Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tips and Trends: How to Host an Office Party

Summer is still here and what better way to get to know some of your co-workers and colleagues than by hosting a summer get-together! It's true that often the heads of departments, partners or team leaders or other senior members of your department may host an official office get-together, but why not host something yourself? If you are close to members of the department leadership or senior personnel, you can definitely invite them, but if not, you can also host a get together for people around your age or seniority level and let everyone just have a fun time. My husband and I hosted an office party in July for those colleagues who we worked regularly with and were around our age.

Hosting an office event is not, however, the same as hosting a party for your friends. While you may be friends with some of your office colleagues, you may not be friends, or even really know, all of your colleagues. So, to help you get inspired, I've got a series of tips for throwing a summer party for your office.

1. Come up with a theme.   
It can be as simple as "summer barbeque", but having a theme gives you a starting point for the party. The theme generally dictates the food, the level of formality and any decorations. If you are very creative, you can also come up with games or activities that fit the theme. You can choose to have the theme very prominent, such as by putting it into the invitation or asking people to come dressed up to match it, or you can keep the theme very subtle and only use it as a planning guide for yourself. Popular, easy and appropriate office party themes are: Barbeque (take your pick between Texas or North Carolina, but this is always a good option if you want to get food catered), Summer in Paris (lots of brie and baguettes), A Day at the Races (British-themed food like tea sandwiches, and little cookies, plus mint juleps), or a German Grillfest (buy lots of bratwurst, mustard and some sauerkraut for those who want to be really authentic). For our party, we did a Swiss Independence Day celebration and served cheese fondue and bratwurst fresh off our grill.

2. Keep it simple.

You won't be able to enjoy the party if you are running around taking food out of the oven, trying to man the grill and worrying about people dropping your wedding china on the cement patio all at once. Streamline your tasks so that by the time everyone arrives, the food is completely cooked (with the exception of grilling, if you want people to have freshly-grilled food). Wherever possible, get food premade or partially pre-made, and choose simple dishes. Chopped veggies and a homemade dip is always a great appetizer option. Handmade pizza pockets that require you to fold phylo dough for three hours is probably better saved for another event where you have more help in the kitchen. At our party, we served bratwurst straight off the grill and cheese fondue that was a HUGE hit and only required us to heat up the pre-packaged cheese mixture. For dessert, everyone made their own ice cream sundaes, which only required us to purchase the ingredients and then set them out in cute serving dishes.

3. Serve a variety of drinks. 

People's drinking habits can change based on the weather, the food and how comfortable they are at an event. So while you might be sure that a certain colleague only drinks red wine, because that is what she sips every Friday during the office cocktail hour, you may find that she prefers to drink Diet Coke at parties because she doesn't like to drink in the afternoon. Or the man that always seems to knock back a couple cocktails whenever you go out for drinks after work now wants to sip on white wine because the weather is so hot. It's therefore best to have a variety of drinks, including red and white wine, bottled water and a light and dark soda (Sprite and Diet Coke are always good options).

4. Think about your guests before they arrive. If you have a party where you are inviting guests from different offices who may not know each other (such as your current office and your previous office, or your office and your spouse's office), try to identify three facts about each guest that you can use to introduce him or her to others at the party in order to start conversations. These can be as simple as where your guests grew up, what university they attended and where they now live in your city (if your city has distinct neighborhoods like NYC or London). If you know more interesting facts about your guests, such as their hobbies or weekend activities, try to make use of that knowledge. The point is to try and get conversations flowing about interesting topics so that people mix and mingle and don't end up standing in their work groups chatting about nothing but work.

5. Don't be too hard on yourself. The biggest difference between throwing a party for your colleagues and throwing a party for your friends is that some of your colleagues may not be your friends. When throwing an office party, it is very likely that some people will be invited because they are part of your team or part of your working group, but are not actually people you would consider "friends". These people, or even other office colleagues you do consider friends, may come to the party but not behave very politely, may make critical comments about your house or apartment, and may not say thank you after the party is over. Don't let it bother you too much. Even though you work with these people and should maintain positive relationships with them, you know the difference between a friend and a colleague. So don't sweat the small stuff and, if someone behaved particularly badly, consider striking them off the guestlist for any future events.

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