Some quick tips to spruce up your holiday bash

Providing an opportunity for youremployees to overindulge is not only poor judgment, it could land you in big trouble

Tim Donnelly, owner of Special T Striping & Design Inc. said he liks to mix things up, some years it’s prime rib at Chuckanut Manor, other years it’s waterskiing or parasailing.

   Ah, the company holiday party.
   To some, it conjures sitcom-like images of free-flowing spirits, inappropriate jokes and compromising situations, an outdated idea that’s a waste of company dollars.
   To others, it’s another form of holiday cheer, a special time when business owners can reward their employees for a year’s worth of hard work, and coworkers and managers can get to know each other away from the office.
   Keeping with tradition, hundreds of head honchos around the county still value holiday parties for their latter-mentioned qualities.
   “I think part of what leads to job quality is having a good relationship with the people in your office and being able to share who you are outside of work,” said Pamela Jull, owner of Applied Research Northwest. “For me, having a party is a matter of employee morale. And I’m kind of addicted to the holidays and have a strong Christmas spirit.”

What are some other benefits of a company party?
   Along with being a way for bosses to recognize long hours and show their appreciation for jobs well done, holiday parties can also be networking opportunities for companies.
   “You can bring in people you do business with or who you’d like to be doing business with,” said Micah LaNasa, marketing director at Emerald Bay Events.
   In addition to inviting potential clients and customers, business owners also oftentimes ask their employees to bring their spouses or significant others to parties. Along with feeling like they already know these people — having heard countless stories about them and having seen their pictures on their employees’ desks every day for a year — they can also more than likely provide insight about the companies they work for and provide other leads.
   Real estate agent J.D. Merris, designated organizer of events and celebrations at Keller Williams Realty, said holiday parties can also be a way to show customer appreciation.
   Last year, he said, Keller Williams agents invited their client base to their holiday party.
   “It was a way of saying, ‘Thanks for letting us help you find a new home,’” Ferris said.

It’s almost December, is it too late to reserve a venue?
   If business owners haven’t decided on a location yet, chances are some of the most-popular venues around town, such as The Majestic on North Forest, Sapphire Cove and Shuksan Golf Course, to name a few, are filling fast.
   “About the only options now are probably for the middle of the week,” said Toni Simler, owner of The Majestic. “And even those are going to be gone in the next few weeks.”
   Beau McCallum, a senior production coordinator at Emerald Bay Events, which catered around 100 holiday parties last year, said some companies make reservations a year in advance.
   “One thing I’d say is plan early,” said Merris, the party-planning veteran. “The venues tend to go fast and the early bird gets the worm.”

How do you find a location that will make almost everyone happy?
   While a nice meal in a nice establishment typically makes for a pleasant function, party planners need to be careful when they think outside the box.
   Rather than putting the pressure on one person to plan an event, many businesses put the decision in the hands of their employees.
   “We’ve gone so far as to put up a suggestion sheet on the refrigerator,” said Kristi Austin, a program manager who doubles as party planner at Homax.
   Jull said letting employees choose the locale can be another way of giving them say in company decisions.
   “When you let your employees have a lot of input, then they have ownership,” she said. “They really enjoy getting to make decisions and you can learn a lot about your employees by what activities they choose.”
   Once an event has been determined, Merris suggests keeping as many people as possible involved in the planning process.
   “Delegate, delegate, delegate,” he said. “Get support staff around. I learned that the hard way, because you can end up doing everything yourself. It’s more fun to involve others and it spreads the excitement.”
When in doubt, turn to the professionals — caterers.

What should you look for in a caterer?
   “Look for someone who asks you a lot of questions,” said Emerald Bay’s McCallum. “Someone planning your party darn well better be asking you a lot of questions and listening to what you have to say.”
   Supplied with the proper information, caterers can get the feel for what companies hope to accomplish with their celebrations — be it a potluck or five-star extravaganza — and find the perfect venue to match the soiree.
   LaNasa, meanwhile, said the perfect caterer is someone who can provide complete event planning, including coordinating photographers, DJs, flowers and limos.
   Don’t skimp, he added.
   “A lot of people will get bids and choose a caterer based on who’s the least expensive,” said LaNasa. “A holiday event is something you’re celebrating and it’s something that’s important to you and the company. The focus should be on that.”

What are some fun things companies have done before?
   When it comes to holiday parties, Tim Donnelly, owner of Special T Striping & Design Inc., can usually be counted on coming up with something memorable for his crew.
   Donnelly said he likes to mix things up. Some years, it’s prime rib at Chuckanut Manor, other years it’s waterskiing or parasailing.
   Last year, Donnelly took his crew and their families to Karttrak Indoor Race Way in Mount Vernon for racing and pizza.
   “We find the more informal parties, where everybody can get together and mingle and socialize, are the most fun,” he said. “At the settings with long tables, and people sitting at opposite ends from each other, some people get left out.”
   Other unique holiday gatherings have included: luaus, a pool tournament at Kendrick’s Billiards, bowling tournaments, chartering a boat, and a company-wide ski trip to Whistler.

Offices are pretty diverse. How do you avoid offending employees who don’t celebrate Christmas?
   One thing many business owners say they’re mindful of these days is remembering not everyone celebrates Christmas.
   Now, more often than not, Christmas parties are being called “holiday parties.” And when planning meals, many bosses and caterers aim to ask if anyone would like kosher or vegetarian meals.
   “Christmas is what a large percentage of people celebrate, but there are a lot of people who don’t subscribe to it, too,” Merris said. “Keep things generic, and people can still join in the fun and the spirit.”

What about adult beverages?
   When deciding whether or not a party should be dry, many employers again go to their employees for feedback.
   In offices where non-drinkers are in the majority, some business owners choose to go out to restaurants that don’t serve alcohol. Meanwhile, some companies with a lot of younger adults have been known to throw beer bashes or close down bars.
   Party planners like Merris and Austin say moderation and using good judgment are the keys.
   At Homax, Austin said, alcohol is served, but employees are each given two drink tickets.
   Said Merris: “It’s not about getting drunk but loosening up a little bit and being social. When it’s a company event, just use common sense.”
   And if someone has had too much to drink, get them into a cab.

How much is a holiday party going to cost the company?
   When planning an event, most employers and caterers try to determine how much it will cost per person.
   Depending on the function, it could cost between $10 per person, for a night at the pizzeria, to more than $150 per person, for a five-course meal at a fine-dining establishment.


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