Rob’s Rules: Fear of Cheer

September 30, 2009

Schaefer WebBy Rob Schaefer

Like the dinosaur, is the holiday party going extinct? From black tie to bowling, many companies are torn between group celebration and party annihilation. Does a rough economy mean we’re all Scrooged?

As the old saying goes, you don’t miss something until it’s gone. The same holds true for the infamous company holiday party. Never has such an event been more expected, dissected, rejected and subjected to urban office legend. We all love hearing the stories of water-cooler hookups, ghastly holiday sweaters and foil pan Foo Yung. I firmly believe in celebrating the holidays and creating a sense of fellowship with co-workers; however, for many people, the holiday party is another source of stress and commitment in an already rushed time of year. Although your co-workers might appear to be financially stable, things at home could be hardly the case. Asking people to donate money, buy things to support your children’s school, chip in for the boss’s big gift or worse, draw names for a gift exchange, can place hardship on the people you least expect it to. During these times we need to show sensitivity to everyone, ask less and give more. Right now, while some employers are faced with laying people off, they also have to find a way to show appreciation to those still employed. Although money may be tight, there are creative ways to appreciate your staff while maintaining a healthy budget this holiday season.

Holiday parties are good for company morale. We give gifts, decorate, cook and communicate more during the holidays than any other time of year. It is the ultimate expression of appreciation and many of my clients not only want their staffs to feel appreciated, they want to create positive outlook.

The media have created a “No-Party Zone” attitude due to the recent mistakes of several large companies. However, sharing a nice meal, meeting the families of your co-workers and sharing a little holiday cheer that requires no work on the part of the guests is still a wonderful tradition.

December is often a busy time of year. This is why many of my clients have chosen January or February to host a celebration. This is the perfect opportunity to lose the “holiday” status and adopt a new theme, such as an award or appreciation dinner. Rob’s Rule: Think outside the season and find an alternative reason!

If your budget does allow for the traditional evening party with dinner and dancing, don’t broadcast it. Hotels and clubs often post signs announcing what group is in what room. Request that this not be done, as now is a time for discretion. To remain low-key, avoid signs, banners and marquees announcing your function. Make the dress code business casual or cocktail. Almost everyone owns something in these categories so it will not require an additional wardrobe purchase.

The culinary world offers many choices. You might choose a rich, juicy pot roast instead of tenderloin or a savory, moist breast of chicken with a chardonnay wine glaze on the plate. Rob’s Rule: Good food is good food – drop the attitude.

When it comes to furniture, rentals and décor, work with the facility. Use what they already own and add to it, if necessary. Purchase live plants to use as centerpieces and raffle them off at the end of the night. Urns of bread, bottles of olive oil, and other functional decorations can make beautiful centerpieces and unique farewell favors.

A themed hot lunch buffet can make a wonderful meal and be very cost-effective. One of my most popular buffets includes salad, bruschetta and chicken Parmesan or beef marsala. Giving staff a delicious and LONG lunch with dessert, beverages, décor and linens can provide an opportunity for fellowship even if you have to have it catered in the building. I have seen this combined with neck massages, yoga and live music. Another popular choice is allowing staff to come in an hour later (sleeping in on a winter morning) and welcoming them to a huge breakfast with buttermilk waffles or pancakes, frittatas, fruits and chilled juices. Rob’s Rule: Rewarding people with a good meal doesn’t have to happen during dinner.

If the budget really is next to nothing, try having a tea or coffee bar at 2 p.m., a late afternoon dessert bar or complete ice cream sundae station. Who wouldn’t like a big chocolate brownie, warm chocolate chip cookies or a banana split to liven up their work day? Regardless of what you can or cannot do, the easiest and cheapest thing you can do is to tell people how valued they are. And for those organizations that have corporate directives prohibiting any type of holiday party, you could give your staff an additional paid day off for errands, gift buying,baking or just spending time with their families.

Rob’s Top Holiday Party Tips

1. Throw a party that suits the nature of the guests. Do they prefer a filet or fried chicken? If you decide to glam it up, be sure to communicate the venue, atmosphere and dress code expectations.

2. Avoid “amateur drink night.” Either eliminate the bar or limit it. Also keep in mind that there are social host laws. If you let a drunken employee drive and he harms someone, you are responsible. Offering alternative transportation, such as shuttles or taxis, is a wise option.

3. Distribute a letter of behavior to all your employees letting them know ahead of time what constitutes acceptable behavior at a company-sponsored event. Post this in the lunch room as well.

4. Don’t broadcast your holiday party. But quite frankly, if you want to do something for your employees, it is your business. You have every right to celebrate and appreciate your company and the good people who work with you!                                                                                                             5.

5. Try a lunch or breakfast buffet as a cost-effective way to show employees your appreciation.

6. Try moving your holiday party to January or February when schedules are less crowded and prices are lower.

7. Be sure to acknowledge your spouse or date throughout the evening and introduce him or her to your boss and coworkers. This will help break the ice for your date to have a good time as well. However, keep in mind that you are at a work-sponsored event – the only mistletoe you should be under is at home!

Please e-mail me your honest opinions and suggestions regarding company holiday parties!

This column is meant to provide practical advice, tips and rules of
engagement you need in the meeting and event planning industry.
If you have a question, whether it’s how to dress, how to address
your guests or what to serve as the main course, e-mail Rob at
[email protected] Your question might just inspire the
topic of his next column! Rob Schaefer is Vice President of Steven
Becker Fine Dining in St. Louis.

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