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Holiday parties can be frugal and festive

Photo by Kevin Harnack

Photo by Kevin Harnack

Sure, times are tough, and there might not be excess cash for a holiday party. But there’s no need to be a Scrooge.

Then again, most of us could use a party right about now, and are appreciative of any gesture of good will.

Within reason, of course. No one’s going to get too excited about microwaved mini-quiches from Sam’s or Costco, washed down with Milwaukee’s Best, or everyone’s favorite from Trader Joe’s, Charles Shaw wine, a/k/a “Three Buck Chuck.” (Of course, even that beats work, in most people’s minds.)

If your plan is to throw that kind of party, well, my guess is, your employees would rather just go home a little early with a split of whatever all that might cost as a bonus. Not a bad option, but it doesn’t do much to build morale, either.

So come on:  There’s still time to plan something festive yet frugal – but not cheap.

Get creative

I Googled “Holiday parties on a budget” and found lots of great ideas.

Maybe you want to pick a theme beyond just Christmas. One article suggested Christmas in Mexico or Hawaii, Disco Christmas, or my personal favorite, “Christmas with Elvis.”

How does a theme save money, you might ask? My suspicion is, people will remember fondly the fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches (inexpensive and delicious!) served at the Elvis party, not that they were served on paper plates rather than china.

Another article suggested chartering a bus or some other transportation option suitable for the size of your staff, picking up some snacks-on-the-go, and touring your city’s best holiday light displays.

Yet another article suggested polling your staff for inexpensive food and entertainment options. You never know who might be related to a great caterer or who moonlights in a band. Moreover, when you get employee input, there’s bound to be less complaining afterward.

Or, announce in advance that the event will feature an “ugliest Christmas sweater contest.” This one will be popular with people like me who enjoy visiting Goodwill on that kind of mission – unless you already own one. It was a gift from Granny, right?

Location, location, location

Sandy McGee, chief operating officer for The Schroeder Group, Attorneys at Law in Waukesha, said her firm holds its party at the home of one of the partners, instead of renting a party room at a local restaurant or country club. Not only does it keep the costs down, but also, she and her colleagues find the atmosphere more intimate and relaxing.

But maybe the firm wants an offsite, centrally-located and more formal setting.

Nicole Brevitz, a marketing coordinator and legal assistant at Boyle Fredrickson in Milwaukee, said her firm decided it would splurge for an offsite party, because they know that for some employees in this economy, their nights out at a nice restaurant are limited. So that’s what they chose, but were tough negotiators to get the best value they could.

You’ll have more choices, and potentially more negotiating power, if you wait until January, when there’s less competition for venues, to have the party.

That’s what party planners at Davis & Kuelthau in Milwaukee discovered when booking their upcoming party at Milwaukee ping-pong bar SPiN for 2011, said that firm’s executive director, Kevin Russell. Everyone’s less busy then, too, and after they’ve all packed away the holiday decorations, it’s uplifting to still have one event to anticipate.

Eats, entertainment, etc.

Boyle Fredrickson’s party is just drinks and dinner, but no dancing, while Davis & Kuelthau is serving “heavy hors d’ oeuvres” rather than a sit-down dinner, but is bringing in a band for entertainment. It just depends on your priorities, I suppose.

In addition to live music, Davis & Kuelthau employees will be able to play with SPiN’s “12 top-quality table-tennis courts on cushioned Olympic-competition flooring, plus a 13th, stadium-like center court,” per its website.

There’s a website for everything these day, including office holiday party games.

If you’re responsible for your own beverages, I recommend WinesTilSoldOut, a website that sells deeply-discounted wines, delivered without shipping and handling charges if you can wait about five business days. They offer a wide variety of prices, often highly-rated vintages, and they are different from the usuals I see on the shelves.

As for party favors, Boyle Fredrickson did purchase small gifts for everyone, but put the bulk of the gift money toward a “mystery gift,” to be raffled off. It’s dinner for two and a night’s stay at a posh hotel, which isn’t divulged until the winner is picked.

Bah, humbug

You’re still not up for a party? OK. Consider a service-related option instead.

Boyle Fredrickson additionally offers its employees time away from the office during work hours to visit the Salvation Army, to help sort the donated toys by age, gender, etc. Employees’ family and/or friends often attend as well. It’s very popular, said Brevitz, and reminds them what the season is really all about.

On the Web:



Christmas Stocking’s

Office Christmas Party Games


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