Businesses still plan downsized holiday parties

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NEW YORK (AP) — After two frugal holiday seasons, many small business owners are planning, well, another frugal holiday season.

Many companies are still reluctant to spend a lot of money on a big, fancy party or dinner for staffers. Tasty Catering, a company based in suburban Chicago, is seeing more caution among its clients this year. Budgets are smaller. Companies that held parties in restaurants have moved them onto their premises. And some have decided to forgo parties altogether.

Even companies that don’t need to cut back are rethinking big, splashy affairs. CerconeBrownCompany, a Boston-based public relations firm, will hold its party at its new office. Last year, the company had dinner for its staff at a restaurant. In 2008, it took employees by a party bus to a Patriots football game.

Len Cercone, a partner in the company, said money was a factor in the decision to stay onsite. The company has done well the past few years, but because the economy is still uncertain, “we need to be smart with money.”

Moreover, Cercone said, “spending money when other people may not be doing well, it doesn’t seem right to do it.”


Having a party at your company’s office is a great way to save a lot of money. You’re not paying for using someone’s space. If you have it catered, the food is likely to be much cheaper than in a restaurant. But you might want to think twice about having waiters and/or a bartender. They’ll make it more expensive.

If you make your party potluck, you can bring your costs down even further. But owners should be prepared to make a sizeable contribution, whether it’s supplying beverages or desserts. And the company should supply plates, cups, knives and forks etc.

The beauty of a potluck affair is that it’s very warm and personal. The staff gets to surprise and impress each other with their culinary skills. It’s also easier to invite spouses, significant others and children, since everyone is sharing in the cost.

Chris Goddard used to take her employees out to the Ritz Carlton in Boston for their holiday dinner. When the recession arrived, she moved the celebration to her home. She and her husband do most of the cooking, but the staff and their guests bring the appetizers.

This year, Goddard, president of CGPR in Marblehead, Mass., is spending a little more, serving champagne and upscaling her decorating. She’s figured out that “it’s the little things that imapct the whole thing.”


If you do opt to go to a restaurant, having lunch instead of dinner will be cheaper. So will a cocktail party or buffet meal rather than a sit-down dinner.

Some other tips:

— Book at the last minute. You may have to shop around to find a restaurant, but you’re likely to find several that have open dates and will be willing to discount their prices.

— Or, book now. Some restaurants or clubs may be anxious about the holiday season, and will therefore give you a good price if you sign up early.

— Limit your alcohol bill. Limiting the amount of time that you have an open bar, or only paying for wine and beer, will keep your costs down. You can also opt for a cash bar. In fact, many people prefer to go that route to keep staffers from drinking too much.


Cercone’s company will shut down at noon on the day of the party, and the staff of 24 will start by decorating the office. Then they’ll hold a talent show that they’ll tape for Facebook. For the party itself, they’ll be joined by staffers’ families, including their children. So it won’t be a matter of just putting out food, and saying, here’s our party.

Some companies have been forgoing parties in recent years and instead have picked a charitable organization and given staffers time off so they can volunteer. Others use the party time to give staffers a few extra hours off so they can do some shopping or attend their children’s school holiday events.