Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Lavish company parties may be a spirit of holidays past. This year businesses are looking for ways to celebrate the season and boost employee morale without shelling out big bucks.
Las Vegas Event Planner usually would have booked 80 company parties by now for the holidays, and once handled 100 bookings, but this year only 20 are signed up, said Michael Hinden, owner of the party-planning company. Hinden isn’t optimistic for many more.
His customers usually are companies with from 40 to 100 employees. Most repeat customers haven’t returned this year, and some have gone out of business.
Fewer parties aren’t the only evidence of a grimmer holiday season.
Employees can expect fewer gifts this year from employers, too, according to American Express Open’s small-business monitor, which last month surveyed 516 companies with up to 100 employees.
Thirty-five percent of the businesses said they would give gifts to their employees, down from 46 percent last year, and 31 percent of companies said they would give year-end bonuses this year, compared with 44 percent last year.
Human resources expert Arte Nathan, president and chief operating officer of Strategic Development Worldwide, said most companies have been cutting back on holiday parties for the past five years.
Companies are asking smaller groups of workers, such as departments, to have potluck dinners, home parties or excursions such as ice skating in lieu of an expensive event.
“It’s more about people getting together,” he said. “It’s about creating teamwork and camaraderie.”
And instead of the annual holiday gift employers may have handed out, many may elect for a gift exchange among employees to encourage personal interaction, or are promoting holiday volunteering and toy drives, Nathan said.
Hinden, the event planner, says those companies still hosting parties are scaling back. Four-hour parties are now two hours; it’s background music instead of a disc jockey, he said.
At Loews Lake Las Vegas, companies are booking more modest dinners with a cash bar instead of lavish affairs with cocktails and “all the bells and whistles,” spokeswoman Jennifer Duffy said.
A version of this story appears in this week’s In Business Las Vegas, a sister publication of the Sun.