Events: It’s never too early to think about Christmas

Have you been lumbered with organising the office Christmas party this year? My sincerest condolences to you! Whether you’re bestest buds with your co workers or barely know them, this is the time of year where everyone becomes a demanding child throwing all their Christmas crackers out of the pram aiming directly at your head. You are now not only potentially the most influential person on the social circuit of the office but you are also now under the close scrutiny of your colleagues &, even worse, your boss. Your idea of a perfectly magical night may not be everyone’s cup of mulled wine and if you get this wrong, trust me, you will not be forgiven. It’s their work gift, their special time, their big annual ‘thanks for the daily drudge’ celebration & woe betide if anyone ruins it for them. But hey, no pressure!

I can tell you now, you are not alone. In my 20 years in the industry I have yet to meet one single Christmas booker that hasn’t felt the pressure on the way there. For those who wish to survive the pitfalls of providing the perfect Christmas party check out my top tips for both preparation and execution;

Firstly, the preparations;

When trying to get the date set ask all your colleagues to say which dates they can’t do (NOT their preferred date) & log it on a calendar. Find 4 dates (6 maximum) with the fewest objections & therefore will have the biggest attendance rate. It is very unlikely you will be able to manage to find a date that everyone can attend (unless you’re a small group having an early Tuesday lunch) but it is possible to minimize anyone being left out of the festivities. If someone takes serious umbrage at being excluded (the inevitable demanding child) make sure they are still included in the Christmas spirit by getting them a gift of equal value to that of your cost per head in the budget. If this doesn’t placate the brat tell sit them on the naughty step until they can behave like a grown up. If that doesn’t work, maybe you need to have a word with HR . . . .

Much as the retail industry has Black Friday, the hospitality industry has Black Thursday. This is the most popular day of the year that the majority of people will wish to book for, normally the middle Thursday of December. This year it’s Tuesday the 14th & if that was the date your colleagues demanded, don’t be surprised if you’re already too late.

If you’re new to the office find out what type of parties they’ve had in previous years, which were successful & which were disastrous. This will narrow down which type of party is most suitable be it a group activity, lunch, dinner or good old fashioned piss up. Make sure not to fall into the trap of booking exactly the same party as the previous year. Take inspiration from past but do not repeat it or you’ll be seen as boring & unimaginative.
See if you can find out how much was spent on previous years. Not only will this help you calculate price per head it will also give you a tool for negotiation if the budget you’ve been given this year by CEO Mr Scrooge is considerably less than before.

Make it near to the office or somewhere ridiculously easy to get to on public transport or, if you have it in the budget, provide your guests transportation from the office to the venue. Everyone knows how to get to the office from wherever they hail from so there’s no basis for the complaints ‘it’s too far, I don’t know how to get there’. N.B. Whilst this may not reduce the whinge factor, at least you’ll smugly know you have the higher ground.

Some may even wish to treat themselves to accommodation if they live out of town to really make the most of their big night out so make sure to include the names of hotels & B&B’s near the venue once the party’s confirmed. It’s a simple touch that will score extra brownie points with the indulgent crowd.

Now you have your parameters, it’s time to search! Make sure you narrow down your list of potential venues to absolutely no more than 5. Search engines & online booking platforms can be a great tool but I would avoid using third party booking agents unless it’s a party of 100+. Whilst some agents are marvellous & can absolutely take a lot the stress away you will not get the best rates. Most event managers will pay 8% to 15% to agents & will increase their quotes to include this cost in their bottom line. Equally, a lot of venues won’t even bother taking the enquiry for smaller parties as they will get the business organically without the extra cost anyway. Make sure you’ve checked out the Christmas menu on the website & know if it’s in your budget. Just because their set menu the rest of the year is only £20, the Christmas menu could be £35, £40. Remember, it’s a seller’s market, for bar & restaurant revenue it truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

For this part you will need all of your patience & persistence. Not only is this the most profitable time of the year it is also the busiest & most stressful for anyone working in the industry. December for me means 16 hour days living on leftover Christmas scraps & caffeine, being shouted at from every direction from equally over worked colleagues to over excited (drunk) clients. This is where you could potentially turn into that demanding child. Don’t be that guy.

The volume of Christmas enquiries received during on the 3 months preceding is at least quadruple to any other time of year. Please, be patient with us. If you do not receive a response within 2 hours of your enquiry do not freak out. This is generally the timeline within we really strive to respond however it can take up to 24 hours to get through the quagmire of emails, voicemails, constant phone calls and other varied methods of communication during this time. We want your business, we will get back to you.

The best way to get to the top of the response list is to give a precise enquiry. One of the biggest reasons the backlog accumulates is the vague enquiry. The 10 different dates with a ball park of 20 – 100 guests potentially having dinner or maybe just drinks, not sure but ‘could you please give me a quote for everything in all the available areas?’. That’s potentially 30 different prices to quote & availability to check. Again, don’t be that guy.

It still amazes me how many people sign on the dotted line without reading the booking form first. Treat the Christmas kitty as you would do your own monthly food budget. Don’t waste it or you’re gonna be real hungry. Before you even think about putting any money down you need to know the following;

• How much is the deposit?
• Is it refundable? If so is there a deadline at which point it is not?
• What date are final numbers required to be confirmed?
• What is the penalty fee for any drop outs on the day?
• Is the restaurant liable if there’s been adverse weather conditions, industrial strike, unforeseen closure etc etc.

In other words, know in advance what eventualities out of your control might you be blamed for. Don’t leave yourself open to unpleasant surprises further down the line.

Food & drinks!!! Everyone’s favourite part of the process right? But remember, too many cooks can really spoil the broth.

In regards to menu planning, more than just what looks ‘Christmassy’ on the menu needs to be taken into consideration. Thanks to scientific advancement (& hypochondria) more allergens have been identified along with more specific & readily available dietary requirements to help combat the symptoms of such ailments to genuine sufferers. It’s down to you to identify who may potentially die if the stuffing contains chestnuts in comparison to the person who claims to be gluten intolerant & then eats the entire bread basket before starters are served. Pre-select the meat/fish/vegan options for the party. Anyone one with a genuine allergy will tell you straight away about it because their life may depend on it. If anyone else chimes in just give them another mulled wine.

Written by Pollie Hall, events specialist

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