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Christmas countdown

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Summer events may be front of mind currently, but with Christmas parties seemingly back up the agenda, the Christmas countdown is on. Zoe Vernor checks out a selection of packages offering some festive fun.

Beaumont - The Nutcracker When budgets are tight, the annual Christmas party tends to be dropped quicker than a hot roast potato. While last year saw Christmas parties getting back on track, budgets were still being hidden somewhat. This year, however, looks set to be the year in which the Christmas party really makes its all-singing comeback.

“Last year bookings for our themed Christmas parties were up 20 per cent on the 2012 season; we hosted up to 1,200 guests each night, over 150,000 in total, at 20 venues throughout the UK,” says Tim Stevens, MD of Christmas party specialist Best Parties Ever. “These figures definitely confirm that there is a new confidence in the corporate sector. It’s gratifying to see that not only are more businesses rewarding their staff for their hard work by treating them to a party, but they’re also increasing their spend on the night on drinks and entertainment. 

“Corporate bookings started in January for this year’s parties and we’re expecting the season to be even bigger and better than last year,” Stevens adds. 

Best Parties Ever will run events at 22 locations nationwide, and has introduced five new venues: The Platinum Suite Leicester; Finsbury Square in London; Beaumont Estate, Windsor; Knowsley Safari Park, Merseyside; and the Paintworks in Bristol.

The company’s first central London venue Finsbury Square will be transformed into a Midnight in Monte Carlo styled event. The venue will be available for exclusive use and the parties will be held in an ivory starlit marquee for 1,400 guests for a seated dinner, or 2,000 for a less formal occasion. Entertainment includes a live band, aerial acrobats, charity Casino, pyrotechnics and indoor dodgems.

Other Christmas party venues and themes from Best Parties Ever include Red Hot in Rio at Kings Meadow, Reading; Moonlit in Marrakech at Syon Park in West London; To Russia with Love at Cheltenham Racecourse; and Atlantis: Party under the Sea at Temple Newsam in Leeds.

“The entertainment we offer our guests works well; our itinerary offers short bursts of entertainment as soon as we have served each course of dinner - this works really well as opposed to parties where 30 minutes of entertainment following the meal far exceeds their guest’s attention span,” Stevens says. 

The NEC hopped on the Christmas party package bandwagon last year when it hosted a commercial Christmas party offering (Cirque de Lumiere) for the first time. “The popularity of last year’s events, which saw over 15,000 guests attend 12 parties, exceeded our expectations and gave us a fantastic platform on which to build,” says Kathy Male, Senior Account Manager for Conferences and Live Events at the NEC. “Before we even concluded last year’s parties we’d had strong enquiries from companies looking to book the venue for 2014.”

This year, Vivid Experience has created an alpine theme, ASPEN Rocks, which will transform the NEC’s blank-canvas space. A 40-metre long ski lodge will dominate the room serving traditional alpine beers, wheat ales and Gluhwein, while 200 frosted pine trees and a giant indoor fire pit will add to the winter landscape.

Matthew Curran, Director of boutique events agency, Chew Events says with the last few years seeing reduced budgets it was often a case of taking what was on offer usually at the expense of location and facilities. “The industry is picking up now and event budgets are increasing. Clients are focused on getting the Christmas party right and it’s about finding the right venue and package to create a memorable experience for valued employees,” he says.

Curran adds that clients often say the reason for hosting festive parties is to thank and reward employees. As such, the Christmas party is their time to kick back and have fun. “Clients find the annual Christmas party a worthwhile spend as it generates positive feeling, closing off the year and incentivising for the next,” he adds. 

Christmas parties appear to be back in favour with companies keen to reward staff with some festive fun, however organisations still want the best value for money. On the following pages, CN highlights a selection of party packages available for different budgets, and in the spirit of Christmas, offers some handy tips to ensure a great party.

Bronze Christmas party packages - up to £50pp

Catch the Night Train to Vegas and Wonderland Express at NRM - from £29.99
York’s National Railway Museum’s Night Train to Vegas package offers a four-course dinner and a night of entertainment from Rat Pack-style tribute singers, as well as a close-up magician and Vegas showgirls. The package also includes a DJ and casino tables. The venue’s second package, Wonderland Express, includes an all-you-can-eat hot festive buffet and DJ entertainment for guests to dance the night away among the carriages in Station Hall.

Down Hall’s Downton Abbey-inspired party- from £49.50
Dating back to 1322, Down Hall Country House Hotel invites guests to experience the pomp and grandeur of a Downton Abbey house party. Guests will feel transported to another time as if in a scene from a period drama, but for a contemporary twist instead of retiring to the drawing room after the three-course dinner, a DJ will play chart classics until carriages arrive.

The Nutcracker at Beaumont Estate, Windsor - from £39
Transporting guests to an enchanted realm, a tall pine tree will take centre stage decorated with baubles, bows and tinsel and surrounded by Christmas parcels. Smaller snow frosted trees, fairy lights, and a snow craved ballerina all feature, while and an oversized model of The Nutcracker stands to attention as Sugar Plum Fairies twirl across the room.

