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Office Christmas Party Planning: The Ultimate Guide

It's that wonderful time of the year again, and you can't wait until all your gifts are wrapped so you can relax and enjoy your Christmas dinner, or if you choose not to celebrate Christmas,...

It's that wonderful time of the year again, and you can't wait until all your gifts are wrapped so you can relax and enjoy your Christmas dinner, or if you choose not to celebrate Christmas, to just enjoy your free time. However, whether you celebrate the holiday or not, there is one thing you can't ever escape - the office Christmas party.

This year, it's you who has been chosen to organize your office Christmas party. Well, obviously, there are two ways it can make you feel:

  1. Absolutely excited and have it all figured out; or
  2. Dreading it and have no idea where to begin.

Whether you're closer to option A or option B, the bad news is that it's very possible that you forgot about something in your planning - that one small detail that can make or break your party. But the good news is that we've created a checklist that will guide you from start to finish and help you remember all the tiny but "oh so important" details that will impress, not only your colleagues but the higher-ups as well.

Step 1: Start Planning Early

The early bird catches the worm

Make sure to start planning your Christmas party early. | The Library at Vintry & Mercer, London, UK Make sure to start planning your Christmas party early. | The Library at Vintry & Mercer, London, UK

"First come, first served" takes on a completely different meaning when it comes to Christmas party venues. As funny as it may seem to advise starting to plan your Christmas party in July, it's the harsh truth. Looking for a venue and booking it early is probably one of the most underrated (and ignored) pieces of advice when it comes to event planning.

Federico Roccatagliata, Head of Marketplace Operations and an in-house specialist at Tagvenue, endorses this advice:

"What I found out after conducting my research on Christmas party venues was that early planning actually makes a significant difference when it comes to the end result - in this case, the party itself. Our data confirm that all the most popular venues are booked by the end of the first half of September, so starting to look for a Christmas party space months ahead is your best bet to hire your desired venue." - Federico Roccatagliata, Head of Marketplace Operations at Tagvenue

Step 2: Budget Appropriately

Money, money, money...

They say that money makes the world go round, but all we know for sure is that money is the most important thing you need to make your Christmas party happen. It will determine the size and scale of your party, and spending your money wisely will save you from disaster. So, the most logical first step is determining your budget before you even start thinking about the venue, decorations, entertainment, and food. Be sure to get all the relevant financial details from the person in your company responsible for the budget. Once you know how much money has been allocated for the event, you can create a more detailed plan of how much you will spend on each aspect of the party.

Once you have the main pillars of the event booked - venue, food, entertainment, the rest should be negotiated to the utmost. It is important to take into account that if you don't have a supplier for a particular service, you can find one by recommendation, then get prices from three and compare, and finally negotiate. Keep in mind that transport can be sorted by the guests and should not always come within the budget.

Remember to allocate the budget according to what is most important to your company's culture. It's possible that you'll need to choose between extensive food options and entertainment, or between an open bar and a live band. It is also important to keep a part of the budget as a reserve in case of an emergency or some last-minute re-arrangements.

Step 3: Choose a Date

A wonderful Christmas time

When choosing the perfect date for your Christmas bash, make sure to consider a few date options. | Christmas in Chelsea at Albert's at Beaufort House, London, UK When choosing the perfect date for your Christmas bash, make sure to consider a few date options. | Christmas in Chelsea at Albert's at Beaufort House, London, UK

It goes without saying that a Christmas party should be held close to Christmas Day, or at least in December. It's not always easy to align dates with your team's requests and the availability of venues. Having some level of flexibility is important. Depending on the size of the team you are organizing the party for, you can either create a poll with several potential dates or make the decision on your own. Always consider holding it on Thursdays or Fridays since they are the most appropriate days for a party. After all, who wants to work with a hangover?

Nevertheless, it's vital to send invitations out ahead of time to ensure a good turnout and ask for confirmation of attendance, as this will help set the course for the ongoing planning process. Don't forget to spread the word about the event too. Even if you don't know all the party details at this point, it's good to send "save the date" emails. Moreover, put the date on your company calendar and make sure all the guests get a reminder prior to the event.

