Please help me plan a co-worker's retirement party!
June 18, 2014 7:17 PM   Subscribe

I've been stuck with planning a co-worker's retirement party (I was happy to do it, but rather expected I'd have some help from other co-workers). Please help me out with advice in two main areas: the food and the gift! Details inside.

I work in the commercial real estate department of a bank, and my co-worker is the receptionist/administrative assistant for our department/floor. She's about 30 years older than I am, and I really like her, so I'm happy to plan the party. HR provides money for a gift and for a party; the caveat with the party money is that we have to invite everyone in the building. Our building has a couple hundred people in it, and they won't all attend but there's no great way to estimate a head count either.

Food: We have $150 to spend, and a company car to take us to Costco the morning of the party. I've asked some of the other folks in our department to bring desserts and several people volunteered, so I can spend the money on other types of food. (The company provides plates/napkins/silverware so I don't have to buy those, and there won't be any alcohol allowed.) How can I best maximum our $150 at Costco and feed an unknown number of people? We'll have access to fridges/freezers, an oven (maybe two? I can't remember), and microwaves, but no stove top. The only thing on our list so far is fruit that's easy to prepare (strawberries, grapes). Ideally we're looking for types of food that require little or no preparation and can easily be served buffet style (but that hopefully aren't full of tons of preservatives/high fructose corn syrup/etc).

Presents: We also have $150 to spend here, and I'm at a loss. No gold watches!

Relevant information about my coworker: She and her husband are moving to a home they inherited in a pretty rural location (lawn worthy of a riding mower) and I believe the home needs some work. She also has a niece who is 5 or 6 that she absolutely dotes on, and part of the reason for her retirement timing is so she can spend the summer looking after her niece much of the time. They don't travel much, but they do spend time on the coast in Oregon several times a year. (We're in Seattle.)

And help you guys can offer would be great, thanks!
posted by skycrashesdown to Work & Money (10 answers total)
A nice set of gardening or household tools. $150 would go pretty far at Target and it's the right season for gardening stuff; galavanized tin drink bucket, trowel, kneepad, gloves, all that. Buy a cheap tablecloth in a cheery pattern to line the basket.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:50 PM on June 18, 2014

I think I would go with salad and pasta. Costco has the large ready mix salad, fettuccine alfredo and garlic bread. I think the fettuccine is about $10 per pan and serves 8. I would get about 10 and put 3 out at a time. The other choice is to just do hors d'oeuvres - variety of cheese, crackers, salumi and fruit. Also dips, hummus, and little canap├ęs like mini quiches, stuffed mushrooms, etc. If you can, go to Costco this weekend and price things out. It's a party, not a sit down dinner.

I like the gardening idea that Juliet Banana suggested.
posted by shoesietart at 9:00 PM on June 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Can't speak to food, but I suggest fizzy drinks so as to toast your friend - either sparkling cider, or maybe a mocktail bar. You could set up plastic cups served with sparkling water, a splash of grenadine/flavored syrup, a sprig of mint or lavender and a berry/piece of fruit. Cheap and exciting and not fattening.

As far as gifts, when my dad retired, the office purchased nice wooden kayak paddles and had everyone sign those with permanent markers, instead of a card. My dad didn't even really like his coworkers that much, but those oars looked attractive, so he hung them up and I think they're a nice memory of his impact there. Maybe something like that - an adairondack chair? A plant stand/ladder with three or four "stairs" and everyone signs terra cotta pots? A nice wooden easel and chintzy paint set, and everyone signs a cheapo canvas?

Or what about a really nice spa robe? Pair them with cheapo slippers and write the company name on the soles so she can walk all over you guys :)
posted by samthemander at 9:03 PM on June 18, 2014

Where I work, there is always an announcement a couple of weeks beforehand - "Mary Smith is retiring at the end of June. We're having a small gathering in her honor on Thursday, June 26 in the conference room, please rsvp by June 24 if you plan to attend". I mean, the wording is nicer, but you get the jist. At least that way you can get some idea of a headcount.

When I think of this sort of party, I always expect a nice cake and some punch. A full-on lunch isn't expected, although I'm sure the honoree would be very flattered by one. You can ask your volunteers for chips & dip if you can't fit them into your budget.
posted by vignettist at 9:20 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Costco's sheet cakes are an amazing deal - they are less than $20, and they will decorate and put the honoree's name on it for you. You have to order it at least a day ahead (though they usually have generic ones available, and there's staff to put "Happy Retirement" on it in frosting), and you can choose vanilla or chocolate. They are delicious and have been the hit of every work party I've attended.

They have a good cracker assortment (just checked the cupboard, it's the "Dare Celebration Collection" - 5 packages of different tasty crackers for around $13). You could get a couple of those and some of their sliced meats/cheese for protein, plus the fruits you mentioned earlier.
posted by mogget at 10:05 PM on June 18, 2014

Cheese + Crackers
A bit of Salami
Mini quiches if possible
Fruit (grapes, strawberries, maybe pineapple)
Sparkling cider or punch
posted by barnone at 10:11 PM on June 18, 2014

Costco has so much good party food.

Crudite platters
Cheese platters
Mini cocktail quiches (do you have an oven available?)
Other mini things like cocktail sausages (if your people like those things)
Dips and spreads, including hummus, spinach artichoke, etc.
Stacy's pita chips in massive bags
Prosciutto etc. for a meat plate

The cake and sweets are good too - if you don't want to do a sheet cake there are mini brownies, etc.

$150 should get you pretty far.
posted by rainydayfilms at 5:18 AM on June 19, 2014

Sorry can't link it for some reason, but great idea for something to keep that would be sentimental.
posted by just asking at 5:31 AM on June 19, 2014

I would get her a Home Depot or Lowe's Gift Card. That way she can put it towards whatever she actually needs in her new location, plus it's not a physical thing that needs to be packed and moved. I mean, $150 is a nice bit of a riding mower!

I recommend going to Costco to do some recon. See what they've got and price it all out. Finger foods are the way to go.

Veggie or Fruit Tray
Rolled sandwiches
Crab Dip and Pita Chips
Buschetta and toasts

They also have Pizzas, so you could arrange to get 10 of them and a bag of Salad, if you wanted a more lunchy option.

You know, party food.

But wander through and see what makes sense. You might even order stuff ahead of time so all you have to do is run in and get it the day of.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:49 AM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there a dessert she really loves that you could base the party around? For instance if she loved ice cream you could easily do an ice cream social-type thing, just to elevate it from "we grabbed some pre made trays and tossed them on the table".

Seconding sending out evites to the entire building. It will give you a much better idea of who will be attending.
posted by haplesschild at 10:36 AM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

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