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Staff Christmas Party Planning: Tips For A Great Night

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It creeps up so fast… The shopping malls are already hanging tinsel. Your neighbour’s renditions of ‘All I Want for Christmas’ are tormenting you. And to make things worse, you’ve been tasked with the mighty responsibility of planning an awesome end-of-year staff party. Where do you even start??

Organising a memorable staff Christmas function is no easy feat. How do you give your employees an unforgettable night that appeals to everyone without breaking the bank? Here are our top 10 tips for throwing an awesome Christmas bash - one they’ll actually thank you for.

TIP #1: Set your date NOW! I'm not kidding.

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I can’t stress this enough. Everyone’s schedules fill up lightning fast over the holidays, and many companies book their Christmas venue as early as August. Any later than early November you’ll be facing stiff competition for the best nights and locations.

Friday and Saturday nights are the most popular, but if you’re on a tight budget you can save money by booking a mid-week bash. Another alternative is throwing a ‘new year’ function in January or February. This can be great value for money - although you won’t get quite the same festive vibe.

Whatever you choose make sure staff know ASAP so they can plan their holidays. Let them know if partners are invited too. It’s ok to announce the time and venue before you’ve decided any other factors - so reserve the date now!

TIP #2: A theme costs virtually nothing (and makes the night special)

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You’re never too old to play dress-ups. Having a theme costs your company nothing (apart from decorations, which can be bought on the cheap) but makes a world of difference to the festive atmosphere. It also creates a talking point leading up to the event, generating pre-party buzz as people plan their outfits.

Even better, once the night is over you’ll have amazing photographs of your team decked out in weird and wonderful costumes. The best pics can be used for company publicity, social media, and sticking all over the office fridge for years to come.

Make sure the theme is fun and original so everyone gets involved. Stay away from old clichés (Hawaiian t-shirts, 80s neon, and ‘naughty vs nice’ have been done to death). If you’re feeling stumped just put it to the vote - your staff are bound to have ideas.

And if you need more inspiration, check out this list of fun, alternative Christmas theme ideas.

TIP #3: A picture says a thousand words

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With everyone having so much fun on the dancefloor, party memories can be a little hazy the next day. So it’s your job to preserve those awesome moments in print!

Hiring a photo booth is a great way to take the hassle out of function photography. People love photo booths because they’re super fun (most come with masks, signs and accessories) flattering (with nice high contrast lighting), and easy. Everyone gets instant print-outs and you can request digital copies afterwards.

Another affordable option is hiring a student photographer. Make it less awkward by setting up a ‘photo corner’ with a backdrop, lighting and couch. This means your staff can queue up voluntarily when they want pics. People love photos when they think it’s their own idea, instead of being stalked and snapped with a mouth full of samosa.

Extra Tip: Be tactful when you distribute photos after the night. If someone is snogging their married co-worker, flashing their knickers, or has three chins - show some discretion and delete the picture. Let your staff view (and veto) pics before they go on social media. It’s only fair!

TIP #4: Don’t scrimp on the drinks… But be responsible

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Let’s face it. Your staff want to let their hair down, and many of them will be looking forward to unwinding with some drinks. You don’t want to disappoint them, but there are basic rules to follow when serving generous amounts of booze.

Rule number 1 - Whatever you do, don’t serve alcohol without food. Awkward work drinks on an empty stomach are always a recipe for disaster. If you’re serving dinner schedule it early - and provide snacks throughout the night.

Rule number 2 - Cater for non-drinkers, and do it properly. There will be people staying sober on the night and you don’t want them to feel ostracised. Providing virgin cocktails (or mocktails) is a classy alternative, and so much more festive than just a coca cola or cordial.

TIP #5: Don’t punish them in the morning

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I mentioned earlier that a mid-week bash can save you money. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be up to 60% cheaper for venue bookings.

This option is totally fine, but you’ll need to make some allowances for your staff the next day. Don’t expect everyone to turn up for work bright eyed and bushy tailed. At the very least people will be feeling tired (or worse, crawling out of bed with a sore head, face full of makeup and covered in tinsel).

Offering your staff a late start the following day is a nice gesture, and sort of compensates for holding a mid-week party. As long as it doesn’t impact your clients or customers there’s not much to lose (it was never destined to be a productive morning anyway). Show your employees you care - let them sleep in. Even better, make it a company wide ‘work from home’ day.

