Party ideas Yule love
We look at some of the top options for this year’s Christmas bash
Verve organises Christmas parties with a difference.
The Christmas office party has evolved from a last-minute, low-budget shindig into an elaborately co-ordinated marketing operation. For the high-rollers of Silicon Docks in Dublin who command lottery-sized salaries and a staff the size of a defence army, it’s the equivalent of a box-office Oscars night filled with expensive goody bags, golden gongs and bonus-pay acceptance speeches. Facebook, LinkedIn and Google are renowned for their employee perks and exotic parties are part of the package deal.
Even small struggling companies will aim to reward patient staff for sticking another year of endless slog, low pay and dismal prospects. The big bash is a great way of letting off all the steam built up grinding the greasy wheels of commerce.
Admittedly, Dublin’s fabulously successful high-tech giants set the bar very high and lead the party troupes and Christmas conga by throwing the most elaborate and creative party concepts. High-tech companies often have budgets in the region of €200,000 for the big night out. Goody bags handed out at the end of the night often contain smart watches, gold bracelets or the latest iPhones.
For example, one memorable Holiday party, (the C word is un-PC) for one of these firms involved taking over Funderland at the RDS and renaming it after the company for a night. Partygoers had the use of the large skating rink, the Funderland Ferris wheels, along with clowns, balloon blowers and circus entertainers for starters.
Companies are increasingly realising they need to call in the party planning experts if they want to make it a night to remember.
The Eventist Group is a major party organiser which concentrates on providing ‘Best Parties Ever!’ ideas. According to Grainne Glenny of Boola PR, they are launching a massive scale Christmas venue in Dún Laoghaire for the coming festive season.
The theme is based on the ‘Roaring Twenties’, with a fantastic line-up of flapper dancers, speak-easy bars, shiny Cadillacs and flamboyant costumes that capture the hedonistic atmosphere of that era. They are already taking corporate bookings for November and December.
‘Roaring Twenties’ theme
According to Penny McGrigor, Eventist’s marketing director, they aim to provide a unique party experience within the Irish entertainment landscape. “The ‘Roaring Twenties’ theme sees Eventist Group shy away from the predictable end-of-year tableau of snowflakes, elves and Santa. Companies have the option of booking within a shared night or to hire out the venue exclusively.”
Alongside lip-smacking culinary dishes that include canapés on arrival, a four-course-meal complete with a cheese buffet and a midnight ‘Survivors’ Breakfast’ for late-night revellers – the speakeasy-style ‘Roaring Twenties’ theme features saxophonists, jazz acrobatics, casino tables and even dodgem cars.
Bloor explains that this is a significant employment vehicle too. “It involves creating 150 seasonal jobs and investing €500,000 with local suppliers across the hospitality and events industry, In 2018, events booked with the group catered for more than 17,000 guests over 20 nights.”
The Party Professionals are also getting into full seasonal swing and the team has been working flat out on a number of Christmas-themed parties for its corporate clients. “If you want to book your staff into the high-profile restaurants and venues, it’s important to book a good few months in advance,” says Caroline Gardiner, who runs the events business in Dublin.
“No matter what the prevailing mood, the staff Christmas party is essential for good relations. It was initially designed to get all colleagues into the mood for Christmas after a long and hopefully productive year,” she explains.
Has she seen many changes and trends lately?
“For a start, the word Christmas is seen as alienating within a more diverse workforce – so the term Holiday party has been adopted by larger corporates in Ireland. The focus is less about Christmas and more about staff appreciation and gratitude.”
One of her most popular parties is a Hollywood-themed awards ceremony night full of glamour, glitz and bubbles. Some companies book a smooth-talking, black-tie host to crack the jokes and make the presentations.
“We have a corporate client that we work for every year, with over 250 staff members on the night and whilst not everybody walks away with an award, everybody walks away feeling appreciated and recognised for their contributions throughout the year,” says Gardiner.
“The staff are really pampered on the evening, with no expense spared, with a full three-course sit-down meal, Champagne on arrival, wine flowing throughout the evening and an open bar. Christmas cocktails are more fashionable on arrival instead of the traditional glass of prosecco or mulled wine.
Christmas cosmopolitans on arrival are a big hit,” she says. “I like to see them garnished with fresh cranberries and thyme for added impact and wow factor.”
Food trends have changed over the past couple of years too, with companies and caterers offering “supper bowls” circulated on trays by uniformed staff, just like canapés.
“This option is a lovely way for everyone to savour a number of different dishes, ranging from Thai or Indian curries to more traditional creamy beef stroganoff or Moroccan lamb tagine.”
Gardiner is a big fan of bite-sized desserts and mini hot mince pies with a dollop of cream or miniature sherry trifles, which are always a winner with companies.
A hot trend that’s gaining traction over the last couple of years is throwing the Christmas party in the company’s offices.
