Christmas Parties: Don't overlook the festivities

Now is the time for companies to think hard about the location and theme of their seasonal celebrations, writes Jeremy King.

Just as the last strawberries are being polished off at Wimbledon, the time has come to start thinking about the festive season. This year the UK can offer a diverse range of Christmas packages at a variety of venues, from art deco extravaganzas to glitzy winter wonderlands and Hollywood-style celebrations. These festive parties offer an inspiring and refreshing choice for any company looking to organise its Yuletide festivities.

Traditional venues

At one of London's more traditional venues, Kent House in Knightsbridge, Evolve Events promises to take guests on a 1920s art deco experience as part of its Gatsby Returns festive package. While up to 300 guests enjoy views of Hyde Park, they will be treated to a champagne reception, a three-piece band and dinner courtesy of caterer Dish. Celebrated DJs will then provide music in the Chrysler Bar and Lounge.

Meanwhile on the South Bank, just minutes from London Bridge, the Georgian-era Glaziers Hall will be putting on parties tailored around the skills of five different caterers. Themes will include Christmas Cracker, The Chill is the Thrill, The Traditional Touch, Viva Las Vegas and Colourful Caribbean.

Clients will be able to take over the whole venue for up to 700 for a stand up event or 230 for a full sit down dinner.

Glaziers Hall sales manager Janice Weiner explains: "We wanted to give our guests a choice. This is the first time we have offered such a variety and I'm hoping this versatility will prove to be very popular. We have both the traditional and the unusual."

In north London, Alexandra Palace is planning to ape the A-list for its Hollywood Nights Ball party. As guests enter its Palm Court on a red carpet, they will sip champagne and be snapped by pretend paparazzi. Clients can book tables of 10 for a shared party night on Friday, 17 December. Alternatively, exclusive dates can be arranged for groups of 500 or more.

With its Victorian inspired decor and mosaic floors, the recently refurbished Shoreditch Town Hall in east London can host up to 530 for a sit down event and 1,200 for a stand up. Its Doric columned council chamber will act as a reception area before guests enjoy dining and dancing in the Assembly Hall as part of Launch Pad Events' planned festive offering.

Clients will have the opportunity to personalise each event with extra decor and theming, choosing from styles such as Come Dancing, Vaudeville or a Venetian Masked Ball. They will also be given the chance to decide what type of catering, entertainment and theming they would like for each party.

"It's a fantastic option for the smaller party," says Launch Pad Events' joint managing director David Stringer. "Guests can experience the exclusivity of having the building entirely to themselves, while the balcony dining experience provides an intimate setting and allows even the most timid of revellers to enjoy the atmosphere."

Just around the corner, the Old Truman Brewery's Atlantis Gallery will be playing host to agency Mask's package, called Pop Arty. This space can hold 200 -500 for a seated version or 300-1,100 for a reception style event.

Guests will enter a reception area decked out in black and white stripes reminiscent of Bridget Riley's artworks. For dinner they will be taken through to the dining area where, as a complete contrast, there will be brightly coloured seating and tables while projections of Andy Warhol images cover the walls. This will be followed by a disco.

Over in Kew Gardens, the Ultimate Experience will be holding a tropical event at the Nash Conservatory. Reflecting the style of the botanic gardens' Grade I-listed Palm House, it will cater for 80-140 for a sit down dinner or 100-200 for a finger buffet style event.

Ultimate Experience managing director Sam Gill says: "The Nash Conservatory is a stunning building and we feel there is a strong demand for quality niche venues slightly outside of London. It has never been used for events before and we are looking forward to hosting our Christmas programme there."

Another of London's classic venues, the 17th century Gibson Hall, will be transformed into an Indian maharaja's palace. Its capacity is 180-300 for a three course seated dinner, 250-400 for a fork buffet and 250-500 for a finger buffet.

Guests will be taken through to a themed marquee before heading into 'the officers' mess' where waiting staff dressed in white tunics and gold turbans will greet the guests and shepherd them into the main hall.

But for revellers in London who wish to celebrate the season in a more traditional atmosphere, caterer Crown Society will be hosting a festive treat at the Insurance Hall that overlooks Albermanbury Square in the city. With Christmas trees adorning the oak-lined Great Hall, the venue provides the ideal setting for a quaint, old-fashioned celebration.

In addition to this, the Oyster Suite is to be temporarily turned into a casino, while a disco can be added to the Great Hall. Capacities range from 100-160 for a seated dinner or a buffet.

