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Setting Expectations for the Holiday Season

Shorter days and frosty windows can only mean one thing—the holidays are upon us! Yet, for many busy event professionals, the end of the year isn’t full of cheer and festivities. Instead, it’s often filled with stressed-out clients, last-minute requests, and off-hours phone calls. Needless to say, holiday headaches are nothing new. 

“This season is notorious for being disorderly, from unexpected shipping delays to last-minute cancellations to weather causing mayhem,” explains Joan Wyndrum of Blooms by the Box. “During these busy months, there is chaos in everyone's personal and professional lives. Make sure clients understand the potential for these issues when booking events for this time of year.” 

However, holiday stress doesn’t excuse client behavior that is unacceptable at other times of the year. If anything, this season calls for firmer boundaries to protect your time and well-being—event pros deserve to enjoy some much-deserved downtime, too!

So if you’re looking to set (and maintain) clear expectations with others, follow these tips to establish a healthy distance without sacrificing client care.

Keep your clients informed

It should go without saying, but clients can only abide by boundaries if they know them. Thus, “the best way to set expectations for any situation is through communication,” assures Alicia Mae of ILE Events

“If you'll have limited communication, it's best to send out a note to your clients on the best days/times to contact you and when to expect a response with the best communication,” Mae suggests. “I would send this email out one month in advance and schedule any meetings before leaving and once again as a reminder one week prior.”

So, if you haven’t set clear expectations for the holidays, communicate them as soon as possible. Otherwise, you can’t hold an “urgent” Christmas Eve phone call against anyone!

Skip the impersonal approach

Most of the year, a good old-fashioned out-of-office reply is all you need to define expectations. But during the holidays, such a response only goes so far.

“Ignore the autoresponders!” asserts Nora Sheils of Rock Paper Coin and Bridal Bliss. “Everyone is busy during the holidays, and an auto-response saying you are unavailable for the same reason doesn't get the best response.”

Of course, you can—and should—still set an auto-reply for times when you’re out of the office. However, don’t let it be your only line of communication. Proactive, one-on-one emails or phone calls keep your clients in the loop, ensuring they feel valued and aren’t left wondering about a vague out-of-office response.

Stick to defined office hours

Some event pros set defined office hours for clients to contact them throughout the year. While this may not be a year-round need for your business, it’s worth adopting during the holidays when time is short and demand is high.

“Set up clear office hours (unless emergencies arise) and stick to them,” encourages Jen Sulak of Weirdo Weddings. “We tend to want to be available at all hours, and we think THAT serves our clients, when in all reality, it is a broken boundary. Set a clear boundary of time for yourself and stick to it.”

Jocelyn Hunder of Twickenham House agrees, recommending regular reminders as needed: “Boundaries must be set in the first meeting, and reminders should be included in every conversation, written or verbal. For instance, close a conversation with ‘I am available Monday from 9:00-2:00 if you have further questions.’ Post your office hours and availability in your email signature along with a link to your calendar.”

When people assume they have 24/7 (or even 9-5) access to you, they will undoubtedly use it. So, consider reining it in and setting weekly office hours to curb the interruptions to your day—just make sure to communicate them to your clients!

Protect your calendar at all costs

Your time is always precious, but it’s especially valuable during the holiday season when hot cocoa by the fire and family gatherings call. With that in mind, it’s your responsibility to guard your schedule with your life.

“During busy times of the year, I try to manage my calendar and not take on too much extra,” shares Julianne Smith of The Garter Girl. “I say ‘no’ more than I would during other times of the year. There are always many demands on my time outside of work during the holidays, so I have to get strict about my schedule and not agree to squeeze in meetings or appointments that I know will just stress me out.”

There are always things to do and people to see, but priorities shift and evolve with the seasons, so don’t hold yourself to unrealistic expectations during this busy time. Instead, give yourself some space, set mindful boundaries, and enjoy the holidays! 


Lead photo courtesy General Mills Foodservice


Meghan Ely

President, OFD Consulting, Richmond, VA

Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast. 

Photo: Melody Smith Portraits