In the middle of summer, it is hard to imagine planning the details of a winter holiday party. However, in the Bay area in the current economic climate, it is critical to secure your venue for a holiday party in the Bay Area as early as possible. Corporate event space in San Francisco is at a premium.

It makes sense to start your party by finding a venue. We will address this as well as many other planning aspects in this article. There are a number of elements to consider when finding a venue. Remember the money you save on a venue and the elements a venue will allow you to bring can add thousands to your bottom line for your event. This means the difference of a so so party to a wholly immersive event your team will talk about for months

Lets start with critical questions for a venue: 

  • Do they allow outside catering? You can often find better deals and quality sourcing your own caterers or having your planner select a great vendor
  • Is an outside bar allowed? Many venues now include the bar, but always worth finding out if you can have your own bar service.
  • Is the quoted cost including set up and breakdown? Figure 4 hours set up and 2hrs breakdown on an immersive event, and sometimes more!
  • What is the parking situation? This is a non issue in San Francisco, as there is no parking! However in the rest of the bay this could be a great value for your guests if parking is easy.
  • What is the latest you can have the event until? It is important to understand your limitation depending on what you are envisioning.
  • Are rentals included? This could save you a couple thousand or more if all tables and chairs are included, and they fit your needs.
  • What is the load in like? Avoid costly load in fees and potential event issues from cramped load in docs and long carry fees.
  • Hidden charges: Do they charge a day of event fee? A security fee? Require event insurance (and additional fee)? Make sure those are all rolled into your budget.

Planning a theme first or a venue first? We recommend fitting a theme to a venue, but having two or three concepts in your mind so you know if a venue will fit. I say this as venues are so tight currently it is best to work around what is available.

In terms of ideas, the sky is the limit. To get some ideas visit our Theme Page for some value packed themes that have a lot of cool elements.

One of the most expensive parts of catering is the staffing! Try and design your events with only about 2 hours of food service for maximum savings. It may extend to three with appetizers. Speaking of which, We suggest offering some appetizers stationed, such as cold plates, and having other appetizers passed. This reduces the number of staff needed, allows people who are hungry to not be at the mercy of the staff passing the appetizers, and gives people who are engaged in conversation an opportunity to still nibble on the passed appetizers. Passed saves on the food, while stationed saves on the labor. Why not do the best of both worlds, having your less expensive items stationed and the others passed?

Stationed or seated? I am a fan of interactive food stations. I will readily admit that the stations has the distinct disadvantage of not having the elegant service aspect and  requiring more food per guest. However, the logistical nightmares and intensive staffing that it saves, makes it a great choice. A nice full service plated dinner requires one wait staff per every 10 people or so. If you have 150 people, you will need 15 staff. At $150 to $200 per staff, this adds up very quickly relative to the 3 to 5 staff needed at a buffet (one to two at the buffet and 2 to 3 to bus/ replenish).  It also greatly reduces the back end kitchen staff. Have you ever attempted to plate 150 meals in a 10 minute duration? Don’t! The other major issue with plated dinners is the issue of ever changing minds. Many a time my clients have gotten RSVPs, made table tags, and assigned food preferences for each guest, only to find out that after countless hours of labor and coordination, many of their guests decided that they weren’t vegetarians after all, once they see their neighbor dig into a fillet of sea bass. This will lead to many of the guests that did order a particular dish, not getting it, as it is impossible for the caterer to buy two of everything for all guests.  Lastly, stationed food allows for guests to move about, INTERACTING! Isn’t that really why you are spending all that money on a holiday party anyway? Allow guests to interact with each other by not giving them an assigned seat that they are stuck at! We do this by having a mix of small 30 or 36″ low and high tables

Finding great vendors. Be a detective. There are two things in life that all products and services are judged on: Price and quality. Your job, if you are venturing into the unknown land of finding vendors for your event, is to source the most reliable providers.. After you have selected your best candidate, ask them for three references. Preferably ones that have used them more than once. Call up their references, and make sure to ask the hard questions, such as: “ I know you think they are great, and I am sure they are. However no one is perfect. This won’t go beyond you and me, but if you had to change one thing about vendor X, what would it be? “

For holiday parties in the Bay Area, I suggest making sure you have not only good food and a cool venue, but most importantly great entertainment! See our entertainment sections for ideas on dynamic performers and elements that will tie in a theme if you have one and engage guests and connect them even if you don’t have a theme!