The company or small business Christmas"party" can be daunting. Mix together staff, alcohol, music and a few rumours and the event can become a disaster zone for the next working day; and that grudge that the till girl has with the Managing Director is going to show up sometime!

But Christmas parties can be pro-actively planned so that much of this does not happen. By looking at some of the frequent pitfalls as well as the most complicated of legal minefields; maybe there is time to prevent them with the festive season looming fast. The easiest way to do this is book in advance for a "Corporate Christmas Party" and let someone else do the organising, but for those that are more involved, a few tips should help get any Christmas party happy and partying this Christmas time.

Everyone is Adult

Let's state the obvious first. The majority of the company or small business Christmas Party season is frequented by those with the ability to act like a responsible adult. There will be exceptions and not all of them will be through choice, but employees must be able to take account for their own actions, especially when alcohol normally plays a part in the proceedings.

The most important point though is to lay ground rules. The company or small business owner may not choose to attend, but at the same time it should not be expected that they will attend to act as a referee. Staff should be aware of what actions are and are not acceptable; if they are having a few drinks in the office that damage to property, imprints of genitalia on the photocopiers' glass or the fact that other companies may share your building. Equally if staff are heading out from the office for a few drinks; do they need to be reminded that they might be wearing a company polo-shirt with a logo on, or a name badge and the effects of bringing the company into disrepute. These rules must be laid down in advance and preferably not on the afternoon before the event; your staff are likely to already be in high spirits by then (not necessarily under the influence either) and telling them that missing work the next day will result in discipline will not always been remembered.

It should also be remembered that everyone is adult enough to make their own decisions. In this multi-cultural society there are those that will want to celebrate and those that won't. It should hopefully not need saying that if you have a company or small business Christmas party, everyone should be invited without discrimination; just because someone might not necessarily celebrate Christmas it does not mean they won't enjoy a social night out.

First Thing's First - Arrange the End

The most important aspect of any company Christmas party is the getting home. A great evening can be ruined by any problems on the journey home and this can reflect on the boss, especially if they have arranged the event. Whether it is arranging the taxi's home to encouraging staff to share taxi's or other transport home; always use registered mini cabs, never use friends and private cars (maybe you have someone who is legitimately allowed to drive a minibus and take you home last?) or unregistered taxi's.

Involve your staff

Is it worth having a committee of staff to do the organising? If you have more than a handful of staff it may be beneficial to ask a small number of staff to do the arranging, giving them a budget or other factors that are important. In this way your staff feel included in the planning as well as the party and it may be that your staff know more about the social lives of your staff than you do.

It is obviously important that a small business owner or management have some aspect of input into proceedings though. Events should be planned well in advance so if the discussions are still ongoing a week before the Christmas Party then it is unlikely to find bookings available for many of the more popular venues and restaurants. This is even more important if employees are going to be expected to make a contribution of the costs of the party, not all companies will pay for everything and not all employees will have lots of money available around the festive season.

It depends on what sort of event you are planning, about how involved staff might want to be. If the venue is a shard Christmas party that many of the hotel chains have then the only input will be the choice of venue and menu's; whereas if it is intended to hire a venue entirely and have a more private party then the involvement is likely to be much higher.

Who are you inviting?

If your invites are extended to a handful of staff and their partners, then it is usually just a good idea to have an informal e-mail or notice inviting to the Christmas party. The problem lies if the party is much larger or if you are inviting selected customers, lots of guests or a large employee base.

Fun CasinoIf you are intending an event that is specific in numbers - such as a sit down meal -  then it is important to send invites out long in advance and insist on an RSVP. A sit-down Christmas party and light entertainment, such as an in-house casino (with play money and a prize - otherwise you have to have a gaming licence), DJ or band is probably the safest option if you are extending the invite to the partners of employee's or some of your more respected customers.

Where are you going?

The venue is very much the crucial factor in this. If the Christmas party is going to be a handful of staff in a small business then heading for a pub meal then on to a nightclub might be the preferred order of the day whereas other companies might want to go to a comedy club.

One venue idea that I have found popular over recent years is the hotel arranged party. I have already mentioned them above however for those that have never experienced this before it is often a very generic event with a meal, possibly some entertainment and then a disco into the early hours. Booking are often made per table and unless you book the entire venue are usually limited in number.

If you are going to an organised event then one thing to remember is the arrangement of what is being paid for and who by. If the business owner is paying for the first drink then this must be made clear; often an organised event will offer pre-paid drinks for this reason, such as a half-bottle of wine per person during dinner. This means that there is less risk of an unexpected large bill at the end of the night.

Remember that there are many cost concessions that a small business owner could take to invest the cost in their staff for the event. Booking at the weekend is usually the preference so that staff do not turn up to work hung over the next day, however if the business is already going to be winding down in the days leading up to Christmas then consider the cash savings of booking a Monday or a Tuesday and then giving the staff the next morning off to do some Christmas shopping.

Offering something a little different

Secret Santa at the Christmas PartyMost workplaces will have a present giving over the Christmas period. The "Secret Santa" is a popular concept where each person buys a present for a selected individual (so that everyone gets one present) with a pre-determined value limit; the rules and limits can be raised or lowered depending on your workplace, maybe you will have to decide that presents are not adult themed if you have anyone who will take offence to that.

If you are having a Christmas party with a meal, placing disposable cameras on the tables and allowing your staff and guests free reign of them will always offer some good, or humourous results when they are developed and placed on the company notice boards or around the office. If the office is closed for most of the Christmas period then it might give a surprise and a few memories when your staff return in the new year.....

But Have Fun....

.... enjoy the party and see your staff in the new year.