How to have fun and save money at your company holiday party

Save money on your company holiday party with these great tips.

Save money on your company holiday party with these great tips.








Company cutbacks have you stressed out planning your company holiday party?

Do you want to ring in the new year with a celebration that everyone is talking about?

Do you want to do something special to recognize your employees for a great year?

Depending on your company culture, budget and time available, a holiday party could be as simple as a potluck lunch or an extravagant formal evening affair. Whatever the case, most companies go through changes that require budget cuts or staff increases, impacting noncritical business activities. Many companies adjust budgets in the back half of the year which can impact end of year activities, like the company holiday party.

So, you’ve got a little money and a lot of party to plan…what do you do?

These five tips can help you save money and make an event to be talked about all year.


1. Start Planning the Company Holiday Party Early

The earlier the better when it comes to holiday planning.

The earlier the better when it comes to holiday planning.

In an article by Don Sadler in All Business called Plan the Best Employee Party Ever, they indicate that planning ahead can easily be a money and time saver. Sadler referenced comments from planning expert, Lee Viker, senior vice president of Best Companies AZ, who stated that starting the planning process one year out for large parties is ideal would be ideal.

Gives time for pricing options

Planning ahead allows you to the time and energy to source out cheaper and easier ways of putting the party together. In many aspects of our lives, we are running from meeting to project to kids activities and we typically pay extra money for conveniences that provide a quick return. Planning ahead can allow you to build a team, assign roles (one person looks at food options, another for a location and someone on entertainment). That way, you can report back every month or periodically to get the best deal

Let’s you secure the best options first

If you begin planning your party after the last one ends, you can immediately assess what went well, what didn’t and talk to friends and family about what they did at their parties while it is fresh on everyone’s minds. Recording that information and quickly assessing all options would allow you to secure your party location, caterer, entertainment or other needs well in advance of everyone else, giving you the best of the best options.

Allows you to pay in advance

If you work for a company where your budgets get cut at the end of many years, why not build in the cost in the middle of the year? By paying a deposit or a large portion of the fees up front and earlier in the year, your leaders are less likely to cut the party because of the little funds you have left to spend plus, they don’t want to lose anything they have already invested. It’s like Christmas in July!

Could secure a better rate

Think about it like buying off season. If you book in advance or, if you agree to have two years worth of parties at a venue or with a caterer, you can ask for a discount, giving you a little better deal for thinking ahead.

2. Pick More Than Just a Location

Where will your company holiday party be? (Picture: Simple Pleasures)

Where will your company holiday party be? (Picture: Simple Pleasures)









The ultimate cost saving tip is to have your office holiday party, well, in your office. But for many, there is no space to party, to serve food or provide entertainment. Also, let’s be honest, it is not quite as special going into the same place you visit day in and day out.

Look for more than just a room

When looking for a location, finding a place that can provide more than just an empty room with tables and chairs. A location like this can save you money in decor, entertainment and possibly food. By finding a place that has package deals, you not only net out well per person, you can also save time in finding locations as well as the day-of-event set-up and tear down.

Bella Vista, AR location shows leg from The Christmas Story movie

Simple Pleasures has fun Americana art and classic cars.

My favorite example of this would be our place, Simple Pleasures. We have the unique and fun Americana flair that no one else around has. All of our activity spaces, from our ice cream parlor, dining rooms, and even our landscaping are filled with toys, autos, advertising and other historic icons dating from the 1920s to the 1980s. One of the most enjoyable party activities is just wondering around and looking at all the fun items from the past. We also decorate for the holidays with trees and lights and offer amazing catering packages so, all that is needed for set up is, anything company specific.

Other locations that provide both the place and the entertainment are places like Crystal Bridges or other museums, gaming places like Fast Lanes or Lokomotion or sometimes places like dance clubs or restaurants with bands.

Remember – this party is not just for the other employees, it’s for you too. If you have to do tons of work to make this great event happen, your are not able to happily celebrate with everyone else so, this option can save you time, money and possibly add to your happiness level (which we all could use).

3. Find Food to Celebrate Over

Pickle wraps are a great and cheap appetizer for holiday parties. (Flickr)

Pickle wraps are a great and cheap appetizer for holiday parties. (Flickr)

Food has been a social center point since the days of the caveman. It brings people together. It is the thing that people are most particular about and will remember the most. It is also the thing employees are most thankful for and complimentary of at a company holiday party.

Spending a little more time and thought on the food for your party can also save you money (and the hassle of leftover food).

Check for dietary restrictions

This is probably the first thing people think of when kids are involved in parties but I am still amazed at the times that companies don’t check if their employees have certain foods they can not eat. Something as simple as not having food for a particular person can make them feel like an outsider and prevents them from celebrating like everyone else. Plus, you are ordering food that will not get eaten, thus wasting money and leaving people disappointed.

Give the masses what they want

When some people think of the holidays, they think of turkey and dressing, rolls and pie. However,there are some people that eat so much of this at home events and other holiday parties that a nice steak, bbq or even spaghetti would be a welcome dish above a more American traditional meal. There are also companies and teams filled with people from many countries and cultures that may have a different idea of food that makes them happy.