It's likely that by this point, you will have a lot of liberty as to what the party will look like and you can start considering whether you want a day or an evening event. This will determine the time you will book the venue. Next, you must consider the size of your team and your budget and decide if the party will be:

  1. Employees only;
  2. Employees and plus-ones;
  3. Employees and clients and/or sponsors and/or suppliers.

At this point in the planning process, you can also consider an all-inclusive Christmas party package, which would considerably ease your job as an organizer, as you would have an outside service taking care of the catering, entertainment, and cleaning. This is especially recommended if you are planning a large-scale Christmas party where any flaw could badly reflect on the whole company.

However, if what you have in mind is more of a relaxed get-together with your colleagues, contemplate booking a table for a Christmas dinner at a local restaurant. Or if your company is on the smaller side, why not book a shared Christmas party? It will not only save you money but also give your party the feel of a much bigger event.

Step 4: Find and Book the Right Venue

Baby, it's cold outside (or hot)

Once you have a date or several in mind, you can start looking for a suitable location. If you're in the northern hemisphere, you obviously have a different selection of venues than in the southern one. There are many types of venues for you to choose from: bars, clubs, restaurants, studios, penthouses, function rooms, gardens, rooftops, and many more. Remember when you wrote down your budget? Now, this is where it comes into play.

Giving your employees at least three options, sharing various locations that each cover the brief requirements, is essential. Finding a location that is not too long of a travel time from any airport ensures a simple transit for the guests who are traveling to the venue.

It is imperative that you know the terms and conditions of the venue from the get-go. What time is check-in, departure? What size is the venue? Are there volume restrictions? Are there restrictions on entertainment? Do your entertainers require green rooms? What are the timings for de-rig? (De-rigging is a vital part of the planning process that can sometimes get overlooked and end up being a costly mistake!)

You can either call up the venues your company used in previous years or conduct a search from scratch if you want to go for an original locale. That option might sound a bit intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. Our website lets you select the city, capacity, and price range, which will make finding and booking your desired venue a breeze.

Make a list of venues that you like the most and contact the managers with a clear explanation of the Christmas party you have in mind. Make sure you ask venue managers the following questions:

  • List of questions to ask when booking a Christmas party venue.

Once you narrow your choices, you can visit the venues and take photos that you can later use while planning the decorations and entertainment. Afterwards, you can either put the venue on hold (ask the venue manager if that's possible) or book it straight away.

Step 5: Select a Christmas Party Theme

Do you want to build a snowman?

Having a party theme will definitely add some spark to your celebrations. | The Grand Nelson Ballroom at Trafalgar Tavern, London, UK Having a party theme will definitely add some spark to your celebrations. | The Grand Nelson Ballroom at Trafalgar Tavern, London, UK

This step is not exactly necessary, but it can make your Christmas party more fun! Let your imagination run wild and give your Christmas party a theme! Think themes like The Grinch, Stolen Christmas, Love Actually, Winter Wonderland, or anything else that is close to your heart. Or maybe an inside joke among your team?

Once you pick a theme, write down a list of the decorations you will need, such as lights, garlands, lanterns, posters, drapes, table decorations, and anything else you might think of (and don't forget to stick to the budget!). No worries if this is not your thing — you can never go wrong with the classic red, green, and gold color palette and a tastefully decorated Christmas tree.

Florals are always a win but can be quite costly. Making the most out of the surroundings is important, so this is also to be taken into account when choosing the right venue. A venue that is aesthetically pleasing to the eye may require less decor. However, florals are a great addition not just to look at, but for the scent and ambience they create.

If you are using drapes, ensure the fabric is to the standard you require. The color should match your requirements - these finer details really do make a difference to your event and how you want it to look. Being aware of the budget, all of this can be done knowing how much leeway you or the event planners have.

