8 Tips for Pulling off an Epic Company Holiday Party

Dust off your reindeer headband and bust out your finest sequin blazer: the company holiday party is back. Sure, you might’ve tried dipping your toes in the frozen pond of socially-distanced festivities last year, or skipped them altogether (thanks, omicron), but this year, it’s time for full-on polar plunge mode.

For some of you, December 2019 might feel like a distant memory, and your working knowledge of how to throw a proper company holiday party is as cloudy as a Crockpot full of egg nog. But given that many workers are still (or now permanently) remote, there’s even more reason to bring everybody together, and leaders are looking to honor their employees for sticking it out over the last three (three!) years.

Therefore we, the avid and jubilant party-throwers of events, would like to offer you a simple checklist of 8 tips for pulling off an epic company holiday party in 2022—or at least remind you of the basic things to do when planning a merry soireé, like order food and lock down a venue. And speaking of, if your company is looking for a killer venue to host a holiday party at, we’ve got you covered, and we’ve got options, whether you’re looking for something with unparalleled views, a waterfront vibe, or a fabulous room that can hold 275, we’d love to hear from you and see how we can help to make this year’s company holiday party your best one yet.

1. Gather Employee Feedback

Since the holiday season is (obviously) annual in nature, it’s worth taking the time after each year’s company party to gather feedback from employees. “Every year, there are lessons learned or things you’d like to not repeat the following year—things people liked or didn’t like,” says Edelina Rose, owner of Event Details by Edelina in Chantilly, Virginia. “A few examples could be, ‘Please make sure the venue is within an X-mile radius from work,’ or ‘Please make sure the party is on a Thursday night instead of Friday, since many people take Fridays off and don’t want to come in for a holiday party.’” She recommends sending out post-party surveys to employees, and then actually implementing their feedback. “If people fill out surveys, they want to feel heard—and they will if their recommendations are implemented in the next year’s event.”

2. Who Does What?

While “The Office” has given us many corporate clichés to poke fun at over the years, the Party Planning Committee shall not be a punchline for you and your officemates. When it comes to brainstorming a theme—which will further influence decisions regarding cuisine and attire—the “what to do at the party” question is a big one, says Rose. “See if you can have a committee that can help you make decisions such as, ‘Should we have a DJ or a photo booth?’ That way, these decisions aren’t made by one or two people. More often than not, committees give you a more well-rounded set of opinions of what the group may want.” She adds that it’s also a good idea to designate committee members with specific roles, such as decorating, working the registration table, and tearing down at the end of the night.

3. When to Start Planning 

It might sound a bit aggressive, but the best time to start planning a company holiday party is three to four months out, says Rose. “That way you can start to visit venues and get an idea of what’s out there based on the budget you have.” Because venues will be the biggest ticket item, when reviewing quotes, she recommends making sure that the person who has the authority to sign for (AKA spend) company funds is fully aware of the locations being considered. Contact this person and get a rough estimate of how much money is being allocated for the party overall, and do so well in advance of any field trips to venues.

4. Speaking of money…

Given that most companies don’t have in-house event pros, it can be a challenge to nail down a budget for a holiday party. According to Megan Lentz, founder of Vida Events—whose headquarters are split between northern Virginia and DC, with outposts in nearly a dozen states—the two biggest factors that will impact the overall budget are guest count and location. First, the estimated number of RSVPs will directly dictate the venues you consider, since their core criteria to start is their max capacity. It’s well-worth your time to get quotes from multiple venues within a pin-dropped vicinity, versus across a city in general. For instance, the restaurants, bars, and hotels on Old Town Alexandria’s waterfront will likely come with a higher price tag than a venue with comparable capacity and amenities just a few miles down the road. Lentz—who’s planned corporate parties with budgets ranging from $15,000 to $50,000—advises also considering key secondary factors that will affect the overall cost, including catering, bar packages, decor, reimbursement for responsible employee travel to and from the party (e.g., carpooling in an Uber), and small but fun stuff like goody bags.

Remember that when diving into the sea of venue options out there, give some thought to the format, too. “Pick a space that allows guests to mingle and spend time with their colleagues and significant others, instead of a formal sit-down meal,” says our own in-house party guru and ALX Community COO Kelly Grant, who’s organized oodles of company parties throughout her career. Save the seating charts for company events that are more suit-and-tie, less ugly sweater.

A snappy e-invite from Punchbowl. Photo courtesy of punchbowl.com

5. E-vites FTW

While we love the classy feel of a paper invitation, we also love Mother Nature. Cut the waste (and cost) of snail mail and send invitations via email, which is also an optimal way to ensure you reach all employees, company-wide. Online services such as Punchbowl, Evite, and Paperless Post offer the ability to import email contacts so you don’t accidentally exclude anyone. Other nifty features include tracking invitations in real time, so you can see who hasn’t opened their invite yet; the option for the more non-committal employees of the bunch to set a reminder to RSVP; and turnkey design options that allow you to quickly create fun and professional-looking invites, minus the graphic design degree.

6. Allow Plus-ones

Speaking of invites, consider allowing your employees to bring a plus-one (if your budget allows). Why invite those who aren’t on payroll? Simply put, “In this post-covid world, people are longing to get together,” says Grant. Let your rule of thumb here be the more, the merrier.

7. Food & Bev: How Much is Enough, but Not Too Much?

Whether the theme is 1990s après-ski with charcuterie and spiked hot cocoa, or a karaoke competition and taco buffet, a big question mark that can sneak up when sifting through catering proposals is, How much food do we actually need? Once you’ve got a good idea of your final guest count, Lentz recommends sticking to three to five single appetizer portions per guest. 

For beverage amount—which can get more complicated when there’s an open bar—here’s Lentz’s go-to math for determining the number of drinks per person for four hours and a guest count of ten:

  • 300 total drinks (excluding champagne)
  • Beer: 75 servings or 25%
  • Wine: 75 servings or 25%
  • Liquor: 150 servings or 50%

“Take into account what your employees like to drink as well, and adjust those numbers,” she adds. See: Tip #1 upstairs.

Also? “No shots,” says Grant.

8. Give Back

If you’ve spent an iota of time at one of ALX Community’s rotating lineup of events, you might’ve picked up on the fact that we’re really, really into parties with a purpose that benefit the community we cherish so deeply. One of our favorite ways to give back during the holiday season is to host an Angel Tree that’s “trimmed” with ornaments representing donation amounts and gifts (last year, we partnered with the Domestic Violence Program Shelter on a holiday drive for families who have been victims of domestic and sexual violence). An angel tree clearly works best if 1) the venue allows it, and 2) your Pantry Planning Committee agrees to tree-acquiring shenanigans.

Another way to incorporate giving back at a company holiday party is to simply ask employees to bring items to donate to a specific cause, such as canned goods for local pantries, or diapers and formula for families in need (which requires only box-acquiring shenanigans). Because while it feels good to revel in holiday cheer, nothing beats spreading it.

Last year’s Angel Tree showing off her stuff/the generosity of our amazing members. Photo by ALX Community

Ready to book your holiday party? We’d love to meet you and show you around our spaces! For more information or to schedule a tour, please feel free to reach out and one of our dedicated event team members will be in touch soon!