TIP #6: Splurge for a little entertainment

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Yes, it’s an extra expense. But hiring entertainment might just save you money overall! Parties with professional entertainment tend to have lower bar spends on the night, and have less problems caused by excessive alcohol consumption.

This is because awesome entertainment is both a distraction and a talking point. It helps introverts and socially awkward colleagues to feel comfortable. When everyone is enthralled by the beatbox-hip-hop-magician-hypnotist-ventriloquist, they don’t knock back the beers quite as fast.

Your entertainment will also help distinguish your staff party from every other company bash. Don’t be afraid to opt for something a bit unique and different. If budget is tight forget the generic DJ (why not just use an iPod) and spend the money on something really engaging, like an awesome MC, local jazz band, dance troupe or comedian.

TIP #7: Show your staff some love

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The point of the Christmas party is not just letting your hair down, but thanking your staff for an amazing year and all their hard work, while getting them amped about the company’s future. Don’t let this message be drowned out by all the drinks and bad dance moves.

Make sure you allocate a time (reasonably early in the evening) for speeches and awards. Thank everyone for their contribution to the business, and use it as a chance to inspire your staff for the year to come. A good speech can really ramp up feelings of loyalty towards the company, and create an awesome buzz among employees going forward.

Handing out small Christmas gifts is another way to make the evening really special. They don’t have to be expensive to make an impact. A handwritten card for each employee really adds that personal touch, and gives you a chance to thank everyone for their unique contributions.

TIP #8: Make sure transport is readily available

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There’s nothing worse than having a few drinks, losing track of time, and suddenly being stranded in the middle of nowhere with no ride home. Don’t do that to your staff.

Try to book a venue at a central location. If you’re forced to have one that’s a fair distance from the CBD, you could arrange a party bus or shuttle to transport everyone from your normal workplace. Keep a list of local taxi numbers handy on the night. You can organise uber codes or taxi vouchers to help guests leave early if they need to.

It’s a good idea to have at least one sober organiser at the end of the night do a thorough check of the venue. Make sure no-one is abandoned in the bathroom when it’s time to close up! Help the last attendees into a taxi so they get home safely.

TIP #9: Go nuts with the decorations

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There’s nothing more awkward than walking into a bland venue. People will instantly feel more relaxed if everything looks blingy, festive and colourful!

Hang classic tinsel, fairy lights and baubles, or match decorations to whatever theme you’ve chosen. A Christmas tree with photos of staff can be a cute touch. It's better to go overboard with decorations than leave a room looking empty.

Decorating is so affordable these days with bargain warehouses and budget costume shops popping up everywhere, so there's really no excuse. Stock up each year accumulating sparkly things, and aim to make each party brighter and better looking than the last. 

TIP #10: It’s the little touches that count

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You’ve got the big things covered, now here’s some tiny gestures that will give your night that extra sparkle.

  • Jazz up the bathrooms. I’m talking fresh flowers, incense, pretty lights, *clean* facilities.
  • Have goody bags. Don’t just fill them with company swag; include tasty treats like chocolates and macaroons
  • Organise a cloakroom. So people don’t have to walk around with their bags all night.
  • Big company? Make name badges for everyone. Include their role and a short ice-breaking fact, e.g. “Bob, Graphic Designer, Craft beer connoisseur”.
  • Send beautiful, personalised invites. These help create buzz for the night and are a cute keepsake afterwards.
  • Plan an afterparty. It doesn’t have to be an official part of your night, just a suggestion or plan so people can keep partying after closedown.

And finally, be sure to ask staff for feedback after the event. Send around a quick email or survey the following week. By finding out what people liked (and what failed) you can make next year’s party even better.

Still feeling overwhelmed by the party planning process? Venues NZ have compiled this very handy checklist!

And finally...

Christmas is a such a special time of year, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to thank your staff for all their hard work. Get creative with your party planning and most importantly, have fun!


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Caitlin Sisley
Caitlin Sisley is a Marketing Content Writer at WorkflowMax, and has over six years of experience in digital content production. She has worked on creative copy for a large number of New Zealand businesses - from tiny startups to household names. With a Master of Professional Studies from the University of Auckland, she is passionate about small business and corporate responsibility.

Caitlin Sisley