At nearly every company, there are fond memories (and maybe even a few urban legends) of the annual holiday party in years past. It’s the big event that everyone looks forward to all year — a time to close out of those spreadsheets, turn off your Slack notifications guilt-free, and enjoy the companionship of your work fam. But how do you ensure that this year’s party will be bigger, better and more memorable than the last? We’re here with a few tips to help make planning the ultimate bash a breeze.

Step 1: Pick the Right Date & Book a Venue

As straight-forward as picking a date may seem (a holiday party should be thrown during the holidays, right?), you may actually want to consider a few alternative options. Given that the month of December is often quite busy for people outside of the office, (shopping, cooking, wrapping gifts, in-laws…the list goes on!) your guests may appreciate not having to squeeze yet another event into an already jam-packed month.

For instance, some companies opt to host their annual shindig in January, after the hustle and bustle of the holiday season has passed. What better way to kick off the New Year than by having your team bond over good bites and a few cocktails? An autumn employee appreciation event is another popular option, as you can take advantage of the Bay Area’s beautiful fall weather with a fun outdoor event. That being said, there are certainly perks to hosting your company bash in December and riding the wave of merriment and cheerfulness that’s already flowing through your office hallways — just make sure to plan ahead, and be ready to pay a premium for some venues during their busy season.

All the good spots already booked? Think outside the box, as many art museums, lofts and theaters in the Bay Area are available to rent, too.

Timeline: Many popular venues start to fill up 8-10 months in advance
How Much to Spend: 25-40% of your event budget


Step 2: Choose a Party Theme & Entertainment

Forget the snowflakes, tinsel and garland — this year, spice things up by choosing an unconventional theme for your event. Themed parties can be more engaging, encourage greater participation and are certainly more memorable than any ordinary winter wonderland.

Plus, it’s an opportunity to pull out all the stops with photo-friendly décor, a fun playlist and of course, and a tasty selection of food and drink that ties it all together. A Hawaiian luau, a Gatsby themed gala, a casino night soirée — the options are endless. Not to mention, distancing your event from any Yuletide décor or other specific holiday customs will ensure that every employee feels welcome. Bright, an event rentals company based in San Francisco, has an entire online rental catalog of chandeliers, centerpieces, accessories (and beyond!), and is a great place to start for a spark of inspiration. 

Timeline: Choose a theme and begin booking entertainment 5-8 months out
How Much to Spend: This can vary greatly, but spend no more than 20-30% of your event budget on entertainment


Step 3: Explore Your Culinary Options

There’s nothing that can make or break an event quite like the food. And with endless culinary choices, it can be difficult to please everyone. Consider serving up something innovative and uncommon — burritos or poke bowls aren’t dishes you’d expect at a typical holiday party, but both are crowd-pleasing options. Bay Area fan-favorites like Mozzeria, Jeepney Guy or Bonito Poke are always a big hit at both large and small events. Although par for the course these days,  don’t forget to also offer something for vegan guests or those who have food allergies or other dietary preferences. 

There are also many decisions to be made when it comes to how your guests are fed. Will you be serving passed appetizers, hosting an intimate sit-down multi-course affair or offering bites a la carte style? There are pros and cons to each option, and the food structure you decide on will certainly impact the tone of your event.

Timeline: Typically 6-8 months in advance (In a time crunch? Get in touch with the pros at Off the Grid Catering!)
How Much to Spend: 40-60% of your event budget


Step 4: Create Custom Cocktails

Nothing livens up a party (and the dance floor) like a few tasty cocktails — after all, this is a time to kick back, let loose, and celebrate all that has been accomplished over the past twelve months.  Consider serving a signature drink that’s tailor-made for your event by customizing everything from the liquor choice, to the garnish, to the type of glass. Devise a catchy, clever name, and these libations will be a hot item at the bar all night long. You can’t go wrong with either of our favorite Bay Area craft cocktail connoisseurs, Rye on the Road or Quality Beverage Company, slinging the drinks all night. 

Offering a “mocktail” version is also a great option in order to allow designated drivers or non-drinkers the opportunity to partake in the festivities with something more exciting than just soft drinks (plus, it’s totally on-trend right now). Whether you concoct something that goes along with your party theme, or opt for a holiday classic with a twist, offering a creative cocktail will undoubtedly add a personalized, festive touch to your bar menu.

Timeline: Typically 6-8 months in advance
How Much to Spend: Alcohol can get pricey fast, so earmark between ¼ and ⅓ of your overall food budget for drinks


Step 5: Plan Your Rentals and Décor

Alongside food, décor will really make your event stand out from the others. As guests arrive, blow them away with something eye-catching in the entryway that sets the tone for the evening. Check out The Snap Bar for all sorts of trendy photo booths, picturesque backdrops and other engaging rentals that will turn your party up a notch — plus, you’re sure to get a few pictures for the office breakroom cork board. Using custom lighting as part of your décor is a simple way to elevate your event decor, too — strung garden lights, disco balls or groovy lamps will all help set the mood. 

Finally, seating will have a major impact on the ambiance of your event. Are you going for a cozy vibe with bean-bags around a firepit or would you prefer elegant high-top cocktail tables that encourage mingling? Rent pieces that can be dual-purpose by offering seating for guests while also playing into the theme of your event. Just make sure to include room in your budget for other necessities like tablecloths or AV equipment. Experience creation company Suite Treatments can help transform any venue with their imaginative interactive displays, art installations and themed props.

Timeline: Begin booking event rentals 3-6 months out
How Much to Spend: After the venue is booked and food & beverage secured, pull out all of the stops décor-wise with what’s left!


Step 6: Add Some Sweet Treats

A creative dessert offering can bring your event from ordinary to epic with just one bite. For the last course of the evening, think beyond packaged baked goods or a store-bought sheet cake. May we suggest Doughp’s edible cookie dough or Oreo-infused s’mores from Camp Toasted, perhaps?

Trust us, a sugary aroma wafting through your venue as dessert arrives will stir up a bit of childhood nostalgia and get your guests’ taste buds tingling. Leaving a lasting impression on your guests with something sweet is the perfect way to wrap up what will be — with the help of our tips above — an evening of revelry, memory-making and team bonding that lasts well beyond the holiday season. 

Timeline: Typically 6-8 months in advance
How Much to Spend: Don’t forget to include dessert when calculating your overall food budget!