How to Plan an Amazing Employee Holiday Party From Start to Finish

10 Tips for Successful Internal Company Events

If you've been tasked with planning the annual employee holiday party for your company, follow a few basic guidelines to get the most out of your special event and can help you reduce costs without impacting its quality. By carefully evaluating the best way to approach and execute this holiday party, you can create an experience that not only boosts company morale but also increases employee satisfaction and retention levels across the board.

It's important to start with the basics—what theme should the party have, where should it take place, how many people are coming, when should it happen, and what food and drinks will be served during the occasion—before moving on to specialized planning and eventually event execution. 

1
The Basic Elements of a Holiday Company Event

Buffet Setup for the Employee Christmas Party, Majestic Hotel, Barcelona, Spain. (c) 2007 Rob Hard / RH Communications, Inc.

Of course, like any other event or project, you need to create a project plan that identifies the event details for the employee holiday party. Theme, venue, time, date, guest count, food and beverage selections, decor, and event agenda must all be considered before you begin to execute your event.

Every good party needs these core elements to be successful, but not everything has to be set in stone before you begin to execute on getting your needs met (like securing a venue, booking a caterer, or planning an agenda).

Although there are many ways to approach these decisions, and decisions for higher-level ideas like theme and timing often fall on executives of the company instead of the event producer, it's best to work with a team to decide which details are right for your specific company.

2
Choose the Most Effective Time to Hold Your Event

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The best time to hold an employee holiday party is probably during the lunch hour. In fact, historical holiday party data from Winston Battalia shows a growing trend to this decision, reflecting that more than two-fifths of corporate events take place during the lunch hour.

Unfortunately, not everyone may have the opportunity to participate in the event because someone must stay back and answer customer calls and inquiries. But a lunch hour event allows the organization to control costs and reduces the obligations on employees’ personal time and commitments.

Obviously, if the organization isn’t hosting a lunch program, then they will host an evening event, which allows more employees to attend, but can often come with higher costs, depending on which evening of the week the event is held.

So how do you get the biggest bang for the buck? While some may think that Friday is the best day to hold the event because most employees will be off for the weekend, Friday is the most popular day of the week at restaurants and other venues—the most expensive time. Few organizations will want to consider Sunday evening, so it seems the next best option may be Monday night.

3
Consider Hosting a Party in the Off-Season

Four young adults toasting with champagne at cocktail party, smiling
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Instead of defaulting to the annual Christmas or Thanksgiving party, why not consider hosting an event that's specifically for employee appreciation, when no other holiday is coming up on the company calendar?

Early October and late January are great times to hold an annual appreciation party as you can find an increased availability of off-site venue options, save money on catering expenses, and potentially get better deals on party packages during this event off-season.

One drawback to creating an annual appreciation party instead of celebrating the common annual holidays is that employees might not remember this as a tradition as well as they do Christmas or New Year's parties. You'll want to make sure to build hype around the event if it's not a traditional holiday party.

4
Choose a Team to Help Execute the Event

corporate event planners

Deciding the right team size and selecting the best team members are essential to making your event a success with as little hassle as possible. Ultimately, though, it's not the size of the committee but the quality of those working on it that determines the caliber of an event planning team.

A smaller group of individuals will likely make the planning more expedient and cost-effective, but many organizations involve a large committee of individuals so that more employees' voices are represented in the planning and execution phases. However, time spent planning this kind of event may take away from the day-to-day productivity of those involved, so you might consider establishing a smaller team of individuals who are empowered to make decisions for the larger group.

Select those individuals for their ability to positively influence other employees and use the assignment as a reward or incentive for those chosen. The organization's event planner should work with an empowered leader in human resources or marketing—someone authorized to approve the plan—to help drive these decisions and choose the best members of the team.

5
Create a Cost-Effective Holiday Party Menu

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When it comes to choosing what to feed your employees during your appreciation party, a number of tricks can save money while still providing an excellent meal.

Plated meals are often more cost-effective than buffets, and they can be presented much more elegantly than having everyone stand in line and serve themselves.

Of course, your menu needs to reinforce the theme of your event, and you should try to choose items that incorporate your event colors or brand, but that doesn't mean you should rent expensive holiday decor linens and other materials.

Selecting modest items or fresh fruit for centerpieces, limiting alcohol consumption, and hosting at a venue that has standard holiday decorations and food pricing options are all also excellent ways to cut costs while giving your employees a good experience.

6
Decide on Alcohol Consumption Levels and Limits

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For years now organizations have been limiting the volume of alcohol at the holiday party event for a variety of reasons, including strategically controlling the budget and giving greater focus to the message of the event.

Still, most employees don't want to attend a company event that doesn't feature some form of alcoholic beverage. For this reason, you want to narrow your booze selection or even create cheap signature cocktails to reduce costs and keep intoxication levels down.

You might also consider limiting the selection to only wine, closing the bar early, and offering drinks only during the meal to help cut costs further and limit the amount employees are drinking while representing the company at your event.

7
Remind Employees of Proper Etiquette

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The best advice for everyone who attends a holiday party is to make sure you remember etiquette for arriving and making others feel comfortable and enjoy the evening, and laying out ground rules in a company-wide memo or e-mail before the event is a perfectly acceptable way to make sure your employee guests have the best experience they can.

Etiquette mistakes to avoid at the holiday party include avoiding excessive drinking, eating, talking, or complaining, arriving too early or leaving too late, wearing improper attire, and bringing excessive guests—all of which can not only impact others' experiences at the event but also company costs.

Although an annual company holiday party is meant to bring the team together and lower inhibitions commonly found in the workplace, remind your guests that they still represent the company, even when attending this after-work event, and are therefore expected to behave in a manner suitable for the workplace. More

8
Consider Setting Up a Gift Exchange

Couple exhanging gift at party
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In general, many organizations actually include a gift exchange between employees at their holiday parties. However, if the organization is larger, perhaps this is best left at the departmental level rather than at the all-employee event as organizing on such a scale can prove difficult—especially if you're unfamiliar with certain departments and their employees.

However, if there is a gift exchange, perhaps it may be best if the host or organizer requests a financial cap to the gift—perhaps $10—to avoid issues associated with gift pricing.

Additionally, setting up a "white elephant" or similar type of all-inclusive gift exchange where everyone in the company is invited to participate on an individual level could help prevent organizational nightmares or occurrences where one guest doesn't receive a gift because another forgot to bring one.

9
Consider If Fundraising Is Right for Your Event

Food, clothing, and toy drives are part of the culture in many organizations while some encourage cash donation drives, but this doesn't necessarily mean that your company-wide employee appreciation party is the right venue for a fundraising opportunity.

While it’s very useful to associate a particular cause for the holiday party, it may be helpful for the organization to only encourage noncash gifts and in-kind donations that may benefit the charity being supported. This way, everyone is allowed the option to offer a gift at a value that fits their own personal budgets.

10
Evaluate Vendor Sponsorships for Your Event

Some people may think getting vendor sponsors is a great way to offset the costs of their annual holiday party; however, event planners and their clients may want to stay focused on the objective for their holiday party of appreciating employees rather than outsourcing costs to sponsored vendors.

Employees often feel that the cost for these special events should be covered from an employer's operating budget. If the organization cannot afford to host an appreciation event for its employees or if it’s not part of the business plan for any reason, then the employer shouldn’t seek outside revenue to cover the cost through sponsorships.