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Holiday Parties Making A Cautious Comeback

By Brad Kane

November 15, 2010

Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, New Years — you are victims of the recession no longer.

At least compared to last year.

Holiday parties are coming back in 2010 after a year or more of company cutbacks, signaling a willingness of companies to loosen their purse strings after the recession forced some fiscal tightening.

“People definitely did scale back on their holiday parties last year, but it is coming back in a big way this year,” said Jessica Correia, corporate sales manager at The Society Room in Hartford.

Corporate bookings for The Society Room in December already exceed 30 with room for more. Last year, The Society Room did 23 company parties for the entire holiday season.

The spending on the parties has increased as well, with companies spending more in places they previously eliminated, such as entertainment.

“It is obviously not where it was, but we are getting there,” Correia said.

The Hartford Club has booked 30 company holiday parties this year, a slight uptick from 2009, said Christine Pollack, the facility’s director of catering.

While better than last year, spending at the holiday parties is still down significantly compared to three or four years ago. More companies are calling on their employees to front some of the cost, Pollack said, and the average party size is 60-75 people.

“The 300-400 person holiday parties are no longer in existence,” Pollack said. “People are definitely getting away from formal sit-down dinners.”

Glastonbury communications firm Cashman & Katz is changing up its holiday party from previous years where the company took the employees and their spouses out to a restaurant. This year, the party will be held at a bowling alley, so the attendees can interact more and socialize.

“What I’m seeing is that people want to do something fun,” said Tony Cashman, president & CEO of Cashman & Katz. “They want to do something that is a little bit more out of the ordinary.”

The amount of money Cashman & Katz is spending on the party for its 23 employees isn’t remarkably changed from previous years, Cashman said, but he wanted to make sure the party fit what the employees wanted. The employees like to socialize together — the company had another outing in September — and Cashman sees the value in it.

“If we were to cut costs, we aren’t going to cut on the holiday party,” Cashman said. “It has been a good bonding and good socialization tool.”

A national study released last week by California-based The Creative Group shows 52 percent of all advertising and marketing executives see a value in throwing a party for employees at the end of the year. They see it as a way to thank valuable employees and give people a chance to socialize outside the work environment.

“Last year, there was a different mood,” said Jack Fellers, New England regional vice president for Robert Half International, which owns The Creative Group. “Now they feel it is really an opportunity to get people together and thank them.”

Hartford lobbying firm Sullivan & LeShane didn’t make any cuts to its non-traditional holiday party during the recession, and nothing is changing this year, said Gene Sheehan, managing partner at the company.

Every year, Sullivan & LeShane rents an executive bus, gives its 15 employees Santa hats and a stipend to buy gifts for needy families. The bus then travels to various shops and the employees buy the gifts for charity. Afterward, they all go to a restaurant.

The tradition has been ongoing at Sullivan & LeShane for more than 10 years, and there are no plans to shake it up, no matter how the company finances change, Sheehan said.

“We are very traditional that way,” Sheehan said. “It is a lot of fun. It is a way of enjoying each other around the holidays and really honoring the spirit of the holidays.”

For companies that want the frills of a high-end holiday party with less expense, The Society Room last year began holding a single event where multiple companies could celebrate with their employees — at $74 a head — and share in the cost.

“We’ve basically put together an event for small companies that can’t really justify a full holiday party,” Correia said. “Especially in this economy, a lot of these companies, it is really price driven.”

Last year, 75 people attended The Society Room’s holiday party. In its second year, more than 80 people from two companies have signed up with the facility expecting that number to grow to 160.

Corporate holiday bookings at the Hartford Marriott Downtown, the Connecticut Convention Center and the Hilton Hartford have increased, although the spending isn’t quite where the facilities expected it, said Brien Fox, vice president of sales for the Waterford Hotel Group, which manages all three facilities.

After those three Hartford facilities saw a marked increase in business spending on customers, travel and conventions, they expected to see something similar for the holiday parties, Fox said. While there are more bookings, the parties tend to be lunches or cocktail hours instead of full-blown dinners.

“When it comes to celebrating, the companies are still a little cautious because of what the economy has done the past few years,” Fox said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Business Journal. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Business Journal Archives at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/archives.php.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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