Sharing her thoughts on how companies can, and will, be celebrating Christmas this year in spite of Covid-19 social restrictions is Liz Taylor. A professional event planner with over thirty years’ experience, CEO of one of the UK’s most successful event management businesses, the Taylor Lynn Corporation (TLC), and a hospitality brand consultant in the north west.
Usually at this time in the event planner’s calendar, wedding season is nearly sewn up and it’s all systems go for the Christmas party plans. Yes, Christmas in July is ordinarily the event organisers reality. Yet 2020, as we know, is no ordinary year. Coronavirus has wreaked havoc with our industry. And when it comes to Christmas, the fear is that it could be a party pooper on a grand scale. Downbeat? No. As professional event organisers, and in partnership with our hospitality suppliers and venues, we can create a fun, innovative and meaningful Christmas party that is distanced, but not distant.
In the face of an uncertain future, I refuse to be negative. Yes, the pandemic is like nothing we have ever experienced before. Yes, predicting what will happen next week is challenging, so who knows where we will be by Christmas. Companies are understandably nervous of committing to a Christmas party. Many not contemplating Christmas yet. Some wary of gathering employees together on mass. Some not believing that festive fun is even remotely possible. I am here to tell you – it is. And one thing is certain, by December we will all be in need of a good knees-up!
The events sector is packed full of creative minds, those for whom complicated logistical planning and achieving the impossible goes with the job. If anyone can save Christmas, and by that, I mean running a clean, safe, well-organised party that conforms to all current guidelines; it’s us. And we’ll possibly do it more safely than a busy pub on a Saturday night. The Prime Minister has outlined plans for larger scale events to start to come back from October – welcome news to the industry, but it’s clear that the regime of hand washing, sanitiser stations and social distancing is here to stay for a while yet. As event planners, our challenge is to weave them into the event without taking away from the fun.
There are other ways to make the traditional festive party more COVID-safe. Firstly, opt for an event venue that is much larger than you actually need. That doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice atmosphere for safety, especially if you clearly zone the areas to make it obvious where to eat, relax, dance and drink. In terms of layout, set spaces further apart and large banquet over round tables will mean your guests can space out without finding conversation difficult.
BBQs and outdoor gatherings have been allowed for small groups for a while and stepping outside could be another way to make guests feel at ease. Parties al fresco may appear difficult to plan in the depths of the UK winter, but lighting fire pits on the patio, chiminea on roof top terraces with warm cocktails and canapes, or even a hog roast can be brilliant. To keep the celebrations undercover, a tepee style tent would provide shelter with natural ventilation as a bonus. And for a final flourish – a firework extravaganza at the end of the night is an unforgettable finish.
Creative catering is another way to take the party outside and encourage guests to keep a distance without them even realising. Create a foodie festival with culinary carts or food stations – just like the Christmas markets which are eternally popular during the festive season. The options are endless. From huge pans of paella cooked in front of guests, to bratwurst, crepes, pie and mash or oriental curries. And don’t forget the Glühwein or hot chocolate for the tee-totallers!
Speaking of which, some clients are asking for alcohol to be restricted. A bid to prevent the party drink overwhelming the social distancing measures. Think outside the box with exquisitely presented mocktails or invest in good quality low/non-alcoholic beers or wine. The most important factor here, however, is entertainment. You must spend money on the best entertainment you can afford and use that to create the party atmosphere rather than the free bar!
Finally, when it comes to the additional safety advice, communication is essential, but it doesn’t have to be scary or clinical in its presentation. Get creative and your signage and it can double as a theatrical prop. Think festive wooden signs with faux snow nailed to oversized, frosted, trees. Masks too can be offered company corporate colours or amusing designs. Or for a classic touch try a 2020 take on a masquerade ball – making the mask a statement more than restriction!
So, will Christmas really be cancelled, or can we save the festive season? My belief. It is up to the event planners and hospitality providers of the region to use our all of our knowledge and know-how to inspire companies and demonstrate how the festive party can still bring their teams together. The onus is on us to provide the ideas and solutions that prove that Christmas events are and should be on the agenda. In my view, an online Christmas party will never match the live event experience. So, it’s time for us to get inventive.