Holiday Parties Under the Gun this Year

November 1, 2002 ( - What used to pass for "ho, ho, ho" may turn into "bah humbug" with company-sponsored holiday events promising to come under budget pressures.

After multiple rounds of job cuts, evaporating consumer confidence and no significant capital spending to spark a turnaround, many companies are struggling to justify the expense of a holiday party, said John Challenger, chief executive officer of the Challenger, Gray & Christmas outplacement firm.

Add to that six fewer prime shopping days because of a late (November 28) Thanksgiving and, Challenger says, caterers and party planners who used to be buried under corporate party business now have bookings that are down 40% to 50%.

Challenger said that has prompted those involved with planning, hosting and catering these events to compete feverishly with each other for what business is available by lowering prices, offering new and creative packages and constantly reminding clients that employee morale needs a boost.

With fewer evenings on which to hold holiday functions (because of the shortened season) and with budgets being squeezed, several hotels and caterers reported that a growing number of clients are moving their holiday parties to the lunch hour Challenger said.

Another event option that is becoming popular in lieu of dinners is the cocktail or social reception, which, instead of lasting three or four hours, lasts only about two hours, Challenger said.