10 steps to the perfect Christmas party

Planning a company party can be hard work. It takes a lot of organisation and planning to pull off the company event of the year and trying to negotiate the logistics can be tricky when you still have your actual job to do!

As events specialists we have put together the definitive guide to planning a Christmas party so that you get the brilliant event you want, without any of the panic.


1. Pick a date – Christmas is a busy time!

No day will suit everybody. Rather than spend months in the middle of your colleagues trying to negotiate who should swap their holiday / wedding / christening etc, be clear in your initial mail out. Either pick a date and stick with it, or send a choice with the advisory note that majority rules. Once you have your date, put it in the office calendar or send a company mail. The earlier this goes out the better turnout you will have.

Top tip: Early in the week is cheaper as most people like to party on Thursday or Friday. It may be worth checking with your boss about this before you book as Christmas parties are practically guaranteed to reduce the productivity of the office for the next day!

2. Budget – Are you going with value crackers or all the trimmings?

Times are tight, but that does not mean you should scrimp on the office party. This is an opportunity for the company to say thank-you to all the staff for their hard work, as well as a chance to motivate them for the coming year.

Whatever your budget, it is a good idea to look at the expectations of your workforce. If they are thinking bigger than the boss, things could go very wrong! If a budget does fall short then make sure you manage those ideas and let people know what they can expect. One thing that almost always needs handling carefully is whether to extend the invite to partners. This can dramatically affect your budget, but may give you more sway in terms of numbers.

Not sure of exact headcount? Most venues will tell you the minimum numbers they need and you can check that against your budget.

Top tip: It’s wise to hold back a little of the cash as a continuity fund!

3. Drinks around the photocopier or a masked ball?

There are a million different locations and themes for Christmas parties. Of course a lot of your decision will depend on budget, numbers and timescales, but in most cases you can either plan it from scratch and do it yourselves, or buy into a package. The former is good if you have several different components that you need to fit in – for example marketing want to go ice-skating and IT are going bowling instead and then everyone is getting back together at the local pizza place followed by a party back at the office etc, but if you only have a set date and want a less time consuming option then it is worth booking a party package.

In most cases these are bigger events, and depending on size you can either book a private party or take a table at an open event.

Top tip: Think outside the box! If everyone is expecting the standard ‘hotel ballroom with buffet’ option, how about putting that ballroom on the water and having your party as you cruise down the Thames?!

4. Signed and sealed.

Unsurprisingly the best venues go quickly. Get on the internet and identify the best options for you, request quotes and make provisional bookings. If you visit, take photos so that you can remember everything about the space. That way if your boss decides he wants to do a speech / PR think you should have a dance floor / customer services want to put on a nativity (seriously?) you can work out how it will fit.

Be clear about what is included – the last thing you want to be involved with is clearing up or lifting heavy equipment. The venue usually covers all of this – particularly if you have booked a package. You should check about staff numbers too – you may have costed in free drinks but if there is only one bar person for 100 thirsty co-workers then no-one will be happy. Think about every stage of your night – from a manned cloakroom for the winter coats through to a waiting area for the bus to pick you all up at the end of the night.

Top tip: Most venues have an events co-ordinator that will know the space and can also tell you what worked in previous events.

5. Dress code… We have to wear what???

Are you sticking with a Christmas theme or do you want to take it one step further? If you do decide to be creative, keep in mind that not everybody will be as keen as you are to dip into the fancy dress box. Some people really enjoy wearing cocktail dresses and suits as they don’t often get the chance to glam up.

Top tip: Whatever your theme is, try to incorporate it into the whole evening – think welcome cocktail for a 60’s party or snowflake decorations on the table for a winter wonderland. The venue may be able to provide some of these.

6. Line those tummies

The venue or caterer will have a variety of menus, from buffet to sit-down dinners, so think about what you want and what your budget will allow. If you decide on a dinner then the easiest and cheapest option is to choose one meal for everybody, but in some cases you will need to pre-book individual choices. If you choose this option then give yourself plenty of time to get preferences back and give a very clear deadline so that you don’t end up chasing someone. Don’t forget you will need to identify anyone with a dietary requirement so that a suitable option can be provided for them. Don’t make the dinner too late as people will just head to the bar, but do remember to give people enough time to leave work and get ready. It may also be easier to work out a seating plan so that everybody knows where they need to be – don’t forget to print out a large copy for everybody to look at when they arrive.

Top tip: If you are choosing one meal for everyone, you don’t have to stick with turkey. Other meals can be just as Christmassy, a decent caterer will have other festive options you could consider.

7. Another round of snowballs please barman!

The Christmas party exploits of merry workers provides essential office chit-chat for weeks afterwards. You owe it to the company to make sure everyone has the chance to get a little bit tipsy! What you need to decide is whether the drinks will be free, part paid for or up to individuals to purchase. If you are going to pay for what is consumed, keep a large chunk of budget to cover the bill!

Top tip: If you go for part paid, think of some kind of token system so that everybody gets the same amount. You don’t want a boozy sales team drinking the bar budget before latecomers have even arrived at the party!

8. No strippers please, we’re British!

Parties are all about entertainment. Dancing and Christmas goes hand in hand. You can choose a band, DJ or make a themed mix on the iPod. Try to find music that will appeal to everybody – a mix of old and new. Whatever you choose, you will need to make sure that you have the kit required to set it up – and this includes everything from speakers to lighting. The venue should be able to help you with all / most of it.

Remember that not everybody loves to dance. If you can afford it, think of other ways to entertain – casino tables, magicians all create a buzz. Lots of people also appreciate a thank-you from the boss, so ask them if they are happy to stand up and say something (and to keep it short!). You will need to check that there is a microphone available if you are booking a band, or if there is a PA system at the venue.

Top tip: Book a photographer or sign up one of your colleagues to be the official camera. Not only do people love to get a decent picture taken of them, you can also use the pictures on your website and blog (if appropriate!)

9. The wheels on the bus…

If everybody is leaving together then book a bus. It is wise to get this booked as soon as possible because coach companies are almost as busy as party venues during the Christmas season!

Top tip: It’s worth getting local taxi numbers and details on public transport for people so that they can get home.

10. Party planner extraordinaire!

Make yourself an itinerary so that you can tick things off as you go along, and include the venue contact details, bus pick up details, table plans, menu choices etc. It may also be worth printing a simplified version to hand out to other people.


That pretty much covers everything. Hopefully you feel a bit more confident about booking an amazing party and are looking forward to the festive season instead of dreading it!

If you are still worrying, or you have read this and thought… I just don’t have the time, you could just hand it over to us. Thames Leisure are events specialists and have a whole flotilla of party boats ready to entertain your company. From champagne on arrival (or cointreau laced hot chocolate!) to hot water bottles on the top deck; amazing views of the city at night and even the chance to watch Tower Bridge open above your head, we know how to look after and impress your guests. Get in touch for more information.

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