The best way to capture all of this information is to conduct a quick survey. If you have a very small team, you can ask them in person or for a larger team, send out a free survey monkey survey that provides them 2-4 food options and allow the majority to select. You might be surprised the employees that select something like Mexican food, Italian food,  Barbeque or even those that select the traditional holiday meal. Giving them options invites your employees into the process and can help them to feel special.

Tips on surveys: Set a clear due date on when you need a response. Don’t ask too many questions or give too many options or you won’t get a majority. Provide an open-ended question or multiple options that allow them to provide you with their specific dietary restrictions.

Some we have encountered are:

  • vegetarian (no meat but possibly eggs and dairy)
  • vegan (no meat or dairy)
  • pescetarian (eats veggies and fish)
  • diabetic/sugar-free (low/no sugar or processed carbs)
  • low salt (sometimes due to high blood pressure)
  • gluten free (items that contain soy and wheat)
  • kosher (items blessed by rabbis)
  • Halal (items processed following Islamic standards/rules)

Make dessert first

Dessert making competition at the company holiday party can be competitive, delicious and fun. (Wikepedia)

Dessert making competition at the company holiday party can be competitive, delicious and fun. (Wikepedia)

Another great way to save money at a company holiday party is to have part of the food catered or provided by the company and the other parts, brought by the attendees. One of the best ways of doing this is through a dessert competition.

One of the best ways of doing this is through a dessert competition. Have employees sign up in advance to ensure that you will have enough desserts to feed everyone. For large groups, you can set up categories like pies, cakes, candies and finger desserts like cookies and brownies. You can have a prize for the winners or some kind of traveling trophy to be handed down each year.

This adds to the fun and if you make it an annual event, you will typically have early “volunteers” to judge the competition.

4. Build Activities or Entertainment For the Audience

Similar to finding the right food for your employees, you also want to select activities or entertainment that fits their style as well. It is also important to keep you company’s culture in mind and follow all policies and procedures. The holiday party is not the time to break rules or get in trouble.

Active and competitive teams

Some teams love to be “all in” at events. You can create activities that require physical participation like relay races or team packing competitions. You can have a team member lead them in holiday songs or have a craft or gingerbread house making competition. This group would be up for anything and activities like these can be inexpensive and fun to watch.

Wants to be entertained

Get your talented staff or their family members on stage for cheap and fun entertainment. (Flickr)

Get your talented staff or their family members on stage for cheap and fun entertainment. (Flickr)

Other teams like the idea of relaxing at a party and allowing others to entertain them like a band or choir. If your party is during daylight hours, many times you can request a school choir to sing for your team for little to no cost or for a small donation to the school. Have talent on your staff or do they have a son or daughter that has an amazing voice or piano skills? This is another way to provide entertainment for a fraction of the cost

A little bit of this, and a little bit of that

If you have a diverse group of people in your company, try to have some activities that require active participation and some that just allow them to relax and be entertained. It’s hard to make everyone happy but if you mix up your types of events, it is more likely that you will create at least one memorable moment for all.

Leaders, don’t forget to celebrate your people

At most company events, a core part of the festivities are the leaders talking about the year behind them, setting a few directional and encouraging words for the year ahead and celebrating the accomplishments of the people that make it happen. For many companies, annual awards are presented at this party or tenure awards are recognized.

Whether you recognize individuals or, there are too many names to mention, thanking and recognizing the people that make the work happen is extremely important. Even a five-minute acknowledgment of some of the great projects of the year and a general recognition of those that completed the work can go a long way at an end of year event. Making a framed certificate or small trophy can be an added touch and if you can afford it, a holiday bonus or day off with pay for the recognition can be especially impactful.

5. Don’t forget to give thanks and give back

For most of us in Northwest Arkansas, we have a lot of things to be grateful for including having a job, a home and food in our bellies. Remembering and reminding our employees to be thankful and generous is a great quality of a company and should be modeled at the leadership level. One way to involve the whole team in giving back while also limiting the costs is by adopting a family for holiday gifting through a program like the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree, Caring and Sharing or just donating to a local food bank or food pantry. Everyone donating one small thing or donating a few dollars can make a major impact for those less fortunate. For many employees today and employees of the future (millenial generation), corporate responsibility and involvement in community relief is a “must have” activity for attracting top talent. Plus, let’s be honest, it just makes you feel good to do, right?

Money Saving Recap

So to recap our important steps to saving money and maximizing the holiday party:

  1. Start planning your party today. Don’t worry that we are in October and you haven’t booked a location. Just pull your team together and start working on it now. You can work ahead for next year’s party.
  2. Take advantage of locations with built-in activities and packages. If you can complete #1-4 in one communication, you are saving payroll time and possibly money in making the whole event an all inclusive experience.
  3. Provide food that maximizes the happiness of as many as possible. Even if you need to partially cater, having food that people love creates a great mood and helps people feel comfortable and fulfilled. Also, don’t forget, it’s hard to make everyone happy so don’t sweat it if you bad comments because the chicken was too dry… happens.
  4. Create activities and provide entertainment that suits your team and your culture. You don’t have to hire high dollar talent to help people feel entertained or involved in the fun. Keep activities easy to execute and that can allow all/most to participate. Also, don’t forget to make time in the agenda for a word from our leaders.
  5. To whom much is given, much is required. Show your employees that you are thankful for them and all that you are given and watch that spread in your company’s culture (and positively impact your community).


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