Now, what about the dress code? Make sure you communicate with your colleagues if you expect them to show up in a costume. Depending on your budget (and your creativity), you can consider creating posters or bracelets in the selected theme. The lighting and background music of your Christmas party are also going to have a major impact on the final result, so don't let it slip your mind.

Step 6: Plan Party Activities

All I want for Christmas is you...

Entertainment is very important in any event, from trusted people who can deliver the calibre and standard of music to DJs, acts, and guest engagement. It's vital in bringing your event to life. Having a plan to keep guests entertained, whether it's at a beach club, excursion, or with entertainment throughout the length of the event, is important to ensure no guest is ever at a loose end. Remember, you are making this a memorable event, so every smallest detail is to be considered.

You should also prepare some fun activities throughout the night, such as a gift lottery or a costume contest. Christmas karaoke is also high on the list of favorites, as well as Christmas movie trivia or gingerbread cookie decoration. Don't worry, you don't have to come up with these things all on your own. The internet lists many fun activities that you can choose and plan without breaking a sweat. Of course, a lot depends on the size of your event. Providing entertainment for 300 is a much different deal than organizing a few party games for 30. But don't worry, you have given yourself plenty of time to make your plans. Don't forget to mention your intentions to the venue manager and check if there is a built-in sound system, a microphone, or anything else you might need at the venue already or if it will need to be rented as well.

Consider hiring a professional photographer to commemorate your party, or if your budget doesn't allow it, ask a friend or colleague who is interested in photography to step in for a small compensation. Setting up a photography corner - or a photo booth - with funny props and costumes is a famous crowd-pleaser, so definitely consider investing your time in that.

Step 7: Choose the Caterer and the Menu

A cup of good cheer

Whether you choose a sit-down dinner or finger food, ensure they're delicious! | Whole Venue at Sea Life London Aquarium, London, UK Whether you choose a sit-down dinner or finger food, ensure they're delicious! | Whole Venue at Sea Life London Aquarium, London, UK

Once you have the place and the time, you need to think about the food and drinks. An external caterer is always an option. However, many venues offer in-house catering, which is usually the less expensive choice. You can just pick the menu and let the venue staff do their magic.

The next step really depends on your budget. You can have several courses, a buffet, or even just finger food. Along with the invitation, you should ask your colleagues to indicate their dietary needs and maybe even vote on the drink of the night. Not many people know that this part is something they can be creative with! Ask for mulled wine, a Christmas punch, or even eggnog if you're brave! Again, depending on your budget, you can have either an open bar or maybe only the drink of the night and soft drinks for free, and offer the rest for a lower price. Some venues even allow you to bring your own alcohol, which can really make a difference money-wise.

Affirming any food allergies is important - this is vital to understand your guests' food requirements when planning a menu. It would be devastating for a guest to not be able to eat the food prepared by the caterer just by not having the attention to detail in the planning of the menu. If you decide on a buffet, it's important to include gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options. Knowing this, you can be as adventurous as you like and plan the menu around the theme of the party.

In the case of specific serious allergies, consider not including the item in the food options at all or fully inform the venue, the waiters, and your colleague about any potential dangers.

Step 8: Make Sure Everyone Gets to the Party

Dashing through the snow (or sand)

Booking reliable transport is important. The guest experience from the minute they step off the plane, train, or bus is mostly in the planner's hands, so making it as seamless as possible is of the utmost importance. Wherever the guests need to travel, ensure the transportation company is known for reliability, legality, and cleanliness.

Depending on what time your event starts, you could expect a large group to be going there straight after work. The best solution for a smaller group of people would be to either order taxis or use ridesharing apps. For a big group, it could be a good investment to hire a private minibus or bus. Some people will opt to go home and change before the party and then drive or commute to the party, so make sure to take a look at the parking situation around the venue.

Step 9: Create a Party Itinerary

Get your head in the game

A detailed itinerary will make your party go smoothly. | Large Meeting Rooms at Grand Connaught Rooms, London, UK A detailed itinerary will make your party go smoothly. | Large Meeting Rooms at Grand Connaught Rooms, London, UK

Planning an itinerary for the guests ensures that everything is taken care of. Giving guests times and locations, along with a checkpoint for information should they have any requirements during the party, alleviates any pressure from the organizer and allows the guests to enjoy the experience as much as possible.

