A year-end celebration is so important for culture and morale within a company of any size.  Throughout the year, I host happy hours, meetups and other small fun events, but a holiday or year-end party is a chance for the entire office (or in our case, the West-coast region) to let loose and enjoy themselves while celebrating the last year’s achievements and looking forward to the great things to come.  I’m truly fulfilled when I see people from different teams have fun together that would normally not interact with one another.  It’s my favorite event of the year!

Here’s how I planned and executed my company’s West-Coast Year-End Celebration for 2015.

Pre-Planning

I began the planning phase around September.  Many venues get booked months in advance, so I knew I had to scout out some great locations and lock it down as soon as possible.  I utilized search engines like San Francisco Travel Venue SearchSF Private Dining Venues and VenueSpot, and I really loved EventUp‘s personal event planning concierge.  However, I ended up finding a venue on my own through basic searching on Yelp, and landed on a cool, speakeasy-type bar called the Alchemist.  It has a good mix of open space and seating areas (for those who didn’t want to stand and dance all night).  The bar organized catering for us and was very accommodating all the way up to the night of the event.

Image courtesy of alchemistsf.com
Image courtesy of alchemistsf.com

For keeping on-track with notes and checklists, I love Evernote.  It’s cloud-based, so I can utilize the phone app when I’m doing site visits or on the go, and can access my notes at home and at work.

Food

In the past, we’ve had a sit-down dinner as part of our event.  However, we’ve grown to a size where it’s difficult to manage this type of structure, and it also isn’t conducive to mingling when everyone is sitting in sectioned off tables, segregating the group.  I ensured there was enough food to fill people up while drinking, although in the future I will likely have a larger dish to be catered on top of finger foods.  You can never have too much food!  Some people will prefer to nibble and party while others will want to sit and eat with a smaller group.

For dessert, I had SF Candy Bar set up a beautiful arrangement of premium candy.  They provide a floral centerpiece, lovely glass jars, and cellophane bags for guests to bring some goodies home.  They sent us the leftover candy after the event ended, so even people who weren’t able to attend could enjoy the delicious sweets.

Activities

This is where I have fun when planning events: the details.  I love being allowed to get creative and surprising and delighting the guests.  I also don’t want any event to be just drinking; while the majority of the attendees will likely flock to the bar, not everyone is a big drinker.  I feel it’s important to provide multiple options with which guests can engage themselves throughout the night.

Treasure Hunt

I hosted last year’s holiday party at the Conservatory of Flowers, and organized a fairy treasure hunt that was a hit. (More on that in a future post!)  This year, I concealed Amazon gift cards in small satchels stamped with our logo and hid them around the bar.  I designed a clue card that I had produced at a local print shop, and I scattered them around the bar and on tables.  People were searching for gifts until the very end of the party!

The tricky thing about this game is people not knowing what gifts have been found yet.  In the future, I would put a small note under the gift saying ‘I’ve been found!’ or a note on the clue card telling winners to notify me when they’ve found a treasure.  I would then get on the microphone and notify the party that a prize had been found, which would also serve to motivate others to join the hunt.

Clue card for treasure hunt.
Clue card for treasure hunt.

 

Satchel for gift cards stamped with company logo.
Satchel for gift cards stamped with company logo.

Hashtag Slideshow

Another popular feature from a previous party was an interactive slideshow displaying Instagram pictures with a custom hashtag.  There’s a few services that do this, but Eventstag is my favorite.  They have a free version that works great, and the upgrade is not too costly.  The bar helped me hook up a laptop to their A/V system so I could project the site on the wall above the bar.  To let people know about the hashtag, I printed it on the other side of the treasure hunt cards I scattered around the bar.

Caricaturist

At first, I thought this would be corny.  But after a quick search on Thumbtack, I found an artist with a really cool style.  It was inexpensive and by the end of his shift, there was a crowd of people around him waiting to be drawn.  I’m definitely bringing him back for a future event!

Award Show

A fun tradition we’ve continued throughout the last four years is an annual award show at the year-end celebration.  These aren’t based on sales numbers or other quantitative achievements, but rather silly, fun awards that recognize a few people each year for other personality traits and qualities.  The awards are delivered by an employee that’s been around for many years and is widely known as one of the funniest people at the company, so it’s always a hilarious event everyone looks forward to.

Some examples of these awards include:

Charlie’s Angel Award in recognition of Taking on Every Mission, No Matter How Dangerous, and Looking Great Doing It

Take Him Home to Mama Award in recognition of Being the Embodiment of the Kind, Polite, Intelligent Guy your Mom Always Wanted You to End Up With

Funny on the Down-Low Award for Low-Key Bringing the Funny When You Least Expect It

As you can see, these are absolutely ridiculous and thus a highlight of the evening.

Photo Booth

No party would be complete without a photo booth.  I love seeing all the pictures of everyone having a great time, and even the quietest people let loose in front of the camera!  In the past, we’ve hired companies and rentals to provide this service, but this year, we purchased our own setup for a booth.  Using an iPad Mini, light attachment, tripod and the SimpleBooth app, our photo booth was born!  We now have it on-hand for any client events and company happy hours.

All-in-all, the event was not without a few hiccups, but everyone had a great time and is excited to enter the new year with our company.  I’m already excited to begin planning the next one!