“At the Party Pros, we have transformed many dull open-plan offices into spectacular settings – from office drab to party fab! By providing a striking backdrop, decking the place in balloons and providing instant pipes and drapes – a curtain system that gives a room a completely different look and atmosphere – it is utterly transformed. Along with some clever lighting and glamorous tables, covered chairs with bows at the back, the office space is a vibrant venue.”
Another trend on the rise is the option of having the corporate Christmas party in January or even February. This sometimes not only suits the company better but their staff also. Peter Mark, for example, is so busy in the run-up to Christmas they like to celebrate in the new year. There is also the added bonus of having more choice of venues in January and also easier to negotiate venues and suppliers.
John O’Shaughnessy is the creative director of Verve event management. He agrees that parties are getting more adventurous and elaborate, with so many multinationals headquartered in Ireland.
“The standard of the Irish office Christmas bash has definitely been raised. The employees are often young and well-travelled so they’re up for more creative style events. Over the last few years, there has been a real change in the styles of parties, reflecting the diversity and more eco-friendly concerns.”
What are the hottest trends Verve is seeing for Christmas 2019?
O’Shaughnessy highlights the need to think outside of the box. “Lots of companies are looking for something a bit different from the typical ‘winter wonderland’ with unconventional themes. We’ve created a full-scale Wes Anderson-inspired hotel. We have also staged a museum complex that sprang to life with animatronic dinosaurs and living artworks as guests entered.”
Verve also emphasizes being interactive and Instagramable. “People are conversing through images so there is a huge trend towards designing photogenic parties with striking backdrops. We have put together a 120m light installation entrance; as well as body marbling stations; a glitter-covered open top bus that doubles as a karaoke stage. We also held a party in a huge Christmas funfair, which made for perfect Insta-fodder.”
O’Shaughnessy also says food served creatively is popular. “We can have a lot of fun with food, from molecular ice-cream machines to desserts served as inhalable mists. There’s a shift away from seated dinners to informal mini-meals served in bowls that allow you to mingle. We’ve also seen a trend for fully non-alcoholic bars as well as more unusual food offerings like gourmet popcorn served from a ball pit, neon doughnut walls and robotic cocktail mixologists.”
Diversity and sustainability
Progressive companies are also keen to cater for diversity and sustainability. In this age of diversity, it’s important that the event feels 100 per cent inclusive, O’Shaughnessy points out. That can be as simple as including an area with reduced light and noise levels, non-binary bathrooms or making sure your menus offer something delicious for people with specialist diets and allergies. “Our clients tend to be environmentally conscious and we use our ISO20121 sustainability system to reduce waste and make parties as guilt-free as possible.”
Some of Verve’s parties involve interactive performances with a cast of characters: actors, performers, artists and even the guests themselves. “You just need to set the stage with visual prompts and a strong theme that gives guests a chance to get involved. We’ve used some incredible performers to bring a theme to life – from Tesla coil lightning acts to giant ogres and human disco balls,” he says.
Another party expert is Claire Malone of Create your Night party planners and she warns that TGIF Fab Fridays get booked out four months in advance, especially if you are having a big crowd.
“If you want to hire out a well-known place for a larger group such as Fire at the Mansion House, or Guinness Storehouse or the Crypt at Christ Church, you have to start booking now. Smaller groups are more flexible.
“I am getting a lot of requests to organise parties in companies’ own office buildings with on-site entertainment, cocktail-making, drinks and buffets all under the one roof. There is also a demand for fun bands like Gossip, who do a everything from Adele to Pharrell Williams as well as three-piece music bands.
“There are fun ideas like cocktail-creators under the supervision of cool Tom Cruise-style bartenders, where the staff can concoct their own juicy drinks – we also do non-alcoholic cocktails. Companies can control the budget more as drinks can be bought in supermarkets in advance and you have less restrictions on time. Staff can stay as long as they like. Casino nights are also fun, where you can transform a room into a mini-Las Vegas casino with glamorous tellers and card tricks.”
The solo entertainer is also much in demand over the holiday period, whether you book a wise-cracking comedian like Jason Byrne or Emma Doran to have you in stitches or a magician like Shane Black, whose mind-boggling interactive routines bring the party guests together in a spirit of fun and good humour.
Usually, Black’s performances take place during the drinks reception or perhaps moving from table-to-table during the night if there’s a formal meal. His multi-award-winning act, honed over 15 years, is based on what he calls ‘magic of the mind’ and he specialises in mentalism or mind reading. Great fun but be careful if you’ve a secret to hide!
So that’s the party craic for 2019! Gone are the days when a Karaoke machine, a rake of pints and a crate of cheap El Plonko was deemed MIGHTY! by the grateful, hard-pressed staff. So if you find yourself sipping flat pints in the Dog ’n’ Bone pub, munching on sodden tuna sangwidges or rockin’ around a battered juke box, you might like to consider a career move in the new year – in good time for next year’s celebrations!