It is usually good to have digital as well as hard copies of it on hand. Make sure to include on the hard copy that if this document is found unattended, it should be handed either to the reception or the manager of the venue. Make sure to include your name and the date of the party under this statement. This is important because this file will contain some sensitive information that should not get into the hands of anyone not involved in the organizing process.

An itinerary should include:

  1. The program of the event - start and end of the party, entertainment timing, names of speakers, and time slots for their speeches;
  2. Contact names - you and other organizers involved in the process, phone numbers, and email addresses of all of them;
  3. Suppliers - what are they supposed to deliver and at what time, their names, phone numbers, and email addresses;
  4. Manager's contact - this is important if the venue manager is heavily involved in the planning process.

Step 10: Update the Invitations

Let's get information

Now that you have all the details sorted out, it's time to get everyone up to date! Earlier, you sent save-the-dates, and now you should create invitations with all the details, including:

  1. When - date & time
  2. Where - the address
  3. Dress code - business casual/black tie/costume
  4. How to get there - arranged transportation & parking information

This will ensure that everyone has clear instructions to refer back to as to where and what time to be there, as well as what to wear and other relevant details for your particular party. You can also send out the event program, but that is a purely subjective decision since you can also just print it and place it on all the tables at the party.

Step 11: Make Time for Speeches and Thank Yous

Thank you, next

It is important to take the time to make your guests and colleagues feel appreciated for all the work they have done that year for the company. Christmas, at the end of the day, is about gratitude and happiness. Ask some of the managers or CEOs to make a speech and schedule time for it accordingly. Don't forget to check with the venue that they have a microphone that you will be able to use to make the speeches.

Step 12: Take Care of The Last-Minute Preparations

Let's get this party started!

Clearly, it is important for the organizer to be early at the venue to decorate, as well as to be present throughout the whole Christmas party, but that doesn't mean you can't have fun with everyone else! As long as everyone working the party is well-informed and you are ready to step in to help out with any emergency, why not enjoy some eggnog yourself?

However, make sure to keep the itinerary by your side throughout the whole party, even if it doesn't really match the outfit. When you first arrive, make sure to introduce yourself to everyone involved in the process and let them know to approach you if something doesn't go according to plan. If you are managing a team of people, it might be useful to go through the event program one last time and repeat who has what responsibilities.

Step 13: What to Expect in The Aftermath of The Event

After the party is over

Depending on the size of your party, you can either clean up yourself or hire a cleaning service to do your dirty work. Some venues offer cleaning services, so it might also depend on your agreement with the venue manager.

Make sure all the technical equipment is in place and nothing in the venue is broken or damaged. Check if all the invoices are accounted for and paid. Determine if anything is left from your budget that should be returned to your company fund.

On a less technical note, create a feedback form and send it to everyone who participated. Receiving feedback will help you know what to improve and help make the event even better organized next time around. It also gives your guests space to share what they truly enjoyed and thank you for organizing the event, which is also important to hear and makes all the stress worth it.

After you receive the pictures from the photographer, you can either upload them on Google Drive or Dropbox, which will make it easy for everyone to access them independently. Maybe there will be one or a few that could be used to decorate your office space!

To Wrap Things Up

And that's a wrap! We hope this guide has gifted you with a sleigh load of inspiration for planning an unforgettable office Christmas party. Remember, it's all about team spirit, cracking Christmas crackers, and sharing a mince pie or two - all while ensuring everyone's health and safety.

But don't hang up your party planner hat just yet. Check out our other posts for even more fun and creative ideas! Want some out-of-the-box Christmas party ideas? Then head to our list of unique work Christmas party ideas that your team will love. And if you really want to amp up the fun at your event, see our top entertainment ideas that rock every Christmas party. Or if it's games you're after, our checklist of office Christmas party games has got you covered. Let's make this year's office Christmas party the best one yet. Cheers!