Further north, the Winter Gardens in the heart of Blackpool offers clients an opportunity to organise Christmas events in 12 different spaces, ranging from the Empress Ballroom to the Andalucian-themed Spanish Hall or the Baronial Hall. During the festive season the venue is available for companies to put together their own themed events in all of the spaces, with the largest one offering room for 3,000 guests.

Temporary venues

A new addition to the Fortesqueue's Room concept at Canary Wharf will host up to 2,500 guests for a reception style event and 1,500 for a seated event and is open throughout December for companies with offices in this area. The temporary building is being provided by De Boer Structures after it was invited by the Canary Wharf Group to make use of the space.

"We are very excited about this project," says Canary Wharf Group project manager Nicola Gall. "This is something that we can provide as an additional service to our tenants and make it a very exclusive venue."

At London Zoo, European Events promises to take guests on an oriental journey along the Silk Route, inspired by the jungles of Vietnam. Decked out in opulent colours, complete with jewels and foliage, the venue will host up to 500 guests for a seated event and 800 for a reception style party with limited seating. Revellers can also enjoy a jade styled chill out room to relax and unwind.

"London Zoo is always a great venue," says European Events managing director Jane Wade. "This year we thought it would be good to have a theme that represented the origins of the animals at the zoo. It is our third year at the venue and we are really looking forward to it."

Bringing a refreshing cold front to Christmas will be the Natural History Museum, which plans to erect an ice rink in its vast grounds.

Up to 250 guests will be given the opportunity to take to the ice for an hour before they head into the venue's Earth Galleries, entering the famous globe and moving on to the Gemstone Gallery for canapes and drinks.

Visitors will then return downstairs to the main gallery for a lounge club style party with more food and drinks, plus dancing.

Continuing with the ice theme, agency Main Square will be holding seasonal packages in its temporary structure in Portman Square, Mayfair. With its own ice rink in the garden surrounded by trees and yuletide lights, Christmas on the Square also promises to take guests on a festive journey with trees, presents and frost. Organisers can even scatter real snow around the venue.

With space for up to 500 revellers for a sit down event, this package offers something a little different from the norm.

In Birmingham, agency the Big Cat Group will be staging a Grand Winter Ball for up to 1,000 in the grounds of the Millennium Point building.

Guests will be able to enjoy a roasted chestnuts reception and a choir at the venue's Thinktank museum before they enter the purpose built structure, which will be decked out with decorations including ice sculptures and snow. Entertainment will be provided by Back2Funk and the Lizzy Park Jazz Quartet.

For those looking for the tranquility of a rural retreat, Lakeside Marquee in the grounds of Harewood House in Leeds is open for all types of bespoke festive parties and can cater for anything from 200- 2,000 guests. Managing director Daniel Gill says: "By not opting for a theme and offering a blank venue, we are providing companies with a Christmas marquee for a fraction of the normal price - with the space to style it as they wish."

Sporting venues

For sports fans, Manchester's newest sporting arena - the City of Manchester Stadium - promises to provide a variety of exciting festive packages.

Head of sales David Chell explains: "Christmas is an occasion where work colleagues, friends and family unite for a good time and we have an exciting range of Christmas packages, from Winter Wonderland to a more traditional party night held in one of the stadium's suites, to a selection of comedy nights."

Winter Wonderland will provide up to 750 guests with a festive choir, mulled wine, snowflakes, a four course meal, a disco and casino. The traditional party night package, hosting up to 250 guests, will be held in one of the stadium's suites and will include a luxury four course meal, snowflakes, a festive choir and dancing. The venue is also offering comedy nights, organised by the Jongleurs chain, which include a three course meal and disco, and Christmas party lunches that begin at 11.30am and end at 4pm, catering for 50-1,000 people in seven luxury suites, including the Boardroom Suite and the Commonwealth Suite.

In the year of the Ashes it is appropriate that Lord's cricket ground will be staging a glitzy Christmas party package. With the help of agency Impulse Events the world famous ground's Banqueting Suite will be hosting Glitterati, which will see it transformed into an elegant haven with a red carpet. Between 150 and 400 guests will be able to revel in a festive bash organised to their specific requirements with either canapes or a full dinner including a disco. Impulse is also offering Christmas events in the Nursery Pavilion and the Natwest Media Centre.

