A 5-Step Primer For Holiday Party Planning and Budgeting

Despite the fact that we’re not yet pulling out our winter coats or drinking eggnog anytime soon, we at Revelr are already busy preparing for the holiday party season.  After working with numerous clients over the years, we’ve put together a planning and budgeting primer to help you navigate the challenges of planning a corporate holiday party.  Whatever your budget, with a little guidance and advance planning, it’s possible to organize a beautiful soiree that will be fun to plan and that your guests will remember!

FIRST, start planning early

Especially in New York City, it’s never too early to get the ball rolling.  Given the number of companies that all aim to have their holiday parties on weeknights in December, the most popular venues and vendors start booking up over the summer.  If you’re still venue-less in the early fall, don’t fret – but also don’t wait too much longer!  While you still have a few months to iron out all the fun details, you’d be remiss not to at least begin your venue hunt stat.

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SECOND, decide what kind of space you’d like to use

Turnkey venues, such as bars, hotels, and restaurants, are spaces that provide most services (like food and drink) in-house and typically forbid outside vendors if they’re able to offer the service themselves.  Events at these spaces can be among the easiest to arrange your biggest decision will likely be which menu options to choose.  

Non-turnkey spaces, on the other hand, might provide just the physical space for your event and require you to find most or all of your services elsewhere.  While these types of events allow for greater customization, they can often be more expensive.  However, that’s not always the case!  If your event will be light on the food and drinks, and you’re open to just serving drop-off platters, renting a non-turnkey space can actually be cheaper than the minimum buyout required for a bar or restaurant.  

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THIRD, figure out which services you’ll need for your event  

Even at a turnkey venue, you’ll likely have to make decisions beyond crab cakes vs. sliders.  From whether to privatize sections of the space to whether you’ll need to bring in a coat check or A/V equipment, you might be faced with a range of in-house services to choose among that might (but don’t always) change your event cost.  And always double check to make sure that your turnkey space does offer all the services you need.  If, for example, the venue doesn’t provide much in the way of holiday decor, you might consider looking elsewhere (and budgeting accordingly) if holiday ambience is part of your event vision.

For non-turnkey spaces, you’ll likely need to find all of your services through external vendors, including catering, florals/decor, and A/V.  Sometimes caterers include rentals (tables, linens, etc.) and servers/bartender but not always.  So don’t forget to ask what you’ll need to book separately.  Also, importantly, caterers all give per head pricing differently, so make sure to ask if staffing, equipment, and service charges are included in the per head estimates.

And whatever type of event you throw, remember to budget in party favors or transportation if you choose to include them.

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FOURTH, create your budget            

While no two holiday party budgets are the same, the following approximations should serve as a useful starting point:

If you’re planning to host the event at a turnkey space:

  • 55%-70% of your budget should go to the venue rental and food/drink (which are often grouped together in the same cost).  Whether the percentage is closer to 55% or 65% will depend on which other services you need, and whether the venue offers them in-house.  
  • 10%-25% of your budget will be used for remaining expenses, which could include A/V, gifts, transportation, and/or photography.
  • 10%-25% of your budget needs to be set aside for taxes (~9% in New York) and gratuity (usually 18%-20%).

If you decide to host the event at a non-turnkey space:

  • 15%-20% of your budget will likely go to the space alone.  
  • 40%-60% of your budget should then go to food and drink.  Exactly where in this range you’ll fall depends on what kind of food offerings you need (seated dinner vs. passed hors d’oeuvres) and the quality of the liquor served.  Regardless of your culinary ambitions, there are always creative ways to cut costs in this category including finding caterers who will drop off platters, deciding to offer just beer/wine (or beer/wine and one signature cocktail), and/or bypassing dessert or merely including a dessert in the gift bag.  
  • 10%-15% of the budget at a non-turnkey space will be used for remaining expenses, which could include A/V, florals/decor, gifts, transportation, and/or photography.
  • 5%-25% of your budget should be set aside for taxes and gratuity.

So is my budget realistic?  Cocktail parties can range from $40 per person to $1,000 per person, so your budget is only as realistic as your expectations.  If you are spending $40 per person, you should relinquish any dreams of a private space (unless it’s someone’s home or a conference room in your office) and certainly not plan on any outsourced services.  For a semi-private turnkey space, plan to budget at least $75 per person, especially around the holidays.  For non-turnkey spaces, it’s harder to provide a minimum estimate, since it’s possible to rent a rawer space and bring in your own food and drinks (which in theory could push the budget as low as $40 per person), but you should budget at least $100 per person if you plan to hire a caterer, even just for hors d’oeuvres and drinks.  

FIFTH, Work With A Planner! 

Stuck somewhere in the planning process for your corporate event, unsure how to maximize your budget, or having trouble even getting started?  Contact us and we’ll help you plan and execute your dream holiday party seamlessly and within budget.   We love nothing more than putting our event expertise to use around the holiday season to ensure our clients’ holiday parties are unique and unforgettable.

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