How To Make Your Christmas Party A Bit Different
Monday, 2 December 2013 | Makro
Ten weeks until Christmas! For those who have already earmarked a present or two for each and every friend and family member, this instructional manual on how best to plan a unique Christmas party should be a great help at the perfect time, as you are likely already in the first stages of the process. For those of you who haven’t found the time to begin planning, but are still very much intent on playing host to a festive do that will be a talking point for weeks to come, this guide will help to fuel your enthusiasm, get the ball rolling and give you a few helpful nudges in the right direction.
There is a lot to take into account when it comes to event planning, and even more to remember. Of the many considerations to bear in mind, chief among them should be that, as easy as it is to get stressed and allow the whole thing to get on top of you, stress will only reduce your effectiveness and could lead to you making mistakes, so stay calm! Remember - you’re doing this for the sake of fun. If you enjoy planning the party this is sure to rub off on the event itself. Whether you will be throwing the company bash or an invitation-only gathering, the following post is full of tips for all the stages in Christmas party planning.
Party Planning: What It Takes
Planning in Advance
The festive period is a busy time for everyone. Family commitments will come first (unless you’re desperate to avoid them!) and this could involve travel. Many of us will need some well-earned me time too, if it’s at all possible to fit this around family, friends and all the shopping. Therefore, in order to book people’s precious time around the winter solstice you will need to get there first.
The sooner a date is set, the more likely you are to have a sizable portion of your guest list in attendance. You don’t need the entire event planned at this point. You don’t even need to have settled on a venue, but settle on a date and stick to it. What day of the week will the date fall on? This is especially important if you will be looking to hire a venue because the first few days of the week will be cheaper than the more popular Thursdays and Fridays. Even better, a Christmas party in January will be significantly cheaper to host in many respects, and is a good way to get the New Year off to a flying start.
For the corporate event: Sending a few choice dates around to colleagues is the best way to go about this. Be mindful that not everyone will make it, but you want to ensure that the party is as well attended as possible, so always go with the majority’s preference. Send out a ‘save the date’ email as soon as you have settled on one.
For the private party: When it comes to the private party, always pick a date that suits you best. You don’t want to be caught in two minds dwelling on another engagement you need to prepare for a day or two before or after the event, or you won’t be able to focus your full attention on either. Let your guests know well in advance, and don’t bend to others. Changing the date because a particular someone can’t make it is likely to inconvenience even more guests who were happy with original date, so stay true to your word. There’s nothing worse than a host who can’t make up their mind.
The budget will dictate how you go about the planning process and, ultimately, what form the party will take. Prioritise your budget by first taking into account what the most important elements will be for the guests. Venue, theme, entertainment, food and drink should be the essentials regardless of the party type.
Remember - Always hold on to a portion of the budget as an emergency fund to cover costs for when the inevitable unforeseen circumstances rear their ugly heads. If you end up not needing to use it this can be utilized as a cash prize for an award during the night, or go towards a well-deserved reward for all your hard work.
The Type of Event
This will be dependent on a number of factors, including location, budget, the number of attendees, etc. First, decide when the party will be held. Will it be a day event, an evening party, or will it run through the day and long into the night? When this has been established you can move on to choosing between a bespoke or packaged event. Each has its own benefits and also pose specific difficulties that you may have to overcome.
A bespoke event requires you take charge and select suppliers for each and every one of the event’s requirements, from entertainment and theming to catering. It will be up to you to coordinate the party in its entirety, and a bespoke event will typically be expensive, but can you put a price on quality?
Opting for a packaged Christmas party will take some of the pressure off your shoulders, with either the venue or dedicated event planner putting together the entire party. Some venues will offer shared party nights that are ideal for small companies who still want the atmosphere and other perks that come with a larger event but don’t have the numbers or budget to justify throwing their own private function.
