- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2006

Companies are digging deeper into their pockets for holiday parties this year, with 80 percent planning festivities, a survey shows.

Of those, 32 percent plan to spend more on their parties, whether in or out of the office, said the survey from Chicago outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. That number is up from 26 percent last year.

Mind & Media, an Alexandria press-communications firm, has a reason to celebrate. “We had some growth in the company with more employees, and so there was a little bit more in the budget this year than last year,” said operations assistant Josef Villanasco.

Mr. Villanasco said employees gathered last year at the Melting Pot fondue restaurant, but the addition of eight members to the staff required a larger venue. Last month, the festivities were held in one of the banquet rooms at Maggiano’s Little Italy in Tysons Corner.

“It definitely enhanced the evening. As opposed to having a restaurant side to ourselves, it was like it was our party. It was like going to a nice hotel.”

Mr. Villanasco said holiday parties are important even for companies with smaller staffs.

Tom Grier, spokesman for Lockheed Martin Corp., said, “Our approach really has not changed whatsoever. We have a nice holiday event. It would be appropriate to describe it as lavish. It’s a nice event at a nice venue.”

Instead of charging admission, the Bethesda defense contractor asks employees to donate to a charity, such as Hurricane Katrina relief or a September 11 victims fund, he said, adding that about 500 people attend the party.

“We have it to express our own thanks to our employees for their contribution to the business,” he said.

Although caterers’ schedules are full this month, party budgets are not overwhelming.

“People’s budgets have gone up slightly, but not tremendously,” said Maria O’Rourke, managing partner of Fairfax’s RSVP Catering.

She said the spending this year is typical, but she has noticed a growing number of last-minute calls.

“People are busy, so they don’t really start thinking about the holiday party until the holidays show up,” Mrs. O’Rourke said.

Occasions Caterers expects a prosperous season because of business from repeat clients and new callers.

“We certainly have been rebooked by all of our clients from last year,” said Raz Nielsen, director of sales. “I believe we are going to grow significantly this year.”

The D.C. company typically handles parties of 150 to 300 people, but also provides catering for gatherings at homes and other private venues.

Smaller does not necessarily mean cheaper.

“It is more expensive to have a party for 20 people than it is 1,000 when you look at it on a per-person basis,” he said, adding that the best way to plan according to a budget is “if you think in terms of infrastructure instead of just guest count.”

Philippe Demol, managing partner, creative chef and catering director for the District’s 3Citron Caterers, says clients often focus more on quality than price. “They spend what they have to spend to make an event happen,” he said.

A traditional turkey or chicken dinner for 40 with a good dessert, served in an intimate, furnished setting can cost $75 to $100 per person, but “you’ve got to listen to who the client is and what you’ve got to do and tailor it to their needs,” Mr. Demol said.

“We need to make sure that it’s creative, funny, recognizable and good,” he said.

Lyn Holland, who handles event booking for 3Citron, says the company offers seasonally themed menus. “The wintertime we base on our ice-themed menu,” she said, and autumn colors are used during the Thanksgiving season.

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