6 Tips for Avoiding an Office Party Nightmare

It’s not just about avoiding intoxication, but that’s on here too

Back Web Only Nov 18, 2015 By Joan Cusick

Mention “office party,” and someone is going to have a juicy story, usually involving alcohol-impaired behavior. But according to local experts, your company’s holiday party doesn’t have to be a date that lives in infamy.

“When a party’s emphasis is on alcohol, you run the risk of letting the chemicals do the talking for you, and that doesn’t always lead to the best outcome,” said Russell DiSilvestro, an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and director of the Center for Practical and Professional Ethics at California State University Sacramento. “I think you can frame a party as a fun event that you want to remember in the future. It helps with esprit d’corps, makes the company a nicer place to work and creates a nice culture that goes on from one year to the next.”

Related: The Legalities of Office Happy Hour

The secret to staging a successful office party comes down to a few common-sense rules.

Know Your Audience. “I see companies paying a little more attention to the unique needs of their employees,” says Diann Rogers, President and CEO of the Rancho Cordova Chamber of Commerce. “Is it a party they want? An off-site event? Community service, or something with family? The thinking goes beyond ‘Let’s go rent out a big space with an open bar and see what happens.’ Ask your employees what they want to do, and involve them in the planning process.”

Spend Wisely. “For a successful holiday party or event, the biggest thing is having a realistic budget,” says Tom Ursini, general manager of Party Concierge, which provides design and decor for hundreds of events during the holiday season. “So many clients come to us asking for a recommendation, and when you ask about budget, they don’t want to reveal it. A few years ago, ‘no budget’ meant the sky’s the limit. Now, it means they have little money for the event.”

Ursini says that, among the most popular themes are Winter Wonderland, red-carpet concepts around Hollywood or Broadway and creating a clubby, lounge-feel for the party.

Keep the Food Flowing. Whether your office party includes a luncheon, dinner, small plates or passed hors d’oeuvres, select a menu that accommodates dietary needs such as vegetarian, vegan, gluten- or dairy-free. “Sometimes it’s better to get away from the sit-down dinner and maybe just serve heavy appetizers,” says Cindy Chilelli, catering manager of Fat’s Catering & Banquet Facility. “Then you’re not seated next to someone all night long, sitting there for hours trying to make chitchat.” And if you opt for the sit-down dinner, set more places than the actual headcount to give employees room to spread out.

Stay Active. “It’s important to give employees something to do at the company party,” says professional photographer Mischa Purcell, who is also vice president of the local chapter of the National Association for Catering & Events. “Food trucks are a big trend right now, and people love photo booths. Most companies bring in props to make sure it’s a fun experience.” Other popular activities include a casino theme, DJ and dancing, and family-focused attractions like a bouncy house or magician.

Set Clear Expectations. “From an HR perspective, we advise sending out a communication in advance of the holidays that reminds your employees about appropriate behavior inside and outside the workplace,” says Jessica Hinkle, chief operating officer of Benefits Done Right and former president of the Sacramento Area Human Resources Association. “Sexual harassment tends to be a big issue when people overdrink, so it helps to remind people of policies in advance.” Consider sending the communication before Halloween, when in-office costumes may be deemed sexually suggestive, culturally offensive or politically incorrect.

Don’t Let the Alcohol Do the Talking. The experts universally agree on tips to limit alcohol consumption at the holiday party.

  • Give each employee one or two drink tickets instead of hosting an open bar.
  • Offer only beer and wine – or, if you’re serving mixed drinks, offer nonalcoholic “mocktails.”
  • Hire a professional bartender who is trained to spot problem drinking.
  • Schedule the holiday party earlier in the day – at lunch or mid-afternoon.
  • If all else fails, offer cab vouchers, summon Uber or Lyft, or provide designated drivers for employees who need help getting home.

What are your tips for a successful holiday party? Share them in the comments below.