How to Throw an Office Party on a Budget

An office holiday party can be worthwhile even in tight economic times. It’s a chance to show appreciation for employees and an opportunity for coworkers to mix, mingle and build camaraderie.

office party on a budget

Not every company has the wherewithal, though, to host the big classic bash that’s the stuff of legends—some unfortunate and tinged with regret. It’s possible, though, to throw an office party on a budget. Here’s how.

Avoid Peak Dates For Office Parties

There are limited Fridays and Saturdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and you will pay a premium for an evening event on any of them. Save money by scheduling your party for November or January. Some employees will appreciate having one less obligation to juggle during peak season.

For parties during peak season, consider a daytime event. A breakfast, brunch or lunch could get you enough of a price break to make it affordable. An hors d'oeuvres-only party right after work also could work, though including alcohol drives up costs.

Also consider moving the annual party. Celebrate your company’s founding or schedule a spring fling. Plan a fall celebration or try Christmas in July. Just avoid June. You’ll run into wedding-season cost run-ups.

Look To Less-Expensive Party Venues

There are many options besides hotel ballrooms or convention centers. Look at museums or movie theaters. A bowling alley, arcade or skating rink, indoors or out, can also be fun venues depending on your company culture. Colleges, universities or community centers are other less costly alternatives.

Look around your own space. A conference room or large foyer can be converted to party central. If you lack the space for everyone to gather at once, consider a progressive party where various departments host a course.

If you share a building with other businesses, invite them to collaborate. Everyone will save on decorations and entertainment. There could be economies of scale in catering, too.

Plan An Office Party During Business Hours

The most budget-conscious time and location is going to be your own office, during work hours. A catered lunch gives the staff a nice break during the day. If that’s not affordable, cater the main course and have employees bring side dishes. Or start the day with a breakfast buffet. End the afternoon with coffee or tea and desserts, bringing in a barista to create custom drinks.

There are less expensive options than traditional caterers, too. Explore culinary schools or smaller restaurants without heavy lunch traffic. Consider a “holidays around the world” theme with cuisine from several ethnic restaurants if you can’t find a single one that can handle your order.

A little entertainment can make the difference between a “lunch at your desk” vibe and a festive atmosphere. Create a great playlist on a streaming service or elevate the mood with a live performance. Talk to colleges and high schools about their vocal or instrumental ensembles. A musically talented employee might be delighted to perform for co-workers.

Give Employees The Gift Of Time

For every employee who loves the glitz of a traditional blow-out, there’s another who would rather not spend down time with co-workers.

What most people appreciate, though, is extra time. Kick off a “shop ‘til you drop” afternoon with an inexpensive luncheon—pizza or subs will work—then close for the rest of the day to let employees catch up on errands.

If there are a lot of families in your workforce, throw a party for the children. Plan movies, games and refreshments to keep the kiddos occupied while parents shop or simply enjoy time with each other. Everyone can come together before or after for lunch.

Is your office near a retail district? Make it a space where your staff can rest and regroup. Check into offering free shoulder or foot messages for the harried and stressed. A local training school might be an affordable option. Keep the coffee brewing and munchies at hand. Offer wrapping services. Some employees will be happy to show off their talents in this area, and others will be grateful to not have to tackle the task on their own.

Create An Office Party Planning Committee

Having trouble finding that sweet spot where affordable and enjoyable intersect? Put someone else in charge of the decision.

Set a budget and task an employee committee with creating a great shindig. It’s a chance to empower employees—bonus points if your committee isn’t stacked with managers and if the managers who are involved are genuinely open to ideas.

For start-ups or companies struggling financially, it’s tempting to eliminate the holiday office party as an unnecessary expense. It’s possible, though, to preserve the annual tradition, and show your employees appreciation without blowing the budget.

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