be able to use and what you’ll need to hire in, such as furniture, staff on the night, Christmas decorations and theming
Check that the venue will be willing to clear up afterwards, otherwise you may want them to hire in some extra help, rather than clear up yourself
Find out about accommodation at the venue or nearby (if required)
If you’re worried about ‘no shows’, ask if you will be able to book for minimum numbers and add guests later on
Before signing anything check back through the quote and ensure it includes everything you require and that there will be no hidden charges
Negotiate costs (if you don’t ask, you don’t get – although Christmas is a busy time so don’t be surprised if you are turned down)
Formally confirm the location and release alternative venues on hold. Book accommodation (if required).
#5 – Make It Look Pretty: Theming
The theme is the heartbeat of your event and should be integrated through all parts of the day.
Choose a theme and research thoroughly. Here are a few popular ideas: traditional Christmas, vintage, 60s, 70s, 80s, quintessentially English, pantomime, circus, Chicago jazz, winter wonderland, ballroom, colours, film inspired, wild west, spy themed, Caribbean and Santa’s workshop.
Make a list of anything you would associate with the chosen theme. When doing this consider every stage of the event, such as focal points (the entrance, the bar, table centres and unique features in the venue), stages of the event (arrival, reception drinks, dinner, post dinner dancing and drinking) and parts of the party that can be incorporated into the theming (dress codes for guests and staff, outdoor areas, music choice, food and drinks).
Contact theming companies for inspiration and quotes
#6 – Fill Bellies: The Food
Food is a key part of any party and can easily be incorporated into the theme. Don’t feel like you have to stick with turkey, especially if you’re planning to eat at a venue with a specialist restaurant. A traditional Christmas dinner done badly in a Dim Sum restaurant is worse than not having turkey at all. However if you think turkey is important to your group I’d suggest going somewhere or hiring in caterers that are geared up to cook and serve roast dinners and will do a good job!
You’ll need to decide between using in-house catering (which will work out much cheaper) or hiring in external caterers? This will depend on whether the venue allows external companies to cater for events, the budget available and also the food reputation of the venue (if it’s not broken, don’t try and fix it!).
Choose how you would like the food to be served, e.g. pre dinner nibbles placed on the tables or canapés taken round by waiting staff, a buffet or sit down three course meal with full silver service (and will this be a set menu or will guests need to choose beforehand)?
Consult with chefs and choose a style of food for the event, incorporating the theme where possible
Organise a vegetarian option (if required)
Insist on a menu tasting, especially if you’re booking for a large group
#7 – Something To Make Everybody A Little Tipsy: Order Drinks
Choose arrival drinks. Christmas favourites include Winter Pimms, Mulled Wine, Sparkling Wine, Christmas Cocktails or you could come up with a drink related to the theme.
Decide on whether you’re going to pre-order drinks or pay for what is consumed on the night (If you’re concerned about budget or everybody getting a fair share from the bar tab rather than just a few, narrow down the choices or organise drink vouchers so the budget isn’t just blown within an hour on Jaeger bombs)
You’ll need to choose a serving process for drinks, either waiter service, order from the bar, drinks scattered around the venue or set up in one place so staff can just help themselves
#8 – Plan To Make Some Noise: Music
Usually dancing at the Christmas party is a must, but it depends on the type of group.
Hire a DJ, musician, band or put together a Christmas playlist (have some music playing)
Organise an independent sound system in other areas of the building being utilised
Coordinate between the venue, DJ and band to ensure you have all the kit required, such as stage, dance floor, sound, lighting. Alternatively you may need to hire in some extra bits of kit.
#9 – Book Entertainment
Choose entertainment. Here are a few popular ideas: comedian, juggler, table magician, casino tables, murder mystery, funfair rides, TV show games, cocktail making or demonstration with flaring, wine tasting, caricaturist, dancers, after dinner speakers, cabaret act, stilt walkers, lookalikes, paparazzi, stunt show, contortionists, theatre acts, circus performers, fun games (like giant scalextric, console games, air hockey, pool, jenga), impersonators, a firework show or karaoke.
