Holiday Event Planning 101

With the holidays fast approaching, many companies have begun coordinating their annual holiday parties. These events have become a way for organizations to not only bring their teams together and celebrate, but also to give back to employees and thank them for all of their efforts throughout the year.

As holiday parties have come to symbolize a gesture of gratitude, it’s important to ensure a fun, memorable experience is had. From the menu to the bar tab, there are many unique and creative ways to host an unforgettable event—while staying within budget.

Flexibility is Key

Starting the event planning process as early as possible is a no brainer—at least six to 12 months ahead in advance is ideal, depending on the size. However, there are still some options available when booking at the last minute.

Most companies schedule holiday celebrations for Friday or Saturday evenings, so many of these timeframes may already be filled. By choosing an alternate day or time, planners may have more options to choose from. This can help cut costs on food and beverage minimums, as well.

It is also advisable to ask the preferred venue about unique event spaces. Even if ballrooms and other traditional spaces are fully booked, the venue may have another room available, such as outdoor terraces, elegant boardrooms or reception areas.

All-Inclusive Venues

Ideally, holiday event planning should be fun, without stressing about every detail. By holding a function at an all-inclusive venue, such as a hotel or resort, planners can save  time and money, and decrease stress.

Small, unexpected costs such as glassware, silverware and chairs tend to add up quickly, but with an all-inclusive venue there is no reason to consider add-on charges. The venue will provide additional elements—from tablecloths and linens to holiday decor and centerpieces—at no extra cost.

Most importantly, all-inclusive venues have onsite staff who can assist with every phase of arranging the meeting or event. Planners can then focus on coordinating more exciting elements, such as entertainment and activities.

Audience Engagement

The most important tip for planning any event is to know your audience. Once you are aware of the audience’s preferences, you can implement targeted and creative ways to gain their attention.

A themed party is a great way to provide authentic, destination-based experiences for your guests. At the Hyatt Regency Austin, the city’s popular patio-dining scene comes to life with outdoor decor, such as hanging cafe lights, patio furniture and yard games including cornhole, oversized Jenga, Connect Four and other fun elements.

Non-traditional holiday events are also worth consideration. For example, there is a growing trend of companies hosting family-friendly outings, rather than adult-only functions. With these events, you can provide activities for all ages, such as breakfast with Santa, cookie-decorating stations, arts and crafts projects, and more.

Fun With F&B

Holiday menus are another opportunity to think outside the box. Of course, you can have traditional, reception-style service or dinner buffets, but there are other ways to make ordinary meals more interesting. Take inspiration from classic holiday movies such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas! or A Christmas Story; another option is to bring in food trucks decorated in holiday lights.

For dessert, event planners can come up with interactive stations, such as an adult’s only cookies and cordials pairing, or cordial-infused milkshakes where guests can create their own concoctions. As guests begin to leave, it’s a good idea to send them away with one last treat. Surprise them with an unexpected pop-up snack stand supplying something tasty for the road.

Tackle the Bar Tab

Many hosts are intimidated by the bar tab, and some forego a holiday party altogether in fear of it becoming too expensive. Others decline paid beverage options and opt for a cash bar instead. However, it is possible to serve drinks while staying within your budget.

Sticking with punch bowls or beer and wine is one affordable option. Drink tickets are another way to limit expenses. One unique suggestion is to have beverage stations, such as providing Champagne and a variety of mixers for guests to make their own sparkling cocktails.

Event Attendance

The priority of any holiday gathering should be about giving back and saying thank you to employees. Not all organizations can afford to throw an extravagant party, but providing a few bonuses will go a long way in making your guests feel appreciated.

First of all, make sure to ask the venue if there are any ongoing promotions that will enhance the guest experience. It’s also important for planners to think of what will prohibit their guests from attending the event and finding possible solutions. For example, companies can consider providing transportation options, babysitting services or special overnight room rates.


Allison Jacques is director of events for Hyatt Regency Austin. She has more than 13 years of experience working in the events department with Hyatt Hotels. She graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 2003 with a degree in hotel, restaurant and institutional management.

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