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Event Pros Share Their Struggles with This Year's Holiday Party Season

Some vendors and suppliers are facing less jingle and jolly this year due to economic issues like remote work and last-minute bookings.

Event Profs and Their 2022 Holiday Struggles
Some event planners are saying "bah humbug" to the economic struggles that they’re facing this season.
Photo: Courtesy of Unsplash

‘Tis the season for… a looming recession, layoffs, and budget cuts? According to a recent report by the Global Business Travel Association, high inflation, fuel costs, supply chain issues, and labor shortages have already affected event expenses, with the cost-per-attendee expected to be around 25% higher this year than in 2019.

And while more in-person corporate holiday parties are anticipated this year as compared to the previous two, many planners are saying "bah humbug" to the economic struggles that they’re facing this season. BizBash asked some event industry pros to share what they’re experiencing this year.

Comparable Budgets
First, some good news. Budgets are about the same as previous years. “Some companies are conscious of the optics of spending large sums for holiday parties, given possible recession concerns, but for many companies, there is an even greater importance to gathering their team together—some for the first time since the pandemic—to acknowledge the closing of another year, of achievements well earned, and for continuing through this professional rollercoaster,” said Shaun Roberts, vice president of sales for New York-based caterer Great Performances. “I’d say, for the most part, budgets are holding up in comparison to previous years.”

FREEHOLD Hospitality co-founder and CEO Brice Jones said that his team has “seen a pivot away from full buyouts to accommodate more intimate gatherings and team outings,” but that “booking and spending for holiday parties has increased over the past year.”

Smaller Parties
All of the event pros said that clients are still erring on the side of small when it comes to holiday parties. “The interest we have seen in hosting holiday parties is much higher than we have seen in the past couple of years. We still aren’t to the size or volume of holiday parties that we were in 2019, but the interest is definitely back,” said Megan Pierce, director of sales and marketing at The Curtis Hotel in Denver, which boasts a total of 28,000 square feet of event space, including 15 meeting rooms and two outdoor terraces.

Roberts echoed that sentiment, saying that clients are cutting back on guest count, “down as much as 20-25%. This is being attributed to such realities as staff members who have moved out of the area to work remotely, concerns about COVID with the onset of the cold season, and the interest of staff, who are only in the office two or three days a week, in staying or coming in for a party.”

Event Profs and Their 2022 Holiday StrugglesFREEHOLD Hospitality boasts venues in Brooklyn and Miami, as well as a seasonal outpost in Manhattan’s Union Square.Photo: Courtesy of FREEHOLD HospitalityHe noted that the event company has seen more in-office holiday celebrations, “possibly as a means of cutting back, but mostly seemingly due to a desire to use the real estate they have invested in and as a way to encourage people back into the office and experience the camaraderie among colleagues.” He also added that the events are now shorter, tending to end earlier.

There is an upside to hosting smaller, more intimate gatherings though. “By targeting smaller groups, we’ve not only lessened our operational lift but also have been able to create interactive experiences for guests that have been proven to be impactful,” Jones said.

Hard-to-Find Rentals
Because of supply chain issues and labor shortages, some party wares are harder to source. Pierce said that rental items have been the biggest obstacle. “Anything within 30 days is incredibly limited and also unavailable for delivery. With such a short lead time for any event, including holiday parties, it makes it incredibly difficult to secure rental items needed to successfully pull off any events. We find ourselves moving to plan B and plan C often.”

Event Profs and Their 2022 Holiday StrugglesThe Curtis Hotel, located in downtown Denver, features more than 28,000 square feet of meeting spaces and a pop culture-infused design with 13 themed floors and 336 contemporary guest rooms.Photo: Courtesy of The Curtis HotelLast-Minute Bookings
Pierce implores clients to book in advance. “We know there is a national shortage of supplies, from every segment, but the further in advance we can plan, the better. It has felt lately that there is this idea around booking last minute and getting a ‘deal.’ Our property isn’t running any last-minute deals, and this approach is only adding stress to the planning and sourcing process.”

Roberts agreed, saying that more and more clients are cutting back on lead time. “So many are now last minute, which can frazzle organizers when it comes to all the decisions that need to be made,” which is why Great Performances has designed a holiday party package. It includes a condensed menu of the most popular holiday party food and beverage options, waitstaff, bartender(s), a chef and two assistants, and the basic rentals typically required such as plates, cutlery, bar table, and linens as well as back-of-house equipment. The package starts at $200 per person.

Delayed Contracts
More clients also seem to be dragging their feet when it comes to signing on the dotted line. “I do think there was more hesitation in signing agreements than what we would see in pre-pandemic years,” Pierce said. "I think companies are excited to host and get everyone together, but still cautious about the ‘what if.’ With that hesitation comes a little more pushback on agreement terms such as F&B minimums. If they have to cancel, they want to limit the liability.”

Date Availability
As is the case every season, clients are competing with other groups during a short time window. “There are just a few magic dates on the calendar—the Thursdays and Fridays between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve—that see the most in demand,” Roberts said. But he noted that Wednesday is on the rise “because if employers are allowing staff members to work at home a couple of days a week, most of them elect to come in Tuesday through Thursday,” so employees are more likely to attend a mid-week event. Roberts recommends planning ahead or looking at off-peak dates for a holiday party during any year, adding that an afternoon gathering makes a good alternative.

Staffing Issues
While Pierce noted that the hotel isn’t currently experiencing staffing shortages, additional resources are still limited. “In the past, we would call on our sister properties for additional labor. With the industry still bouncing back, there isn’t this resource anymore. Each property is handling its own groups but does not have the resources to assist other hotels.”

Event Profs and Their 2022 Holiday StrugglesTo handle last-minute bookings, Great Performances has designed a holiday party package that includes a condensed menu of the most popular holiday party food and beverage options.Photo: Courtesy of Great Performances

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