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Latest Trend in Planning Holiday Parties is Making Guests Wait

By Margaret Galush

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—until you realize your calendar is full of family gatherings, shopping trips, decorating dates and not even a moment to spare for the company holiday party. With December becoming prime time for infl exible obligations and stockings overstuff ed with invites, many planners are getting a handle on the holidays by keeping the parties going well into the New Year and booking events in January, February and even March.

Better Rates & Perks

Financial flexibility and calendar availability are two of the main incentives that work to a planner’s advantage when planning a holiday party during the first quarter. As attendee and venue schedules open up, industry costs start to decline once the traditional season is over, creating an opportune window for a well-attended, budget-friendly party. And at least in Illinois, the winter weather still makes it feel festive.

Normally in January, the rates [for booking events] are a bit lower, especially in Chicago. Hotel rates, room rental rates and food and beverage minimums are all less,” explains Anthony Navarro, founder and senior event planner for Liven It Up Events in Chicago. With nearly 17 years under his belt, Navarro has organized his fair share of events in the post-holiday time frame. Aside from financial benefits, he has also found that hosting events during this time of year allows guests the chance to enjoy themselves more when they’re not worrying about party hopping or what shopping and errands they have left to do. 

In addition to these perks, many venues also offer supplementary incentives to acquire bookings that typically tend to decline during these quieter months. “We absolutely love when planners are open to the idea of a post-holiday party, as it affords them much more flexibility. There are only a handful of prime dates in late November and December, and those can book well over a year in advance,” says Christie Springer, event consultant for Sodexo at the Museum of Science and Industry, who notes the venue has a history of hosting lively post-holiday gatherings such as re-gifting parties and “Ring in the New Year” celebrations for up to 12,000 guests. “Our event consultants can also offer incentives to book in January or February. Depending on the date, size and scope of the event, we may be able to offer a complimentary champagne welcome or upgraded dessert station, or even a lower food and beverage minimum.”

Finding the Right Setting

Though, along with the benefits of planning an after-holiday party, there are some challenges that planners can face—in particular figuring out the right recipe for creating a festive, traditional experience when culturally people have shifted to Valentine’s Day or spring break. The ingredients come down to a coordinated venue, décor and theme. 

A strategically selected venue is a great way to set the tone, says Navarro who recalls one of his client’s parties that created a winter wonderland at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). “The CEO of the company wanted to create a fun lounge on a cold winter night in Chicago in January,” Navarro remembers. “Part of the reason they selected the MCA is because it had the ‘bones’ for a modern and cool setting. By bringing in white, modular furniture and cool blue lighting, it helped set the tone.” 

Another interesting choice of venue is Cindy’s (atop the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel). “At Cindy’s we’re considered a summer destination, but with an enclosed-glass roof, that snow globe feeling continues through the winter months,” says Event Sales Manager Margaret Moreira. Cindy’s private dining room, the 45 standing-person-cap (27 seated) Library, is another festive option with built-in décor that recreates the opulence of the season.

Aside from venue choice, incorporating traditional holiday décor is perhaps the simplest way to establish a festive mood at an event. Classic accents such as small Christmas trees and lights are easy enough to incorporate in the months following December, so long as clients plan the event well in advance, as procuring holiday décor past January becomes more difficult, advises Navarro. 

Another option is incorporating a holidayinspired cocktail, suggests Erin Carroll, director of events and business development for Bottleneck Management Restaurant Group, which has a variety of venues throughout Naperville, Oak Brook, Chicago and Sweetwater with availability in the first quarter. “We’ve also had several post-holiday events in which [the planner sets a theme] like an ugly sweater party. It’s a fun way to get guests to interact especially if there is a contest,” she says. “I have also seen the ‘bad gift’ type of party in which guests bring the worst holiday gift they received and then engage in a ‘white elephant’ activity.”

But of course, hosting a holiday event outside of the traditional time frame also allows the planner more options outside of classic themes. “I would say most of the holiday parties that I’ve done after the holidays, the client doesn’t want the Christmas theme or the holiday theme,” says Navarro. Instead, one client held a “Night at the Oscars” event, which doubled as the company’s award ceremony. “Slightly Gatsby-inspired, slightly 1940s-inspired, what we went for was Hollywood Glam,” he recalls. “We created an Academy Award-style theater presentation … and added multiple food stations and TV monitors playing various holiday movies.” 

As our experts would agree, the greatest gift of planning a post-holiday party just may be that you can create your own traditions that remain timeless.