Help Me Plan My Work Party!
September 11, 2012 1:17 PM   Subscribe

What would take a work party from boring obligation to kick-ass shindig?

My big boss has tasked me with helping to throw our 15th anniversary party in November. I have only been with the company for a year and this boss works in a different state, so I’d like to impress him. I would like to be promoted and given a raise at some point, so if I look valuable to the company then that’s a bonus!

So far we know for sure that we’ll be at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Atlanta. We will have a smaller area for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, and then a larger ballroom and terrace for the meal and activities (think wedding, as this is where his inspiration is all coming from). He has suggested a dj, a band, dancing, or karaoke. He has also said he wouldn’t be heartbroken if we decided it’d be better to eat and drink and then move the party elsewhere nearby. Most of us have gotten rooms in the hotel, so any amount of boozin’ or going crazy is okay. We are not by any means a very professional company, so while “hit up the strip club” is maybe borderline inappropriate, “bar hopping” or something is a-okay.

The group is going to be probably 60 people or fewer, ages 22-60. So, MeFites, if you were attending a big ol’ work soiree, what would you want to do? Dance, sing, hit up a club? The budget is $30k so money isn’t too much of an issue.

Thanks for your help!
posted by masquesoporfavor to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If it's at the Mandarin Oriental, ask to speak to their VIP concierge. The Mandarin Oriental hotels have kick-ass service, and they'll have a million ideas that will help push your party from so-so to something special.
posted by xingcat at 1:20 PM on September 11, 2012 [9 favorites]

I find that the most memorable work gatherings are the ones with themes. Perhaps you could come up with one that's fun and also related to your company/industry? Then you can make the food, music, and decorations fit.
posted by cranberry_nut at 1:21 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

One thing that was always a huge success at my former company's parties was a photo booth. Tons of people have strips of party pictures at their desks. It's been a tradition for several years now, so it's a good way to remember coworkers who have moved on or transferred internationally.

Kind of fits with the wedding theme, too.
posted by charmcityblues at 1:25 PM on September 11, 2012 [8 favorites]

Good idea! Sorry to threadsit but in case it's relevant, we're in importing/exporting freight, mostly from China to the US.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 1:26 PM on September 11, 2012

My company did a "casino night" (maybe it was 'Monte Carlo' or something slightly more creative) once for a company meeting. It was a good time. The hotel arranged -- somehow -- for actual gaming tables to show up, with dealers / coupiers, and everyone was given a stack of chips to play with. At the end of the night, the people with the most chips got prizes. The prizes were decent (i.e. iPods, not just company schwag) but not so substantial that it caused real cutthroat competition or bad feelings afterwards. And even people who didn't play got some enjoyment out of it, as they could choose who they gave away their chips to.

And there was an open bar, which was unsurprisingly a hit.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:28 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm pretty certain that karaoke plus an open bar is a recipe for guaranteed success and hilarity.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:30 PM on September 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

The best work party I was ever at had a lot of booze and a super high energy, DANCEABLE band (they were covering 70's-80s funk and R&B), and lights down low so people didn't feel self conscious dancing.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:30 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recommend an outing to Ormsby's in the Westside Provisioning District.

It's a funky part of town, has all kinds of games and they had a catering menu that was the best bar food ever. The corn-dogs....aaaarrrgggg.

It's about 7 miles away from the Mandarin, but you can rent a bus to transport everyone.

Another option is the Vortex downtown. They have the Laughing Skull comedy club, so you might be able to buy out a show. It's a similar distance away. They have the best burgers in Atlanta.

Those are actual, fun places.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:38 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Chime to Kadin2048. My aunt did a casino-themed party for her office one year and it was a BIG hit.
posted by michellenoel at 2:03 PM on September 11, 2012

You can actually rent a bounce house that will fit inside a hotel ballroom. Or so I learned at my last professional conference.

If the company isn't already covering the cost of the hotel rooms for employees, that would be a nice bonus.
posted by kate blank at 2:11 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Things that ruin office parties, in my experience, are a large number of people not turning up, people making token appearances then scramming after an hour of making it clear they don't want to be there, and the party ending or group being kicked out quite early in the main venue (ie before people are tipsy). It sounds like you have most of that taken care of. Try to keep the speechifying about the company mission or whatever to a reasonable minimum, most employees don't care enough to hear that from seven different directors one after the other, one or two is enough.

