• Brock Whitfield

Holiday Parties

Summer is drawing to a close, the colors of the leaves on the trees are turning yellow and brown, crisp, cool air is settling in…

And Thanksgiving is right around the corner.

That’s right, and once Turkey Day has passed it’ll nearly be time to host the annual end of the year gathering. The seasonal spectacular. The holiday bash. Whatever name it goes by, it’s nearly here.

And for those responsible for planning this yearly corporate celebration, there’s a lot to consider.

Planners’ Perspective

Take Lynne Brownstein as an example. A founder and co-owner of Arrangements Unlimited, she discusses a little of what goes into the process for her as she lays out the plans for these fun and festive get-togethers on behalf of her clients.

“General speaking, there are a variety of considerations in choosing a venue,” Brownstein explains, “some more important than others depending on the client’s wishes, number of people, budget, food needs, dollar amount to be spent on decor, location, transportation or parking needs, other events in the same area so as to consider traffic at start and finish, date, the guest list - spouses, if a company party, always need to be evaluated - the serving of alcohol, and the ages of the guests.”

There are many variables to consider when it comes to choosing a theme, as well, she says. “Oftentimes, people come to us with a wish for a certain theme that has been based on their branding, hobbies or personal interests. Other times we brainstorm with the client to find a good fit for a theme. A good fit may have something to do with the selected entertainment or the final location or perhaps something that is relevant in the news or something that is trendy at a certain time.”

“In recent years we’ve done a lot with a color themed events or with an event surrounding a certain experience. For example, have a cake decorating contest and include a lecture on cake decorating. At such an event, floral cakes make for a ‘wow’ centerpiece. If budget allows, it also can be fun to tie a favor into the experience, such as printed aprons for guests to use when decorating their cakes,” Brownstein adds.

When it comes to things like food and beverage, décor and location, Lynne Brownstein says these elements of the event are only as important as the client feels they should be. Some clients are focused on the people attending while others are more concerned about the making of the event.

“It is our job to fully understand each client’s needs and move in the direction that gives them exactly that,” she explains. “Being in business as long as we have - our company has been doing holiday parties for over 40 years - we have forged many wonderful relationships with numerous vendors. We love to work with all the vendors who share our wish to both hear and satisfy the client. There is no room for personal ego in our type of business.”

As for the best time to hold the annual holiday party, Brownstein recommends holding them “early in December, as later in the month seems to be saved for family and vacations. We also feel that hosting one later in the month, and trying to ‘squeeze in’ the event, takes away from the excitement and enthusiasm among attendees.”

According to Melanie Wimmer, travel manager for Carpenter Technology Corporation, she likes to choose unique venues for her holiday festivities so that her attendees can enjoy more than the typical sit-down meal function.

But that’s not to diminish the role that food and beverage play as part of the event. In fact, Wimmer says it is “the most important, as everyone enjoys a lovely meal with excellent choices.”

As for choosing a theme, she explains that a “winter and/or general holiday” motif is selected in an effort to be inclusive to all who will be attending. “I tie this in with décor, as well, and love to put together a ‘crazy’ Pollyanna and also incorporate a donation to a local shelter.”

Jody Lyon, events manager for AGI (Analytical Graphics, Inc.), says that she looks for a venue that can accommodate 300 people, including a dance floor, and prefers a cohesive space where people aren’t too spread out. Ideally the venue would be close to a reasonably priced hotel and offer a reasonable rental fee.

When it comes to creating a theme for a holiday party, Lyon notes, "We don’t have a theme, per se; rather entertainment that will keep people interested."

"We hire a production company to handle the décor and entertainment," she adds. As for food and beverage, Lyon says that a tasting is done ahead of time, and that helps in developing a diverse menu.

When is the best time to hold an end of the year gathering? According to Lyon, "At least two weeks before the holidays and on a weekend that doesn’t conflict with the annual Army-Navy college football game due to limited hotel availability."

Venue’s Viewpoint

“Unique, festive and memorable.” That’s how Nicole Kindbeiter, communications specialist for the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art, describes holiday parties held at her venue.

The Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, PA is an art museum set in a renovated 19th-century mill with a dramatic steel and glass addition that overlooks the bucolic Brandywine River. Its location and views of the river, outdoor cobblestone courtyard and scenic campus landscape add to its uniqueness.