Another option open to you would be to plan an evening based on the facilities around you. In the case of smaller companies, dinner in a pub or restaurant followed by a bar crawl is a common means of celebrating the festive period while not paying over the odds. A more cultured approach can also be taken, as there are a host of activities typically available - from bowling and ice skating to cookery and cocktail making workshops - that will help to differentiate this year’s event from those past.
For the corporate event: You will have to look closely at the budget and decide whether or not it will accommodate significant others. If this is the case you will need guests to specify in reply to the invitation the names and any dietary requirements of their +1s.
For the private party: Will there be children in attendance? If so, they must be considered every step of the way in order to guarantee that there will be sufficient entertainment to keep them distracted and out of trouble. Most parents will only be able to truly enjoy themselves if they are reassured that the kids are under some sort of supervision, especially if the party is held in a public facility, so book a child minder if needs be.
Picking the Location
Venue is all important. If you’re hosting the party at home or in the office then you can miss this step in the process, but if you’re set on throwing a party on neutral ground then the location you choose must be appropriate for the occasion, and landing the right one - the one you want - will require your having followed through on the previous section’s advice (i.e. Planning in Advance) because the best are always in the highest demand, and even if you’re holding the party at the very beginning of December or in the New Year remember that this will be true of many parties. For one thing, the price of hiring a sought after location will only increase the closer the date is to the 25th. Therefore, checking availability and matching prices to your budget are of principle importance here.
Many venues will have an events team - so make the most of them! They will be full of information and helpful advice. Provisionally book your preferred locations and arrange to visit the various sites to scope out which will be best, and direct as many questions as you can possibly think of at the events team. You want to know as much about the location as they do! Points that should be covered at this stage include: accommodation (if required); size and layout of the function suite; what is provided and what will need to be hired; catering options; and who will clean up afterwards.
When you feel like everything has been covered, and you have settled on a venue, go through the quote with a fine-tooth comb to ensure nothing has been missed, negotiate and then formally confirm the venue. If accommodation is necessary, get it booked!
The Secret To A Standout Party
What makes a good party? Well, that’s simple - fun! If you’re going to throw a party that no one enjoys you can be sure not to have many people jumping with excitement over thought of your next attempt.
To throw a fun party you will need a theme to match. Coming up with a unique theme isn’t essential, but whatever you settle on needs to feel unique. Making tweaks to a popular standard should be all that’s needed, because it’s the little differences that make all the difference.
The standard go-tos like Hollywood, Ugly Jumper and Winter Wonderland may not seem adventurous, but the trick is to make the most out of your theme. Voting for Oscar winners in the case of a Hollywood theme, or the ‘Ugliest Jumper of the Night’ award, gets people involved and gives the event an added sense of occasion, with a prize giving representing the climax the night has built towards.
Here are a choice few ideas for themes:
And for the more intimate get together:
When choosing your theme consider how best to utilise the space available and how much of the party can be incorporated into the theming. Dress code and decoration should be first to mind, but can other elements be employed creatively to add to the tone of the event? For example, if the party will be beach themed, why not have a BBQ, kettle drum band renditions of carols and cocktails complete with the obligatory tropical fruit and canapés? Even if you decide to go it alone, talk with some theming companies for quotes. They’re likely to help you out with some added inspiration - something they can’t charge for!
Music is a love shared by many. Tastes, unfortunately, differ greatly. The reality is that you can’t please everyone, but when finalising a playlist it is important that you cater to a range of sensibilities. A mix of styles will be welcome and encourage people to get up and dance. A good way of doing this is to have a few different acts perform. Consider hiring a well recommended DJ who can influence the mood at various points in the night. Hiring a band who can keep things lively with a repertoire of classics is another option. Unless you know for certain that your guests will all enjoy it, never go for anything too extreme. That means shying away from dubstep and heavy metal, regardless of how much you want everyone to dance along to your favourite banger. They won’t, so don’t! The one exception to this rule is when the theme calls for music to match; a soundtrack that will contribute to the mood.