Source relevant suppliers
#10 – Organise A ‘Thank you’ Speech and Awards
A nice way to thank everybody is by actually saying it.
Ask a director or manager to deliver a short ‘thank you’ speech and (if appropriate) give out a couple of awards to anybody who deserves to be recognised. Please note that any speech given at a party should be short, loud and not done too late.
Coordinate between the venue, DJ and band to ensure they have a microphone that can be used for the speech. Alternatively you may need to hire in a PA and microphone (you’ll probably also need to bring an extension cord with you)
Order any awards, trophies and gifts if required, leaving enough time to get awards/trophies engraved
#11 – Ways to enhance your event
Sometimes little changes can make all the difference. Here are some ideas:
Upgrade the toilet facilities – buying fresh flowers, lighting scented candles, having good quality soap and nice paper towels (and a bin for the paper towels)
Hire a photographer -so you’ll have visual reminders of the event. Good shots can be used on the company blog and website, in marketing materials and put up round the office
Put together goody bags – but don’t just fill them with company collateral, things like chocolates and wine always go down well.
Have a cloakroom – December is a cold month when large, heavy jackets are used, so take them off their hands when they arrive. If you’re expecting a large amount of guests, hire plenty of staff to manage when everybody arrives and leaves or suggest different arrival times (don’t have people waiting for ages in the cold)
Book friendly security (if required) who will give a welcoming arrival
#12 – Visualise the event
Take some time out and visualise each stage of the event from a guest’s point-of-view and how you see the party unfolding, ensuring that you haven’t left anything out and note down timings. This will be the start of your itinerary. Make sure you allow guests plenty of time to leave work and get ready for the party, build in time for late arrivals and plan plenty of time for all courses to be served.
Find out when suppliers need access to the venue and confirm these times with your contact at the venue
#13 – Organise Transportation
Get local taxi numbers and details on public transport for that night. Put details on one document and print copies out for when guests leave.
Organise a coach (if required)
#14 – Invite Guests
Plan wording for the invitations. Make sure you include the following…
Get invites designed (incorporate the theme) either in an eformat or printed and send/deliver to guests.
Nominate reps across the company, in each department, to help you chase guests for menu choices and RSVPs
Be prepared to chase guests
#15 – Create the Table Plan
Plan table arrangements so that guests can mingle with colleagues that they wouldn’t usually get the chance to speak with. Print a large copy of the table plan to put up on the night that will direct guests to their seats.
Order/make table name cards
#16 – Put Together A Full Itinerary
Create one document that includes everything about the event:
On the front: “If this document is found unattended please hand into reception”
Inside: A complete breakdown of the event. I would put this in a table format under the heading When(timings), Who, What, Where in the venue. Include contact names and mobile numbers and email addresses of everybody involved in the event. Any documents you’ve put together or collected should be kept with this document, such as menus.
Send a copy of the itinerary to everybody involved in running the event – suppliers, venues, entertainers and print a copy for yourself
#17 – Managing the event
All this preplanning is so that you can enjoy the event as well – although you will have to deal with any issues if they arise.
Have the itinerary with you
Introduce yourself to all suppliers, venues and entertainers at the start of the event, so that they know who you are and who to come to if they have any problems or questions.
Providing suppliers with food and beverages during the event is a nice gesture. If really does make life a lot easier if you are dealing with happy workers.
#18 – Ask for Feedback
Find out what guests enjoyed about the event and what they didn’t to put on an even better event next year.
Put together and send round an email or survey about the party and collect feedback
Using this list, you should be able to plan the Christmas Party and feel confident that your priorities are in place and have everything covered. I recommend using this as a working document and checklist, crossing off tasks when completed.
Please feel free to share other suggestions to help others get their Christmas party on its feet. I’m looking forward to seeing what other recommendations you’ve got.