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The comeback of the holiday party

Our team was sitting around the conference table in mid-July, reviewing our company-wide events calendar, when we realized that we were almost completely booked for the holiday season.

Photo courtesy of Brennan's; Mary Lou Uttermohlen


Not only that, but we were also hearing encouraging comments from this year’s holiday clients:

“I think we can increase the budget a touch this year.”

“This year, we really want to thank our employees in a big way.”

“What kind of ideas can you present that will really bring the wow-factor to the event?”

As long-time planners who work with a variety of corporate and non-profit clients, we have weathered the last several years by making the most of conservative budgets. We also feel grateful that we have annual retainer clients. For us, these questions and comments were like an early holiday gift.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the recession that began in December 2007 “technically” ended in June 2009; however, what that really means is this is the date when the economic recovery commenced. Six years later events professionals are finally feeling some relief—both in client volume and size of event budget.

This actual upturn is happening just in time for the holiday event season. Typically the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, it is one of the most festive times of the year. While traditional annual parties never fully disappeared during the lean years, they also haven’t been celebrated with as much abandon as they once were. This year, everything is aligned for that to change.

Welcome to the return of the holiday party.

With an increase in business income, more cash on reserve, and an increasing cultural acceptance for more lavish parties, the holiday party season 2015 is poised to be the most lucrative in recent memory. But a lingering wariness is just under the surface, so while clients may increase their event spending this year, they also want to be sure that their increased investment will pay off in spectacular memories that will last into the new year and beyond.

From company holiday parties to private soirées, here are a couple of ideas that will help keep your clients’ holiday parties on trend this season:


Go big or…

From venue selection to music to covert entertainment, this year, companies will be making a bold statement with one or more of the evening’s activities. String orchestras and seven-to-10 person bands are booking up quickly, and improv sketch comedians are trending. One of our clients has booked a Hollywood studio back lot for their company holiday party, with character meet and greets, private tours, and gourmet food.


Sips & bites

This year in particular has seen a nation-wide celebration of all things local, artisanal, and seasonal, so try incorporating some of these elements into your menu. Do you have local craft beers or vineyards? A beer garden or wine flight might be a nice accompaniment to bites made of seasonal ingredients. Hip winter offerings include passion fruit, Delicata squash, and clementine.

Photo Copyright Tim Forbes/Forbes Photographer


Tweets & thanks

How can you forever entrench the event into popular culture? Be sure to select at least one relevant event #hashtag that can be shared the weeks before and after the party, and of course, the day of. Use technology to upgrade the event photography so that images can be immediately shared or saved to guests’ phones. Finally, in lieu of exchanging or giving gifts, instead, give gratitude. Allow guests to choose from a curated selection of charities and causes that make a true impact in your community.


Safety first

Depending on where your event will be taking place, consider how you can easily provide guests access to accommodations or transportation. This year, we are establishing room blocks for an LA client’s company holiday party and many clients will offer free rides home for employees, including reimbursable Uber rides, private transportation shuttles, or access to local sober driving services. Peace of mind is the perfect ending to a party.

Of course all of these extras add up, and even with an increased budget, you many still only be able to include a few party upgrades this season. If so, try focusing on investing in one key area—the one that will have the most lasting impact for the specific audience you are planning for and that are certain to make the evening memorable, personal, and impeccably executed.

As for us… almost every year, we take our team to Disneyland for a day of fun and a nice dinner. But this year we are planning to shake things up too—and we will get started planning that right after we can find an available evening in December.

’Tis the season!


Amy Green and Melanie Marconi are the founders of BDI Events, a full-service event planning company based in Los Angeles, with offices in Portland. They recently launched Where Will They Stay?, a free service which offers custom room block procurement for event planners and event venues.