You and your staff are tasked with planning this year’s holiday party; the first one your organization has had in a few years. While your staff is excited about this, you know there is some risk. Spend too little on the event and the organization will look cheap. Spend too much and the company will look extravagant.

The key is to establish and follow a budget that will make employees feel their hard work is being rewarded with this special event.

As mentioned in Part 1 of this 3-part series, 76% of Human Resource professionals said their budget will be the same this year as in previous years, which can be a real challenge as products and services continue to rise.

Here are 16 basic budget tips that can help you with this process.

Overall Budget

  1. Before establishing a budget, determine how many individuals you think will attend.
    This does not have to be completely accurate, but if your existing budget cannot accommodate significant others and families, you will need to ask for an increase in dollars or cap attendance at employees only.
  2. Look at day of the week and time of the year.
    The most expensive day to hold a holiday party will be Saturday. The least expensive time of the year will be after the holidays, say in January or February.
  3. Review last year’s budget and aim to add 10-20% to it.
    As mentioned earlier, products and services are not at the same price they were 2-5 years ago, therefore if you have not had a party in years, you need to bump your budget.
  4. Start with a total budget and break down estimated costs in the following areas:
    1. Meeting venue
    2. Food
    3. Beverage
    4. Entertainment
    5. Goody Bag
    6. Audio Visual Equipment Rentals

Provide your vendors the budget guidelines. Ask if you pay within 10 days of the event and with a check, if you can receive a discount.

  1. Be sure to get an accurate head count.
    This cannot be overstated – when you know exactly how many people are coming to your event, you can plan the right amount of food, beverages and have the right meeting space. Don’t assume that every employee will attend; ask. The formula is 30/15/7/3 – at least 30 to 3 days before your event to remind people about it and give them at least 4 chances to say yes or no.
  2. Review your budget often to determine if there are any overruns.
    Catching overruns early can help you plan for cuts in other areas and/or help you justify an increase.

On-Site vs. Off-Site

No question about it, having the holiday gathering on company premises will save money. However, most parties (71%) will be off-site this year.

  1. If you are holding it at the company, be sure to have the party away from the desks and work areas.
  2. If you are holding the party at a meeting venue, hold a work related meeting and then have the party.
    If you are at a hotel and can use the same meeting space, projector and screen rental and sound system, you will only pay once for two distinct purposes. In addition, most of these line items can be charged to a specific department, thus helping to keep your overall budget intact.


  1. If you are holding a sit-down lunch or dinner off-site, limit the menu choices to two or three items.
    Have the restaurant prepare a special menu flyer to be placed on each place setting. Be sure to include a vegetarian and gluten-free choice.
  2. Rather than sit-down, go with a buffet option.
  3. Choose lunch over dinner – or just go with heavy appetizers or desserts.
    If your event is on-site or off, lunch will always be the less expensive option. Heavy appetizers can also be a good alternative.


  1. Decide whether you will have alcohol or not.
    Alcohol can take up to 25-50% of your budget, and as we will discuss in Part 3 of this series, can be a concern.
  2. If you decide to go off-site with alcohol, issue drink tickets or have a cash bar.
    1-2 drink tickets per guest or a cash bar will slow down the drinking process.


Rather than hiring a band, hook up your iPad to the sound system and play holiday music. Background music can be effective for setting the holiday mood.

Goody Bag

  1. If you decide on having goody bags, here are some suggestions:
    • Votive candle with holder
    • Tickets to a local holiday event
    • Starbucks gift card
  2. Ditch the goody bag altogether, and donate what’s left of the budget to a local cause.

SmartSource Rentals is Your Technology Partner for Holiday Gatherings


SmartSource has an assortment of audio visual rentals perfect for your holiday event. We have 20 locations nationwide with the team and tools you need to create an impressive holiday environment. Obtain a quick quote today to get the process (and party) started!