NEW YORK (AP) — Even in a down economy, with business more difficult to come by and expenses going up by the day, many small company owners are nonetheless forging ahead with holiday party plans.
Certainly, an owner feeling strapped for cash might think the business just can’t afford a celebration this year. But many of them believe a party for employees is too important to forgo, so as they start to plan they’re finding ways to save money but still make staffers feel appreciated.
Ron Hanser, co-owner of the West Des Moines, Iowa, public relations firm Hanser & Associates, believes a tough economy is all the more reason to hold a party in the holiday season.
“If ever there was a need for that renewal of the human spirit, this holiday season seems to need it,” he said, pointing to the slumping economy and upheaval on Wall Street that included the bankruptcy filing of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.
So Hanser’s company will be having its usual party at a local restaurant for employees and their spouses.
“We’re telling our clients, don’t cut back on celebrations,” Hanser said. “This is important — there’s nothing frivolous about celebrating a holiday.”
Gerald Schwartz, who owns a New York-based PR firm, is critical of owners who he says have a knee-jerk reaction and cancel parties to save money. His suggestion is to dip into their own pockets — and not try to do a party on the cheap.
“Let’s just open a bottle of champagne in the conference room and have a couple of lousy hors d’oeuvres” is not the way to do it, said Schwartz, president of G.S. Schwartz & Co. Inc. “You should be considerate of how hard people are working for you.”
He said of company owners: “Their lifestyle’s not going to change if they spend a couple of extra thousand on Christmas.”
But let’s say a company is really having a hard time right now. It’s still possible to hold a party that the staff will enjoy.
One option is a potluck affair, which can appeal to staffers who love to cook and show off to their co-workers. The boss should still contribute something, perhaps beverages and a cake, and be as generous as possible.
If the staff is small, the owner might have everyone over to his or her house for brunch, or a cocktail party.
Another possibility is to tell the staff that while you can’t afford a party, you’ll give them half a day off on a Friday in December. They’ll love having the extra time, and the gesture will go a long way toward creating goodwill.
Many companies are choosing to have their parties onsite rather than in a restaurant or catering hall or club. Tom Walter, who co-owns Tasty Catering in Elk Grove Village, Ill., has seen business pick up this year.
“It’s bare bones because they don’t want to lavishly spend money for the production of a holiday event,” he said. So, the decor is simple, the entertainment might be a boom box and the desserts more moderate than in the past. Owners may skip the alcohol, or serve only wine and beer.
Still, Walter doesn’t see employers skimping on their staffs. They may be putting on less of a party, but “they’ll offset that with a bonus.”
Another way businesses are saving on parties is to hold them during off-peak times, Walter said. Thursdays in December are the most popular and therefore the most expensive dates, so some companies are putting their celebrations off until January. Also, many staffers might appreciate a winter break rather than another commitment during the busy holiday season.
Walter’s company will be holding its holiday parties — one just for staffers and one in which families are invited — as usual between Christmas and New Year’s.
Owners may find that some creativity is all it takes to put on a great party.
Kevin McLaughlin is saving money on his Princeton, N.J., marketing firm’s party this year by bartering publicity work for dinner at one of his clients, a hip local restaurant.
“We can run our business efficiently and at the same time treat our employees well,” said McLaughlin, owner of Resound Marketing.
McLaughlin expects to spend half as much this year on a holiday party as he did on last year’s celebration, which was a trip to Atlantic City for his staff of eight and their guests.
“I would rather put money into employees’ pockets rather than travel,” McLaughlin said. “They can spend it as they want.”

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