Basically people letting their guard down, being nice to each other, not treating it as a horrible obligation, being genuine and having a laugh is key; not everybody is into interminable activity or entertainment ie having to sit bored watching hypnotists or being forced up to dance and sing karaoke if uncomfortable with that. Surprisingly decent spot prizes (nice ones) are good. For a 15th anniversary something like a really nice spot prize for an unsung administrator who's been there since day one would be a nice touch, or someone who worked their way up from Junior X to Assistant Director X over a decade. The casino idea sounds really good too - not too noisy or forced.
posted by jamesonandwater at 2:11 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Normally the Casino Night would be good but we just had one of those a couple months ago. Boo!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 2:17 PM on September 11, 2012

Have really awesome food and creative/interesting cocktails (with an open bar). Definitely a photo booth. Make sure that people can request songs. I'd do a live cover band first and then a DJ as the night gets later.
posted by amaire at 2:29 PM on September 11, 2012

Make sure the food is good, top quality, and that the cocktails are nice and free flowing. Also maximum attendance is a must. Is there a way to encourage dressing up as somehow dressing up and drinking too much seem to go hand in hand? Basically, it's just going to be a macro-(micro?) cosm of your workplace. If people get along, are happy and feel appreciated it will show! And vice versa. But the getting along/community spirit is key and I guess is built up by events like these! Just the sign this is happening, people are getting hotel rooms and you already had casino nights are very good signs.
posted by bquarters at 3:04 PM on September 11, 2012

Bowling? Laser-tag?
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:04 PM on September 11, 2012

Photo booth with props, definitely!

Here's what *not* to do: let your CEO get so super-wasted that he falls over when trying to make a speech telling everyone how much he loooooveessss them. Not that I have ever experienced this.
posted by radioamy at 3:06 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bowling? Laser-tag?

No. This is not a middle school birthday party or a church young adult social event. Minimize the organized activities.

The best corporate party I ever went to was the Christmas party of a software company I used to work for. It was black tie, so a bunch of us went out to rent tuxedos one day during lunch. The company rented out a nice venue, served fantastic food, had an open bar, and a good DJ. Any comments from the executives were limited to one guy saying how glad he was to be celebrating with us after such a busy year.

The corporate party is the time where you have a chance to socialize with the people at work that you specifically WANT to socialize with (thus: minimize "organized" activities, particularly with pre-assigned groups). It's also one of the few times for the employees and the employees' SOs to see the company treating them well and lavishing them with food and drink while expecting nothing in return (ie, the party is not something they only get to participate in if they ALSO have to participate in some kind of required activity).

Honestly-- given the good venue, (optional) karaoke, the photobooth, and good food & drink, this will probably be fine.

I would actually avoid a situation where you ply everyone with good food and drink and then yank it away by ferrying everyone off to a club or something. They can do that on their own at 2am after they've been treated to a good party.
posted by deanc at 3:58 PM on September 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

Yes, short speeches.

Because, in the end, it's still "mandatory fun", no matter how you try to view it.
posted by DisreputableDog at 4:11 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bowling? Laser-tag?

Maybe I am Mc-Boring-No-Fun-Pants, but I would not go to that. If I'm going to a work function, I'd like to be able to drink for free. The best - and most universally praised - work party I went to was a fancy party with some food and a well-stocked open bar.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 4:15 PM on September 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

I want to chime in and strongly agree with everything deanc said.

If there is money left over, subsidize hotel rooms for temps.
posted by vincele at 5:21 PM on September 11, 2012

Unless you know it's been successful in the past, I'd try to avoid too many super-organized, mandatory-participation activities. The most fun, most-talked-about office parties I've organized and attended have involved mainly good food and good booze in a nice space, with the option for dancing (but plenty of place to just eat, drink, and socialize away from the dancing and loud music, too) and maybe something else fun and slightly silly and memorable.