Tottenham Hotspur Football Club in north London is offering a holiday season to remember with a white themed package that will include a welcome reception in the box holders' west lounge, a tour on to the hallowed turf via the players' tunnel and the changing rooms, a three course meal served in the box holders' north lounge and finally an opportunity to dance the night away. Up to 360 guests can enjoy this event.

By way of a complete contrast, Mere Golf and Country Club in Cheshire will be hosting Viva Las Vegas, in which guests will be treated to a dinner cabaret of entertainers and showgirls after entering a custom-made Vegas strip. The venue can cater for up to 500 in tables of 10 and 12.

Conference and exhibition centres

A variety of exhibition and conference centres around the country now offer space for corporate Christmas parties.

In Birmingham, Arena Events has come up with a Jivin Thru the Fifties theme for the NEC, taking partygoers on a 1950s style American high school prom. Available for shared groups of no more than 10 to a table or for exclusive venue hire for groups of 1,200, each party starts with a reception - styled like an old-fashioned drive-in movie theatre - which leads on to a meal, a cheerleaders' performance, a funfair and a high school disco.

Arena will also be staging Jivin Thru The Fifties parties in Manchester's G-Mex venue for up to 1,000 guests.

Back in London, Excel's conference and events division will be putting on a Winter Wonderland package in the contemporary Platinum Suite which can host a minimum of 500 guests. The package includes drinks on arrival, a three-course meal by Leith caterers, a DJ and a dancefloor.

In the West End, the CBI Conference Centre - part of Etc Venues' stable of venues - is planning a traditional style of Christmas party. It can host up to 325 for a cocktail and canape reception, buffets for 200 and seated meals for up to 125.

For seated meals, traditional Christmas menus are created to suit any needs, and this package also includes favourites such as crackers, hats, novelties, seasonal music and table centres.

Hardcore revellers will be pleased to hear that Etc Venues is also offering post-party detox packs that include hangover cures ranging from smoothies to pastries.

'DISCUSS YOUR OBJECTIVES'

Kim Roe is operations director at Circa Group, which specialises in corporate hospitality, events and conferences and will be official hospitality contractor for the FIFA World Cup 2006. She believes that it is essential to establish your objectives from the outset and discuss them with your boss and colleagues. Roe explains: "This will save you time and make your search more targeted. The sooner you do this the wider the choice will be on venues and suppliers. Location is also important and your choice of venue should provide easy access to all forms of public transport and ensure there is plenty of parking and taxis."

With so many different themed festive events it is a lot harder to decide upon which type of party you should choose. Roe insists it is paramount to talk with colleagues at the beginning and gauge the popularity of themes.

"Theming can be a real ice-breaker and overcomes the 'what to wear' dilemma. Bands, entertainment, food and beverages can all work within a theme, creating a memorable event," adds Roe.

When putting together an event, organisers should also take into consideration the catering and when to choose a buffet or sit down style party. Roe says: "If you want everyone to mingle in an informal atmosphere then a buffet, food stations or finger food is more fitting. This offers flexibility with venues, catering and themes. If partners are invited then a sit down meal is often more appropriate."

Most importantly, organisers should read carefully any contracts looking out for restrictions such as licensing hours and any hidden costs. Roe says: "Ensure the venue you choose has public liability insurance and always organise your party on a Friday to avoid writing off the next day of work."

'IT'S A REALLY HARD BUSINESS'

Chelsea Football Club marketing manager Carolyn Anderson was responsible for putting together the venue's first ever Christmas party package last year. Named after the ITV series Footballers' Wives, the event capitalised on its popularity and showed that Chelsea wanted to be noticed in one of the most competitive industries of the corporate market. Anderson explains: "We wanted to maximise the club's association and also raise the profile of events at the venue that we put on for non-match days. At the time Footballers' Wives was also very popular and we employed the help of agency Party Design to help put together a glitzy theme with velvet and leopard skin furnishings." The event proved to be a huge success and Anderson discovered how much competitiveness there is when it comes to putting on corporate Christmas parties. "Every hotel, bar, museum and venue of any shape and kind is trying to promote a festive package. It is an incredibly hard business to be in," she says.

"It is important to provide something different each year. Last year everyone enjoyed the kind of chav feel of the event and it proved to be a massive success. However this year there is a big backlash against that type of thing and we won't be doing it again, particularly now that Chelsea are the league champions and our status has risen."

With the venue also celebrating its centenary year this Christmas, it will be offering its space to corporates to theme and create whatever type of party they wish. Anderson says: "We felt it would be a good idea to give it a low profile this year and then come back with something unique and spectacular in 2006."


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