Kelly Clay

Kelly Clay

The calendar is full of ugly-sweater parties, and the closet is full of new cocktail dresses. And then there’s your company’s holiday party …

Most of us look forward to enjoying the holidays with friends and family, but spending even one short evening with the entirety of our office is often dreaded for months ahead of time. Dealing with the drama of bringing a date (or not). Choosing what to wear (or not). And of course deciding what and how much to drink (or not). Those issues alone are enough to make many want to skip the party. And there are many more reasons not to attend.

I’ve been lucky enough to work for companies that celebrate the season in just the right way. I’ve been to office parties where Uber rides have been provided so everyone gets home safely, the food catered to every dietary need (thank goodness, because us vegans get hungry, too), and a well-known local musician serenaded my entire office for an hour. (Apparently popular indie-pop musicians are affordable enough to hire for a company holiday party.)

However, not every company party has been, or will be, such a hit. If you’re in charge of planning your holiday party (or know who is; in which case, be sure to drop off this article on the party planner’s desk immediately after you read it), there are a few things you can do to make sure everyone enjoys his or her evening — even if you can’t afford to hire Ben Gibbard to sing.

Kelli Bielema of Shindig Events, which has planned corporate events on the Eastside for several years, says some of the best holiday party planners set out with a clear mission — not just a fun theme — and a desire to make an impact. Bielema always asks, “What do you want your guests to experience and talk about the next day, or even the next year?”

Bielema recommends focusing on not just what you do for the holiday party, but where you do it. “Sometimes the simplest affairs in the most idyllic locations create such magic,” she says. “We planned one event at the Million Dollar View (a scenic spot) at Cougar Mountain that was simply breathtaking.” The setting, she says, allowed her to create a party that was elegant and cozy at the same time.

Bielema also recommends that companies consider the dietary restrictions of guests, as my previous company did at a notably merry holiday party. “Party hosts are really conscious these days of dietary restrictions and inclusion of children (when applicable),” she says. “It’s always great to hear from attendees who thank you for going the extra mile to make sure their child had something fun to do while the adults chit-chatted, or you were certain the caterer had a vegan, gluten-free meal set aside just for your Aunt Sally.”

Party planners shouldn’t assume that it’s “the more, the merrier,” Bielema says. Head count can really throw off an event and the budget. Also, it’s important to think about whether employees should be allowed to bring a date or children. Creating the right type of ambience ensures your staff enjoys the one chance a year you have to celebrate together and show your employees how much you care about them. This also is why you should consider how much — if any — alcohol is served. If you have an open and unlimited bar, things could — and probably will — get out of control, leaving some employees feeling uncomfortable (and the rest with a legal liability). Trust me from experience: the less alcohol, the better.

You don’t necessarily need to hire private drivers or a popular local musician (Gibbard was a great choice!) to charm your employees. All it really takes to pull together a great holiday party is making sure it will align with your company’s brand, mission and culture. Keeping in mind the values of your business — and those of the people who have helped shape it for years — will mean a holiday party that celebrates the season and your employees in the best way possible.

Oh, and if anyone is looking to invite a writer to a holiday party, the bar hasn’t been set that high. If you’re booking Macklemore, you know where to find me.