Make sure sufficient entertainment has been planned. If the night is still young, but the fun is over, expect the party to follow suit. Aside from music, what other forms of entertainment are going to excite and impress? If you’re inventive enough, the list could be near endless. Be daring with your ideas, then measure them against what reality will allow. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big.
If you’re going for a circus theme you’re going to need performers (clowns, contortionists, stilt walkers) and side shows. An animal or two wouldn’t go amiss either. Equally as extravagant, a Monte Carlo casino theme will call for all manner of card game tables, roulette wheel and croupiers. You could even throw in a few lookalikes to stand in as the cream of cultured society and provide great photo opportunities. Whether you want to do it on the cheap, or go all in, a firework display can act as the main event to festivities, and you can easily set this up yourself, or bring in a professional for an awe-inspiring demonstration.
What separates a good party from a great one are the little things; the personalised touches that demonstrate thought and an eye for detail over and above the call of duty. This can be anything: the welcoming door staff; personalised goody bags to take home; decked out, sweet-smelling bathrooms. Look at everything from the point of view of your guests. Visualise their night from beginning to end, then ask yourself: what can be improved? Each improvement you identify should be implemented if at all possible.
Problem Points & How To Avoid Them
Getting the catering right
Can a traditional Christmas dinner be worked into your chosen theme? If it can’t (and even if it can) consider what type of food will best suit the party, and what will be most fun. Your choice will hinge on how you choose to have the event catered - either in-house or by external caterers - and this will come down to budget (in-house being considerably cheaper), as well as other factors such as the standard of, and options available from, in-house catering, and whether the venue will allow for external catering. You’ll also need to decide how food will be served, either as a sit down meal or buffet, and if there will be assorted nibbles borne by costumed waiters circulating the venue.
You should request information on special dietary requirements and allergies along with invitations so that these can be identified and taken into account when establishing the menu. A vegetarian option is always recommended, regardless of whether any veggies are expected to be in attendance. Always make time for a menu tasting before anything is confirmed. Take your position as last line of quality control seriously, or you may end up faced with a lot of very disappointed people.
Avoiding the obnoxiously drunk
Having a few drinks and loosening up shouldn’t be stigmatised. After all, you want your party to be fun. Having said that, whenever alcohol is involved there is always the risk that someone will take it too far, and no one needs the social, and actual, mess that can be left in the wake of an inebriated party goer.
For the corporate event: Arranging drink vouchers may seem slightly draconian, but this approach will, in theory, control the levels of alcohol consumed and also help to budget for drink by avoiding the expected, but no less shocking, size of the bar tab.
For the private party: Controlling the volume of drink consumed will require vigilance on your part. Leading by example will have some effect - and besides, you will need to be in a fit state to deal with any issues that arise - but you can’t be seen to be interfering with your guest’s enjoyment. Have food available at all times, and serve the meal relatively early so that no one is drinking for too long on an empty stomach.
Making sure your guests are comfortable
Priority number one, as previously discuss, is for all your guests to have fun. It is important that this is the case for all guests, and it is sensible that you identify those that could be prone to feeling alienated or uncomfortable and take steps to ensure this doesn’t occur. Put together a table plan that mixes groups up. This will compel people who may not usually talk to have the chance to get to know one another. However, be smart and try to match people who share similar backgrounds or interests where possible. This doesn’t guarantee that fast friendships will be forged, but at least there will be some common ground on which they can converse.
Don’t allow the theme to detract from the fun
After all, the theme is supposed to enhance the fun. Don’t put too much pressure on guests to adhere to the dress code, as there will always be a few who wimp out (usually with the excuse their costume didn’t arrive, or didn’t fit, or spontaneously combusted). When this happens, shrug it off. You’ll no doubt have far more pressing matters to focus on and attend to. No matter what the theme, remind yourself of the occasion every step of the way - you’re organising a Christmas party. Whether this is reinforced by the ice sculptures or disguised by the palms, don’t forget the reason for celebration.
Other useful resources
A comprehensive checklist for organising an office party can be found here.