So you drew the short straw, and now you’re responsible for planning the office Christmas party. It goes without saying that this can go one of two ways; it can be a catastrophic failure (ft. awkward silences, terrible karaoke, and co-workers slumped on the office scanner in a dejected haze), or it can be a one-of-a-kind event; the stuff of office legend, spoken of in hushed and reverential tones for years to come.
Obviously, you want the latter – that’s why you’re reading this guide – and we’re more than happy to help you out. Drawing on years of party planning experience, we’re going to guide you around a few of the most common pratfalls, and ensure that you throw a truly unforgettable party: The kind that can bring the team together, forge new friendships, and lift people’s spirits. The kind that ensures your name is forever associated with a well-organised night of non-stop fun and maybe, fates-willing, cements your place in the office’s A-List of enviable personalities.
Take a deep breath, and let yourself relax. In 20 minutes time you’re going to know everything that there is to know about theme selection, catering options and the importance of ensuring that there’s a cloakroom at your chosen venue:
Some guides drop you right in at the deep end and try to kick things off by getting you to pick a venue, or decide on a bar tab. We’re not going to do that though. We think that the best parties are built on a strong foundation; a theme or single, easily identifiable concept that’s capable of lending your event an identity far greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Picking a theme will help everything else to drop into place. It’ll also make a lot of the decisions surrounding entertainment, food and location a whole lot easier, so we’re going to start by recommending that you sit down, and spend a little time thinking about the concept for your party. This can be anything from a night of classic hollywood glamour, right through to a relaxed movie night, featuring a few well-chosen Christmas flicks, beanbags and copious amounts of popcorn.
Obviously we’re a bit biased, but we’d always recommend a masquerade ball – these exquisite events have adopted a mythology of their own, and almost always end up being truly memorable occasions. They’re also incredibly easy to plan and execute, and chances are that nobody in your office has ever had the opportunity to attend one before, which all but guarantees that they’ll remember the night in a favorable light.
That said, their are plenty of other themes to choose from. You could pull off a James Bond-esque casino night with the help of a company like Fun Casino Hire , or opt for a more traditional Santa’s workshop theme, featuring toy-themed decorations and these adorably delicate little elf-cakes.
You could also consider a party themed around a well-known movie (think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Harry Potter or Elf.)
Your imagination is the limit, but it is important that you settle on something that everyone can get on board with. You want to avoid obscure themes, or themes that are hard to dress for. You also want to take some of the stress off yourself when it comes to sorting out the finer details, so picking something that guarantees a bit of a spectacle is a good idea.
If you’re really stuck and nothing’s coming to mind, you might find this list of 101 party themes quite useful.
Once you’ve picked a theme, you’ll need to work out how much money you have to spend. This will affect everything from the choice of venue right through to the entertainment and the catering, so make sure that you chat with whoever holds the purse strings and establish exactly how much cash you can access.
According to this BBC article, most businesses budget approximately £45 per member of staff, which would be enough to buy everyone a ticket to a pre-arranged event like this, or, if you’ve got 40+ members of staff, hire out a local venue, drape the walls and hire a local catering company to provide delicious canapes.
If you have a fairly large budget, you’ll also open up a lot more options in terms of entertainment. You could look at hiring a professional DJ for the evening (check Gumtree or the Alive Network), bring in a local comedian, or even a magician, if you’re throwing a truly glamorous party.
If you’re more restricted on budget, you can still throw a showstopping party; you’ll just have to look for opportunities to cut costs wherever possible. One option on this front would be to see what costs you could cut by recruiting volunteers from within the office. Ask around and you may well be surprised to find an abundance of ametuer DJs, photographers, venue decoraters or cooks that’d be happy to lend a hand. You can also cut costs by choosing a low-key venue and decorating yourself, or, if budget is really tight, simply spending the money on a nice meal out for everyone.
