The office Christmas party is one of the big events of the year. However, in the past, cost-cutting and other economic factors have made this not necessarily a season to be jolly. Fortunately, although it has definitely changed, the Christmas party seems to be back in fashion, and there are now more venues than ever for people to choose from.
“The market has changed quite a lot as far as people’s expectations go,” says Collette Salmon, sales director of the JJB Stadium in Wigan. “In the past, people would be happy with a ‘meat and two veg with a bit of a dance’ approach, but nowadays the food is as important as the entertainment. They expect to have more options on what they can eat and want a restaurant-type experience in large numbers.”
It’s a slightly different story down south, where Jacinta Francis of London-based Soho Bars and Clubs, believes that, despite its history, it is definitely a market that’s on the rise. “In the late 1990s, we hit a slight recession as people were worried about getting into trouble at the work Christmas party, and employers seemed overly concerned about the prospect of discrimination and harassment complaints as colleagues were accused over being ‘overly friendly’ after a few drinks,” she explains. “However, after this drop in bookings, there was a direct backlash from employees accusing their employers of being ‘tight’ – this, and the fact that employers recognise the importance of social events for bonding and teambuilding – has since led to an upturn in the number and scale of Christmas events. Now the business is thriving more than ever.”
Of course, one downside is that a thriving sector means thriving competition, and the Christmas party business is becoming increasingly difficult to sell in. There’s also been increasing competition from other areas and different experiences as companies try to offer staff something a little different. Also the economics can vary depending on where you are in the country.
“For us, the larger corporates seem to be cutting back on spending on things like entertainment and hosting a large Christmas event, instead offering things like shopping vouchers to staff,” says Salmon. “However, we are finding that smaller office bookings are on the increase, with the individuals deciding to arrange a night out off there own backs.”
This is echoed by Tracey Pickwell of Luminar. “We’re seeing a lot of companies moving away from formalised Christmas parties,” she say, “and towards departmental get togethers instead of large events.”
Getting the right venue for your party – whatever the size – can often mean booking a long way in advance. “For parties of more that 100, we advise that you book at least six months in advance,” says Francis. “Many companies book one year in advance, straight after their Christmas party, for the following year. We have found people’s booking habits have changed in that there are fewer and fewer panic bookers for large corporate events; companies have got wise to the fact that they need to book their Christmas event well in advance. A lot of companies even go so far as creating a Christmas Party Committee, a team specifically dedicated to organising the Christmas party.”
Similarly, Salmon says her experience is of people booking even further in advance. “We find that the larger companies with a large request book directly after Christmas to secure their places,” she says. “This is vital if people want prime weekend dates.”
Pickwell has some definitive advice for bookers: “It depends on the size of events people want to hold, but for larger parties and bespoke events, we certainly advise people looking to book in January. Also package deals need to be booked about the same time. But for something more informal, sometime before the summer holidays is best. We still find there’s a definite rise in enquiries towards the end of October into early November, but these tend to be for smaller informal parties.”
Salmon believes this trend towards later bookings in this area is due to the public being more astute in terms of getting a better deal. “There is a shorter lead in time for venues in general as people are hanging on to see if they will get special deals because of late bookings. Party bookers in general are more switched on to the negotiating process and like to barter a bit on all aspects of their booking.”
One trend that has arisen over the past few years is to hold ‘Christmas’ parties in January. Companies may claim various reason for this, ranging from the fact that it gives people something to look forward to in the New Year to the fact that you’re more likely to get people to attend as there is less going on. But there is another much more commercial reason for doing this, as Salmon and Francis point out. “Some companies still opt for a January party because it’s less expensive and there’s more chance of securing the date that you want,” says Francis.
Salmon agrees, saying: “We have two dates for post-Christmas events in January and we find that they have been very successful and well attended over the past couple of years. There is a benefit to booking as we can offer a better rate due to the fact that the entertainment is cheaper after the December rush. Hence you can pass on the saving to the customer.”
So if you’ve not booked your Christmas party by the time you read this feature, you’re probably cutting things a little fine, although there will be some good deals out there if you can find them. Alternatively, why not go for the post-Christmas, blues-busting approach and opt for a date in January, and all of our contributors would be glad to help!
Soho Clubs and Bars offers a choice of 10 venues in London’s Soho. The group caters for private and corporate parties from eight to 800.
Luminar represents the Oceana, Liquid, Lava & Ignite, Life and The Jamhouse brands. It’s venues cater for parties from 100-2,000 guests.
The JJB Stadium offers a range of Christmas Packages, which can cover 1,180 people per night over the Christmas period. The Marquee and Tetley’s Lounge cater for 350 people, The Export Lounge caters for 280 people and the Carlsberg and Umbro Lounges cater for a 100 in each.