A photo booth is a fantastic idea--the last few corporate parties I've attended had one and everyone loved it, especially after a couple-few drinks. :) You can either rent a physical photo booth or put together a DIY setup with a designated person running it, but either way make sure it's ridiculously easy to use, and photos can be printed immediately, because rebooting laptops and having to wait 'til Monday for the photos takes a lot of the fun and charm away. Karaoke can be great, too, as long as it's not right in the center of things.

Lots of different food options always makes people happy. My partner's company's holiday party last year had stations set up around the edges of the room: one for cured meats & cheeses, one for sushi and dumplings, one for vegetarian stuff, one for Italianish stuff, one for burgers (which included Krispy Kreme burgers, something people are still talking about), and a couple smaller ones with a selection of one-bite desserts.

People also really like Stuff, so maybe figure out a nice trinket they could take home? Something useful like a (nice, not crappy) commemorative travel mug, flash drive, or pen, or something fun like a custom cookie or cupcake.

Good luck! And definitely utilize the venue's VIP concierge, they can be really great about not just offering ideas, but offering resources for vendors that they know have been successful in the past and are already familiar with the venue.
posted by rhiannonstone at 5:26 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

People also really like Stuff, so maybe figure out a nice trinket they could take home? Something useful like a (nice, not crappy) commemorative travel mug, flash drive, or pen, or something fun like a custom cookie or cupcake.

I'd set aside some of your budget to go bigger than that, as it is a special event. Nobody remembers a pen they got (and they're a pain in the arse to organize with branding etc) but I remember the office party where I got a $300 spot prize of a gift voucher to one of the better restaurants in my city, and someone else got an ipad.
posted by jamesonandwater at 5:47 PM on September 11, 2012

Make sure there are food options for vegetarians/vegans/celiac people, and that there are fun and delicious drinks for sober people.
posted by (Over) Thinking at 5:52 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Seconding the DJ and older dance stuff - the last party I went to was over-the-top fabulous food, drinks, venue, great people, and...a live band that only played semi-acoustic music. They were playing new stuff, but it was like the 2012 version of Lawrence Welk. Instead of dancing and drinking, I ate five pounds of great food and went home early to sleep off the carb coma.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 6:02 PM on September 11, 2012

Tiki theme, complete with take home tiki cups for everyone!

Bonus: will encourage drinking!
posted by at 6:26 PM on September 11, 2012

2nding the gift idea, it could also serve as a way to keep people from bailing early. You hand them out near the end of the evening as people leave.

One company that a friend works for handed everyone a nice carry-on suitcase. The gimmick was that one suitcase had a pair of airline tickets in them.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:45 PM on September 11, 2012

We had an Elvis impersonator present the CEO with an award. That went over well but your company may be different.
posted by faustessa at 7:15 PM on September 11, 2012

My best work party so far included both a photo booth and a mashed potato bar.
posted by bendy at 10:13 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

At least one area, large enough for at least a few people, that can serve as a quiet "escape zone" for introverts and sensory-overload-prone folks who might otherwise stay home and feel guilty because they're just not up for an unrelenting noise-fest. I mean, unless everyone in the workplace in question is extroverted and not particularly noise-sensitive. I'd probably attend a lot more events if I knew there was a place I could go to get away from the more chaotic zone(s) as needed, but most people seem to totally neglect that part of the equation. :/

Other than that? Absinthe.
posted by aecorwin at 11:33 PM on September 11, 2012

$30k is about $500/guest. For that you could send everyone home with full bellies, high BACs, and a 7-inch tablet pc.

You could probably get everyone gondolas on whatever river runs through Atlanta or carriage rides in whatever park/garden is there. In NYC a carriage ride runs you about $80/couple.

For $1k you can just hire me to plan it for you (or, you know, an event planner).

Also, does the cost of rooms, cabs to the airport, room service, valet parking, etc come out of your budget. Because then you will find it shrinking by as much as $200/guest.
posted by jander03 at 11:46 PM on September 11, 2012

jander03--Yeah he could also just give everyone a raise or bonus which BELIEVE ME we would all like more. I get the impression he really wants to just have a bangin' party. Ah. bosses.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 7:56 AM on September 12, 2012

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