US companies hold holiday parties, but on a budget

Reuters, Wednesday 1 Dec 2010

Appetizers, wine and roast beef no longer served

American companies are back in the partying mood this holiday season -- but don't count on getting a glass of wine or an appetizer with your dinner.
More U.S. firms will hold holiday parties for their staff this year, but most plan to spend no more than last year, according to a survey released on Tuesday. And it's more likely than not that a company will host the festivities in its own building to limit costs.
"The holiday parties are becoming more numerous. And they're not going to be as limited as they were during the recession," said John Challenger, chief executive officer of consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. "But they're still subdued. Companies are still cautious."
Sixty-eight percent of companies surveyed said they planned year-end celebrations for their employees, up from the 62 percent who did so last year, according to Challenger's informal survey of about 100 companies.
But only 45 percent of companies plan to serve alcohol, down from 57 percent a year ago. Just over half plan to have the party on company premises, up from 29 percent in 2009.
One thing companies are paying for is outside help. This year, 71 percent of companies surveyed said they would rely on a caterer or event planner, compared with only 36 percent a year ago.
Doug Biggs, president of DJ's California Catering in Ventura, California, is seeing steady demand for holiday parties.
"I see that people, they still want to hold their events; but they're still holding onto their purse strings and trying to work within the same budget as they had last year or sometimes even lower," Biggs said.
That means skipping appetizers or trading the prime rib for top round roast beef, he said.
The ailing economy in California, which has one of the country's highest unemployment rates at 12.4 percent, hasn't helped much, Biggs added.
"In fact, I would say of all the events that we have re-booked this year, the majority of them are for a smaller number of people," he said.
New York City, with its rebounding financial sector, and other parts of the country could see more "extravagant" events, Challenger said.
For many employees, having scaled back celebrations or none at all has not been such a bad thing, Challenger added.

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