How to Plan a Company Holiday Party in 10 Steps

Planning an office holiday party can be tricky. There’s a lot to consider – budget, format, timing, venues, food, drinks, and gifts.  So, where do you start? Follow along with our 10-step guide to planning the company holiday party that your co-workers will be talking about for months to come.

Office Christmas Party Planning Guide

1. Set the Date

The first step to planning a good company holiday party is determining the date and time of the party. People like to travel around the holidays, so you’ll want to have the date on the books at least two months ahead of time if possible. This brings us to our next tip – don’t plan your holiday party right within a week of Christmas on either side to avoid travel conflicts. Early December or mid-January are usually the safest bets. Finally, you need to determine if your holiday party will take place during working hours, after work, or on the weekend. Each choice has benefits and drawbacks, which we’ll dive deeper into next.

Closeup portrait of worried young man wearing red santa claus hat, holding clock and gift in hands, isolated on white background. Negative emotion facial expression. Last minute christma

2. Decide on a Type of Holiday Party

There’s a TON of different ways you can go with an office holiday party. The way that you structure your holiday party will affect everything from budget to transportation, so make sure to pick the best option for your business. Here’s a quick overview of the most popular holiday party types and the pros and cons of each.

At-Work Holiday Party

Your team breaks from work for an extended time or wraps up early and gathers as a group at the office to celebrate. This usually includes food, beverages, and sometimes gift exchanges.

  • Pros: highest attendance, low cost, no need to plan transportation.
  • Cons: lower perceived value, have to supply your own food, more planning needed for entertainment.

After Hours Holiday Gathering

Your employees gather at an establishment like a nearby restaurant or bar after work for happy hour or dinner. Renting a room in the bar/ restaurant is also a common practice.

  • Pros: minimal planning required, food and drinks on site, good format for a gift exchange and employee recognition.
  • Cons: lower attendance because of schedule conflicts, moderately expensive – you should cover the bill for your team.

Holidays Group Activity

Take your team out for an engaging group activity like a golf event, escape room, boat cruise, ice skating outing, theme park trip, gingerbread house building contest, or other local activity. Your outdoor options are obviously limited by your location, there’s not much for December golfing in most parts of the world. Also, make sure that the activity you plan is inclusive to everyone or alternative activity options are provided.

  • Pros: high attendance (especially if it’s during the day), team building, can be during day or night, alcohol not expected.
  • Cons: less opportunity for recognition and gift exchange, moderately expensive, weather can limit options, some activities aren’t inclusive to everyone.

Formal Holiday Party or Gala

These events usually take place after work on a Friday or on the following Saturday. The key is to not host these on a weeknight because libations play a big role in this format. This format typically is hosted at a rented event venue and can have a dress code ranging from casual to black tie. This takes the most planning, so we’ll dig into this later.

  • Pros: highest perceived value, high attendance, best format for employee recognition, great internal networking, most highly reviewed format.
  • Cons: most expensive, lots of planning required, chance for alcohol-related mishaps, greater emphasis on planned transportation.

Packaged Holiday Party

Kick back and let someone else plan your party! These holiday parties either have a predetermined format associated with the venue or they are completely planned by a party planning service with some guidance from your team.

  • Pros: least amount of planning required, food, drinks, and entertainment are usually provided, good format for employee recognition.
  • Cons: can be very spendy, slightly below average attendance, not unique to your company or employees.

3. Determine Your Budget

If money wasn’t an issue, then most people would just go ahead and hire a professional party planner to plan the most lavish and extravagant holiday party in town. Sadly, that’s not the case, and there’s a lot to consider when budgeting for your office holiday party. If your budget is tighter than your pants after Christmas dinner, then you might want to stick to an at-work party or after-hours gathering. However, if you have some room to work with, spending on a memorable holiday party is a great way to give back to your staff. Here are a few things to consider when budgeting (we’ll go more in depth in just a minute).

Redhead holding hot drink and using laptop at christmas in the living room

  • Venue: whether you're renting a back room in a restaurant or a convention center, this is a cost you’ll want to account for right off the bat. Remember, it’s commonplace to allow attendees to bring a plus one, so plan for more guests than you think!
  • Transportation: this is especially important if alcohol is involved. Either provide transportation on site, give out ride-share credit, or have a carpool sign-up sheet.
  • Food: no corporate holiday party is complete without food! To save money you could host a potluck where everyone brings something to contribute. Otherwise, venue-provided food and buffets are also popular.
  • Alcohol: a holiday party is a chance to cut loose and celebrate everything you’ve achieved this year, so naturally, alcohol is usually a part of these events. Check out some ways you can control this aspect of your party to save money and limit overconsumption below.
  • Entertainment: if you’re not doing a team activity already, then you will want to play for some entertainment after your meal. This can be anything from games to a full band or DJ.
  • Gifts: what’s a holiday party without gifts? Holiday party gifts can be a gift package that everyone at the party receives or they can be individual employee recognition gifts for outstanding performers. Check out our guide on Corporate Gift Budgeting and then head over to our Buyers Guide for some great holiday corporate gift ideas.

4. Send Out Invitations

Invitations can either be mailed, emailed, or distributed in person at work. Regardless of distribution method, this should be done at least a couple of months in advance of the party. Knowing how many people will be in attendance enables you to move forward with selecting a venue and planning your menu. You can also include options to select a dinner and bring a plus-one on your invitations. Think of them as less formal wedding invitations.

