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Companies can have a great and cheap holiday party

By Joyce M. Rosenberg
AP Business Writer / November 10, 2011

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NEW YORK—If there isn't enough money in your budget to hold a big holiday party for your small business, start thinking like an entrepreneur. In other words, get creative, and think of ways to put on a party that you can afford.

Employees at many companies understand that the economy is still dicey, and that business is more uncertain than it was a year ago. So if you tell them you can't afford to have the kind of event you had last year, they'll likely understand. But you should have some kind of celebration to let staffers know you appreciate the effort they've put in for you.

You need to make it the best party you can. Don't present your staff with a fait accompli party. In other words, don't say, "We're having pizza next Thursday to celebrate the holidays" and leave it at that. Call a staff meeting and ask your employees what kind of party they want. You'll probably find staffers are enthusiastic, come up with ideas and volunteer to help.

THE DIY PARTY

Many companies are forgoing parties in restaurants or event spaces and having them onsite. So, turn your break or conference room into Party Central, where the food and beverages can be set up. Make sure the party area is decorated.

The beauty of an onsite party is that you have more choices for the kind of food you have than if you pick a restaurant to go to. There's plenty of competition among companies that cater -- whether they're restaurants, catering companies or supermarkets. If there's a warehouse club like Costco, Sam's Club or BJs nearby, you can get a lot of party food without breaking your budget.

One of the cheapest ways of putting on a party is also the most fun -- the pot-luck party. Chances are you've got some foodies on your staff. They'll want to show off to their co-workers how well they cook and bake. Everyone will learn something about each other, and you'll see morale get a huge boost. You might find your staff has a better time than they would at a sit-down affair in a restaurant.

You should be prepared to make a significant contribution to the party -- at the least, the decorations, plates, cutlery and beverages. And maybe a big holiday cake.

A pot-luck hint: Have someone, preferably a staffer who likes to entertain, coordinate the party. That way you won't have 10 people bringing spinach dip and 10 people bringing chocolate chip cookies -- and nothing else.

NO ROOM FOR A PARTY?

If you have a very small company and very small premises, then consider having the party at your home. Or, one of your staffers may be willing to play host. Another alternative is a local hall, like the Elks or American Legion. You'll have to rent the space, but if they're willing to let you bring in your own food, you'll still save a lot of money.

WAYS TO PARTY AND SAVE

If you want to have a more formal party, there are many ways to lower the cost:

--Have a 2012 party. Restaurants or event spaces will probably give you a price break if you have the party after the holidays. Your employees are probably overbooked for the holiday season anyhow, and may appreciate a January event.

--Party with other companies. If there are companies that you do a lot of business with, see if they'll hold a joint party with you. If your business is located in an office building, see if other tenants want to join you. Buying food and drink for a bigger crowd will be cheaper.

--Scale back your menu. If you're serving alcohol, stick to beer and wine. Or, if you're having a cocktail party in a restaurant, make it a cash bar. Serve hors d'oeuvres and munchies instead of full meals. Buffet meals are usually cheaper than those served course by course. Chicken is cheaper than beef.

--Do lunch rather than dinner. If you're holding your holiday celebration in a restaurant, you'll save by having it during the day. You might then want to give your employees the rest of the day off if possible. They probably won't be in the mood to work, and they'll love having a few extra hours to shop.

--Try a different day. Many companies prefer to have their parties toward the end of the week. A restaurant may be willing to give you a better price if you book your event for a Monday or Tuesday.