- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2002

Corporate parties are in vogue again, after taking a back seat last holiday season to the events of September 11. Local companies are showing their appreciation to employees and clients while keeping an eye on their budgets. The party industry from caterers to restaurateurs agree the simpler, more intimate parties are filling dining rooms and offices for 2002, a far cry from the lavish fetes of 2000.
"It's a little simpler this year, not like 2000 " said Sara McGregor, president of Capitol Catering, which is handling 34 company parties this week alone in the Washington area.
The holiday season wasn't shaping up to be busy for the Alexandria catering company until recently, as many corporations waited until two or three weeks out to schedule an event, Ms. McGregor said. Usually company bashes are planned three or four months ahead.
"I think corporate owners are assessing their end-of-the-year fiscal situation and are finding [they] have a little money left over," she said.
Ninety-five percent of 150 businesses surveyed will hold a holiday party this year, according to a survey by Battalia Winston International, an executive-search firm headquartered in New York. That's up 12 percent from 2001 and up 3 percent from the festive 2000 season.
The September 11 terrorist attacks played the biggest role in eliminating parties last year as companies felt it was inappropriate to have a party so soon after a national tragedy. This year, 42 percent of those organizing a party expect the mood to be more festive, according to the survey.
"This definitely points to an improvement in the national mood," said Dale Winston, chief executive of Battalia Winston.
"The shock of last year's terrorist tragedy is starting to wear off and people are starting to have a greater confidence in the economy, which frees them to feel a bit more festive," he said.
Ms. McGregor said companies are watching their budgets carefully this year and, in particular, keeping their parties in-house.
"People aren't spending extra revenue renting out a place," she said.
Those venturing out are going to area restaurants.
McCormick & Schmick's in Reston is hosting two or three corporate parties almost every day this season. They range from small, intimate lunches with a handful of colleagues to cocktail parties or sit-down dinners for dozens of revelers.
General Manager Barry Hathaway said the number of parties that the restaurant is hosting is not quite as high as it was in 2000, but "we're towering over last year."
"We're probably picking up [the business] that higher-end restaurants would be getting," he said
Michael Sullivan, the general manager at the McCormick & Schmick's in Bethesda, agrees. His reservation book is filled with more than 40 corporate parties this season.
"[Companies] want to have a nice affair and be money-conscious," Mr. Sullivan said. "They don't want to skimp."
No doubt the parties are a morale boost and show appreciation for a company's employees and their efforts throughout the year.
"The holiday party is viewed as a relatively low-cost way to boost morale, to do something nice for employees in a time of uncertainty," Ms. Winston said. "Companies seem upbeat about the future, but they have been through a difficult year and are still paying strict attention to costs."
Madison Retail Group will host a 250-person party at Sequoia in Northwest tonight, which will include employees and clients. While still fairly large, it's smaller than in past years, when the company had a joint 500-plus party with Douglas Development, said Laura Young, director of marketing and research for Madison Retail.
Last year that party was canceled and replaced with a smaller event for employees and their spouses, while donations were made to local charities.
After the September 11 attacks, "it was not appropriate to throw a lavish party," Ms. Young said.
But the purpose of this year's party is different than in the past. Madison Retail is celebrating the move of its partner Madison Marquette to the District earlier this year.
"For us in part it is a time to celebrate the new union with Madison Marquette," Ms. Young said.
The other part is to thank the company's clients.
"We're a brokerage firm so we owe a lot of our success to our clients," she said.

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