5. Pick a Venue for Your Holiday Party

There’s a lot to consider when selecting the venue to host your work Christmas party – budget, attendance, entertainment, location, and availability to name a few. Most importantly, you should choose a venue that is easy to navigate to. Try to pick a venue within a 30-minute drive from your office if possible. Also, make sure that public transportation or rideshare services like Uber and Lyft can drop off and pick up attendees at this location.

Office Christmas Party

Next, you need to determine how many people will be attending so you can select a venue large enough to accommodate everyone. Remember to account for plus-ones! After you know how many people will be there, you can look into the functionality of the space and how it fits into your plans. Some things to look for are a stage, space for a buffet or bar, room for tables, and a dance floor. Common venues for company holiday parties include restaurants, bars, event centers, charter cruises, and even homes for smaller companies. If the venue checks all your boxes and is within your budget go ahead and book it before someone else does! Venues suitable for hosting an office holiday party fill up fast, so try to get this booked a couple months in advance.

6. Plan Transportation

Having a plan in place for transportation to and from your holiday party is essential, especially if alcohol will be served at the event. That doesn’t mean you have to arrange a ride to pick everyone up from their house though. If the party is in a remote location, then the best practice is to have buses or limos transport attendees from the office to the venue and back.

If your party is nearby, then make sure that everyone has access to taxi or rideshare services like Uber or Lyft. Some companies will even give employees ride share credit or reimburse the cost of a ride home to prevent drinking and driving. Another option for smaller companies is to have a carpool sign up sheet. Whichever method you choose, planning for a safe trip home is one of the most important aspects of party planning.

7. Determine Alcohol Policy

Alcohol can be a tricky topic when party planning. Not only can it run up the bill quickly, it can also lead to questionable decision making as the night progresses. To combat these issues, about half of all companies will take measures to limit alcohol consumption at company parties. The most common way of doing this is by providing drink tickets. Typically, 2 drink tickets are given by the company entitling attendees to free drinks. After an employee spends all their drink tickets they are usually allowed to purchase additional drinks with their own money, but that’s up to you. Other methods to curb consumption include serving only beer and wine or only serving alcohol with the meal. That being said, about half of all companies choose to not limit consumption, so it’s really your call!

Group of happy young people drink wine  at party disco restaurant

8. Plan a Holiday Menu

Food is usually the “main event” of a good company holiday party. Planning a menu is pretty easy if you’re hosting your event at a restaurant for obvious reasons. However, if you are hosting your holiday party somewhere else then you’ll probably need to hire a catering service. Here are a few ways to approach your menu for your holiday party.

  • Restaurant Format: your guests sit down and order meals off of the restaurant’s existing menu or from a special menu for your event from a server. Easy as pie.
  • Hors D'oeuvres & Appetizers: serve small plates during a cocktail hour before dinner to get the party going. Some popular Christmas party hors d'oeuvres include shrimp cocktails, Swedish meatballs, flatbreads, oysters, and fondue.
  • Buffet Style: set up a buffet containing a wide range of selections including dessert. You can either put this together yourself or have a catering service handle it, either way, this option removes the need for servers.

Buffet at Office Christmas Party

  • Potluck: if you’re hosting your event at a venue that serves food then they probably won’t let you do this, but it’s a great way to get people involved while saving money. Prior to the event, distribute a food item sign up sheet and have everyone volunteer to bring a dish to share!
  • Custom Menu: create your own menu and have guests choose their meal in advance of the party. This is the format commonly used at weddings and upscale corporate events! Typically, you provide a few different meal options that include several courses each. For this format you’ll need serves to deliver plates to tables and keep drinks full, but not wait staff is required.

Whatever culinary format you pick for your party be sure to have alternative options for vegetarians and people with common food allergies like nuts, soy, gluten, and shellfish.  Also, try to get your catering service lined up as far in advance as possible to make sure that all the good ones aren’t all booked up!

9. Provide Entertainment

Keeping your guests entertained is crucial to throwing a memorable company holiday party. The easiest way to do this is to have your holiday party be a group activity. However, if you are going for the more traditional holiday party format – cocktails and hors-d'oeuvres, dinner, entertainment – then you’ll need to plan entertainment. This can be as easy as renting bar games like bag toss, darts, and foosball. You could also go the musical route by booking a band, DJ, or setting up karaoke. This part of the night is ideal for a gift exchange or speeches from leadership as well!

10. Recognize Employees & Celebrate Successes

One of our core values at Merchology is to celebrate and share our success. At their core, company holiday parties are employee appreciation events, making them the perfect time to recognize your employees for their hard work. This can be done in a few different ways, the first being through speeches. Typically, the CEO and other leadership members will make speeches during or after dinner thanking the team as a whole, highlighting outstanding team and individual achievements, and presenting awards in some cases.

Custom Baking Merch

Another way of giving back to your employees is through corporate gifts. The holidays are a perfect time to give your team a little something extra. Popular corporate holiday gifts include custom accessories with your company logo added like electronics, drinkware, stationery, housewares, luggage, and blankets. Candy, gift baskets, and custom embroidered apparel and hats are also commonly exchanged as company holiday party gifts. Check out our complete Corporate Gift Buyers Guide for more tips on selecting the perfect Christmas presents that your co-workers will love!

That’s a Wrap!

If you follow these steps, you’ll be well on your way to planning a company holiday party for the ages. Be sure to check out our other Event Guides for more useful event planning tips and contact us with any questions. Now go forth and spread that holiday cheer!