Trio of party packages at Alton Towers Resort - from £24
Alton Towers Resort’s Christmas party nights include the Roaring 20s Christmas Ball, the return of the Caribbean Christmas parties, and a more traditional festive gathering in the Secret Garden Restaurant. While guests attending the roaring 20s ball can indulge in the Art Deco themed ballroom and enjoy chic cocktails, those partaking in the Caribbean party can ditch the winter blues and jet off to a more tropical climate. Cocktails and a steel band are the order of the night for this exotic package. For a traditional celebration the Secret Garden Restaurant package offers a four-course festive feast complete with carol singers.

Christmas party top tip: Chew Events’ Matthew Curran: “Creating a bespoke package is the best option when it comes to a modest budget. Speaking with the venue and catering team, you can agree on cost that is in line with the budget. Modest budgets often mean no extra frills like theming and entertainment. Hotels and restaurants offer great options for smaller budgets with three course meals with wine averaging £30 per head.

Silver Christmas party packages - £50-£80pp

Christmas Live at Lord’s - from £79
The Thomas Lord Suite at Lord’s will host a Christmas Live party package where, alongside a drinks reception, traditional three-course menu and DJ, bookers have a choice of additional entertainment options. Guests can indulge in Christmas Swing: a rat-pack style cabaret incorporating festive classics or centre celebrations on an ode to the 70s glitz of the Swedish pop sensations with ABBA. Alternatively, Medley guests can enjoy both acts during their party.

The Yuletide Experiment at the Science Museum - from £69
The Science Museum’s Yuletide Experiment, created in conjunction with Ampersand and Fisher Productions, will see the museum’s Energy Hall and Making the Modern World galleries dressed for evening receptions and dinners. Organisers have the option to add experimental elements from the world of science, such as injecting their canapés with flavour-enhancing syringes, like gin-and-tonic salmon; down gazpacho shots from test tubes; or sample bunsen-burnt-chestnuts.

Hop into Christmas with a masked ball - from £69
This Christmas, The Hop Exchange in London will be transformed into a Masked Ball. The venue is inviting guests to come dressed in grand gowns and colourful costumes before peeping out from behind a mask for a photo opportunity. Additional sparkle can be added to the evening with Italian serenades, singing waiters, court jesters, stilt walkers, magicians and jugglers.

Christmas choice at the Jockey Club’s London venues - from £50
Sandown Park Racecourse will be stepping back in time to the glamour of 1950s America with a calendar of Rock ‘n’ Roll-themed celebrations. Each party night will incorporate a menu of American classics, including a mini Rock ‘n’ Roll burger and Memphis Oreo cheesecake with coca cola syrup. Epsom Downs Racecourse will host a series of Venetian Masquerade Balls, while guests attending Kempton Park Racecourse will be treated to a traditional barn dance ‘hoedown’.

Gold Christmas party packages - £80+pp

Speakeasy themed Christmas parties at Troxy - from £85
This Christmas, Smart Live has joined forces with vintage events venue Troxy to offer exclusive Speakeasy themed parties. Troxy will be transformed into an underground Prohibition palace with quirky entertainment acts and surprises throughout the night. Troxy’s Speakeasy themed exclusive and mixed parties are available for 1,800 guests.

High Society at Kent House Knightsbridge - from £125
Full-service event management company Evolve Events’ managed venue Kent House Knightsbridge will go back to the golden time of 1956 to celebrate the classic Hollywood film, High Society. The outside of the building will be lit with vibrant colours and a red carpet will create a glamorous entrance, before guests enjoy a drinks reception, dinner and dancing.

The Brewery’s Dream Circus - from £99
In December 2014, The Brewery will be transformed into the mysterious Dream Circus where the sublime and surreal will dominate. There are a variety of exclusive and shared corporate Christmas party packages available, which are individually tailored for guests. All-inclusive packages include a sparkling wine reception, personalised menu, drinks, circus entertainers and a DJ.

RSA House’s circus - from £92
The circus is in town at RSA House this Christmas. RSA’s Clandestine Circus celebrates all that is glamorous, enthralling and mischievous. The underground Big Top will have familiar and not so familiar sights, sounds and smells of the circus. Sweet candy floss stands, savoury hot dogs and cocktail flavoured popcorn will be on offer, with theatrical performances to entertain guests.

Christmas party top tip: Chew Events’ Matthew Curran: “A large budget provides more scope. Elite venues with character can be selected, menu options can be more adventurous and specialist entertainment can be sourced.  Essentially more can be added to the party to create a guest experience with the wow factor. Larger budgets can also allow for overseas locations and overnight accommodation.”

Avoid common pitfalls - Jason Cardy, Events Manager at Capita Travel and Events
  • Communicate what to wear - if someone turns up to a ‘dress down’ event in their best outfit or vice versa, it won’t leave them with a seasonal glow.
  • Duty of care - ask the venue to bring canapés out before the cocktails and provide plenty of non-alcoholic drinks and water. If the venue is far from the office, you may be able to negotiate a good rate at the venue or local hotels for overnight stays.
  • Contractual obligations - don’t assume you can cancel without costs. Also, a price based on 500 may look attractive but it won’t do if you contract and then can’t meet the venue’s minimum numbers. Ensure you meet the number requirements before you sign on the dotted line.
This was first published in the July/August issue of CN. Any comments? Email Zoe Vernor

28 July 14

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