By Lauren Matthews Posted September 25, 2013, 7:30 AM EDT
When the recession was in full swing back in December 2008, companies across the board were scaling back on holiday events in light of economic constraints—or cancelling them altogether, deeming the celebrations either needlessly extravagant or highly inappropriate in the wake of layoffs.
But, last year it seemed that the corporate holiday party scene was returning to normal: A study conducted by executive search firm Battalia Winston reported that 91 percent of companies polled had a Christmas party, the highest percentage in the past six years, while a poll by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 72 percent of respondents attended a company celebration, up from 68 percent in 2011 and 61 percent in 2010 and 2009.
Industry pros across the country echo the sentiment that corporate holiday party bookings and budgets are on an upswing, reporting that some companies are even once again investing in multiple events and big-name headliners. “People want to celebrate—the increase in the number of parties we booked last year grew dramatically over the year prior, and this year the pace is already picking up,” says Marianna Accomando, the vice president of sales and assistant manager at the Seaport Boston Hotel. Adds Lisa Gorjestani, founder of Los Angeles–based Details Event Planning: “A couple years ago, even if a company had the ability to host a nice holiday event, they felt guilty and didn’t want to rub it in others’ faces. But now, they’ve gotten past that.” A holiday party survey conducted by BizBash and food delivery Web site Seamless last December (see details here) indicated that as the economy regains its footing, companies are realizing that year-end festivities are not a meaningless expense, strongly influencing productivity and morale. Of the 1,500 event professionals who took the survey—the majority of whom help plan the holiday party—67 percent reported improved team dynamics as a direct result of office holiday get-togethers, and 75 percent reported improved office friendships.
Still, while many companies are hosting holiday gatherings again, the recession has effected a lasting change in what those events now look like, with hosts valuing smart spending over freewheeling excess and designing more thoughtful affairs. “Companies are still trying to get the most bang for their buck while at the same time staying away from the typical ‘cookie-cutter’ holiday party,” says Brett Galley, director of special events at Hollywood Pop Gallery, an event planning company with offices in New York and London. “Corporate clients are savvy—it’s not an ‘anything goes’ mentality.” Here’s a closer look at the ideas and trends that we predict will shape company holiday parties this year.