Home to a three-story atrium that features floor-to-ceiling views of the river, the museum gets “decked for the holidays” with towering trees that are adorned with whimsical “critter” ornaments made from natural materials. For those who choose to bring in live entertainment, the acoustics in the atrium are often positively noted by the musicians that play during events, says Kindbeiter.

The venue’s six galleries are filled with an internationally renowned collection of American art, with a special focus on art from three generations of Wyeth family artists. And, throughout the holiday season, the Brandywine River Museum’s expansive O-gauge model train display is on view, which features trains running on 2,000-feet of track and includes over 1,000 pieces such as locomotives, passenger and freight trains, as well as trolleys, all of which pass through a small model town, farm, factories and even a carnival.

Among its many offerings, the Brandywine River Museum of Art has its own exclusive in-house caterer who provides all the food and beverages for the events it hosts, which can range from a formal black-tie seated dinner to a relaxed cocktail and hors d’oeuvres reception.

“Less formal seems to be the direction. The trend is to create a relaxed setting by staging the atriums with ‘grazing’ tables while music is playing and tours are being offered,” notes Kindbeiter. Also trending among groups has been the inclusion of private guided tours of the museum’s special exhibitions as part of receptions of corporate clients.

Decor and More

When it comes to what’s trending during the holiday season in terms of stylish color and décor, Choice Party Linens - quite literally - has it all covered. Just ask Michelle Harris, the company’s business development manager.

“Linens are such an important detail and can greatly change the overall atmosphere of any event,” explains Harris. “There is no other surface in any event space that is as easily changed with such little effort, time and expense and with such dramatic and impressive results. From chairs and guest tables to food and beverage areas, linens pull the whole look together.”

With regard to what’s trending this year, she says that Choice Party Linens has been seeing requests for colors that are not often viewed as traditional “holiday colors,” such as shades of blue. “We also are seeing neutral colors and natural fibers at many end-of-year events. Regardless of color, we do suggest using a variety of textures to highlight different areas or focal points of an event.”

When it comes to creating an overall theme, Harris notes that it does help to choose something that’s “eye-catching” as a way to attract guests. “This year we are seeing everything from Vintage-themed events to Winter Wonderland. Whatever theme you select, make sure you set the atmosphere of the event from when your guests walk in the door to the moment they leave. Details matter and people notice and are expecting the ‘wow factor’ more than ever."

One way to add the wow? “Elevate your event scene by incorporating velvet linens,” she continues. “They have a rich, plush texture and are available in a gorgeous range of colors making them perfect for any event. These linens will add a luxurious element with a simple, modern vibe. Spandex linens also are great! They offer a sleek look and work well for both casual and high-end events.”

According to Melani Kodikian, CERP, president of A to Z Party Rental, adding experiential elements like on-site games (such as Battle Axe, Giant Jenga, Giant Connect Four, Oversized Operation) is a great way to allow attendees at to take a mental break from all the “schmoozing” that usually takes place at holiday parties.

She also recommends including fun photo opps that with boxwood or drapery backdrops, lounge furniture, a throne chair, photo cutout boards, as well as some kind of structure that is aligned with the event theme.

When it comes to serving food and drinks, Kodikian recommends including signature cocktails, craft wine or beer, or even mocktails, noting that these are extremely popular options, “and, of course, you want to present them in a specialty glass. We have a wide variety of rental glassware styles to give you a custom look, from retro hot toddy mugs to ultra-modern tinted stemless wine glasses.”

She says that monochromatic color themes are trending right now, too, especially shades of steel blue with silver metallic accents throughout. Also trending is the use of non-traditional venues, such as historic and repurposed real estate. Finally, another trend Kodikian has observed at holiday parties is the importance of sustainability and the “disposal of disposables” - a return to reusable plates and the avoidance of disposable products like plastic straws.

For those seeking a space that is unique and memorable, Kodikian recommends “the venue that never existed. A pop-up venue under a tent that is gone the next day.”

Great Gatherings

These end of the year events have a way of bringing people together, lifting spirits and developing camaraderie. Every time the calendar turns from December to January, people are filled with renewed optimism, hope and excitement for the future.

Holiday parties are a great way to celebrate such positive feelings, to build up good will, and to celebrate friendships and relationships, both old and new.

From venue to décor to rentals to theme to food and beverage, these annual celebrations go beyond tradition. They are outstanding platforms from which to leap into the new year full of anticipation, excitement and energy.

Happy Holidays indeed.

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