First things first, make sure you get out of the office. Nobody wants to drink in the same building that they proof spreadsheets in, and while a great many sitcoms lean heavily on the comedic potential of in-office parties the truth is that these events are very rarely as memorable as their organisers hope.
If your office is a fairly large, you might want to consider hiring out a local venue that’s big enough to accommodate everyone. This will ensure that there’s plenty of space for people to mingle and allow you complete freedom over the decor and entertainment. Popular local venues include function rooms, village halls and hotel ballrooms.
If you’ve got plenty of money to spend, you could also look at collaborating with an event company like Eventa to throw a bespoke event at one of their local venues. For a fee, these companies will put together a really special event and while this is a much more costly option than the DIY route, their expertise, in-house party planners and local connections mean that they can often put together a really spectacular event. This is also a genuinely stress free way of planning the office Christmas party, and while people might rib you for taking the easy way out, they’ll also have the time of their lives which is all that actually counts.
If you’re office is fairly small, it may also be worth looking for opportunities booking a table at a pre-arranged event that matches your theme. As our recent guide to venues throwing Christmas masquerade parties shows, there are always local events being thrown around Christmas time, and they’re often really memorable in their own right. Getting a team table at an event like this guarantees you good food, entertainment, and the opportunity to mingle with people outside your bubble, which can really make the evening.
Assuming you’ve decided to go down the DIY route mentioned above, you’ll need to decide on catering options fairly early in the process. Fortunately, finding local catering companies is a breeze thanks to the NCA website, which lists a huge variety of caterers around Britain.
You might also find that a lot of local restaurants and cafes are also happy to cater for your Christmas party – it’s always worth asking around, as this approach can help you to secure some very affordable catering and a menu that contains more interesting items than your standard party fare.
No matter what you choose to do, remember to cater for everyone’s dietary requirements. Whether gluten-free, kosher or vegetarian, you want your party to appeal to everyone and there’s no better way to push people away than to serve up a menu of food they can’t eat.
It’s also worth noting that there’s no pressing need to organize a big sit-down meal; people generally go to Christmas parties because they want to relax, mingle and enjoy themselves, which means that buffets work just as well. If you theme the party right, you might even get away with just serving canapes and champagne, but make sure that your guests know what to expect, just in case people riot when they find out you won’t be putting on a full spread!
Speaking of which…Once you’ve settled on a theme, venue and menu, you have all of the information that you need to put the invites together, and this should definitely be your next priority.
Oft-neglected, nice invitations actually play a huge part in establishing the atmosphere of an event – send everyone a scrappy piece of paper, replete with word art, and people will turn up in low-effort outfits. Make sure that everyone in the office receives, and they’ll get the impression that they need to put a bit of effort in, which means that they’ll add to the atmosphere of the event without even realising it.
Aside from quality, it’s also important to consider the amount of information that you’re giving your potential guests. It’s tempting to skimp out on the details and provide a pleasingly mysterious save-the-date card, but you want people to set their expectations early, and it’s also important that people are comfortable with what’s expected of them which is why we’d always recommend providing full details about the venue, dress code,
Last but by no means least, is entertainment. The kind of entertainment that you provide will depend entirely on your theme; throw something relaxed and informal and you can get away with a Spotify playlist and a bunch of traditional party games, but more extravagant parties will require something a little special, whether that’s a DJ, roulette tables or a large bar tab, to ensure that the booze flows freely.
Again, don’t be afraid to get creative, but we’d always recommend leaving this step until last, as the other considerations listed above are absolutely essential elements of a good Christmas party while the entertainment can, to a degree, be left up to the attendees. At the end of the day, most medium to large sized groups of people are perfectly capable of entertaining themselves.
Hopefully, this covers most bases, and helps to get your creative juices flowing. If you’re planning to organise a masquerade event, or want to go down the hollywood gala route, you’ll find a whole host of useful articles about dress codes on our blog – perfect for sharing with your guests, or using to piece together your invites.