The trailer for the movie Office Christmas Party, which opens next month, shows a hilarious exaggeration of what that can go wrong when seasonal festivities get out of hand. While a wild party that breaks all the rules is not your goal, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t want to see your staff enjoy a pleasant social gathering to celebrate the holidays.

The key to a successful event is planning. And, as any event organizer will tell you, the best strategy when planning a party is to break it down into manageable steps.

As with any project that has a price tag, the first step in planning a party is deciding on a budget. This step is critical because party budgets, like home-renovation budgets, can escalate quickly. So, once you have decided how much your event should cost, you can proceed by asking yourself the following questions:


Just as you need to know your clients in order to provide financial advice, you need to consider who will be attending your holiday party. This question is not just a matter of deciding whether employees will be inviting their spouses or other family members to the event, according to Marilyn Roy, event planner with Events by Marilyn Roy in Mount Thom, Nova Scotia. Deciding who will attend also is about determining what sort of party will appeal to the partygoers.

“Know your people and know what they would be comfortable with,” Roy says. “There’s no point in taking people to a five-star hotel and expecting them to wear tuxedoes and gowns if they wear jeans and T-shirts every day.” (She does, however, point out that sometimes people do crave a fancier event during the holidays. So, get a consensus before you commit.)


The trickiest part of arranging a holiday party is figuring out when it should be held. Sharon Bonner, president and CEO of Bright Ideas Event Coordinators Ltd. in Richmond, B.C., suggests you start by choosing the day of the week. Thursdays are best for cocktail parties, while Saturdays are ideal for full dinner/dance fêtes. Then, scour the calendar for possible dates.

Eliminate any possible conflicts, such as can’t-miss industry events or popular shows that employees might plan to attend, to determine the exact date. And, she says, it’s never a good idea to schedule a party immediately before or after a long weekend, as staff members often take an extra day off to go away.

Next, narrow down the time frame of the party: cocktail parties tend to be after work, between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dinners can begin at 6 p.m. and run to midnight or so.

Rosemary Horwood, vice president of Rosemary Horwood Wealth, which operates under the Richardson GMP Ltd. banner, says her firm circulates possible dates and times among staff in order to choose a slot that works for all concerned.

“Everyone has their personal lives and work obligations,” Horwood says. “But [having us] all there [to] get a chance to participate is really important.” Last year, her team held its party in January to keep scheduling conflicts to a minimum. The team plans to do the same this year.


Although some office parties take place in the actual office – Horwood’s team often holds events in its gorgeous downtown Toronto space – most people prefer to attend a party removed from their everyday stomping grounds.

Finding a venue that works for your group and budget can be difficult during the holiday season, when some places are booked months in advance. However, there is more to choosing a venue than finding one that can accommodate your guests and is available on the date and time you’re considering, Bonner says.

One often overlooked component is transportation. Look for reasonable parking nearby, along with transit options for those without vehicles. And safety is paramount, adds Bonner: “If you love a venue that’s in an undesirable location, you must provide shuttle service to the train station.”

You also might consider offering taxi chits, which reduces the chances anyone will drink and drive.


Some venues give little wiggle room for creating a themed party. A Mexican restaurant, for example, might not be easily transformed into a winter wonderland. Some places do offer a blank canvas to create a stylish ambience. This decision will depend on the makeup of your guests, Bonner says. If some of your staff don’t celebrate Christmas, relying on a Santa-and-reindeer-themed fête probably isn’t a good idea.

A well-expressed theme trickles down to almost every detail, from food and drink to entertainment. Also note that some venues have in-house chefs, while others will require a separate catering company.

Entertainment can be a big element of your party. But, again, this should depend on the tastes of your guests.

“If this is a group of people who enjoy the pub atmosphere, they’re not necessarily going to be happy with a quartet that plays classical music,” Roy says.

Nailing down entertainment options for your specific date and time may be difficult because the holidays are a high-demand time for entertainers. A little creativity – offering diverse acts such as mind-readers, contortionists and acrobats, for example – can add interest.


The inside knowledge that an event planner can bring to your event can be priceless. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when planning your staff holiday party:

– Keep an eye out for hidden costs that can wreak havoc on your budget. Some venues, for example, won’t tell you up front that they will add a “power drop” charge to a final bill if they deem that your event has drawn too much electricity. That can easily add $800 to the cost of the venue.

– Get as much information about the venue as you can. Although some offer one-stop shopping (catering and liquor are handled in-house), others (especially halls) will require planners to obtain licences and charge additional fees to run the show legally. If you are using a large venue that has several spaces, find out what other events are being held on the same day, says Sharon Bonner, president and CEO of Bright Ideas Event Coordinators Ltd. in Richmond, B.C. She once had to step in to help with an event at a venue that the host did not realize was being shared with the hosts’ biggest competitor.

– Focus on the details. Consider the little touches. Creative lighting can change the ambiance of a room. Make sure the washrooms are up to standard. Parting gifts are a nice touch, but Bonner warns against low-end trinkets or store coupons. “If you don’t have a big budget,” she says, “give them something to eat.” Macaroons, chocolate or candied fruit can be presented beautifully with customized tags.

– Make sure you have a green room. Entertainers must have a space away from guests where they can rehearse and prepare, and where gifts can be stowed. Bonner has been at events at which the entertainers were forced to get ready in the bathrooms.

– Pace the party. “The most important thing that a [party planner] can do is keep the agenda interesting so you can wow your guests with timing,” says Bonner. “Don’t reveal everything about the party as soon as the guests walk in. Bring something out a couple of times throughout the evening. “

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