Corporate Planning Tips

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Location, Location

With the exception of customer events that are meant to show off the corporate facility or simple employee events during the work day, most company sponsored events are best held outside the office. Employees love to get away from the work environment and appreciate the opportunity to do so. There are many unique venues that lend themselves to other activities during the evening. In the San Francisco Bay Area we are privileged to have such great venues as the Chabot Space and Science Center, the USS Hornet, and the Exploratorium, just to name a few.

The other alternative is to create "another world" at the corporate facility by erecting a tent or transforming a warehouse and bringing in props, décor, and festive lighting. The possibilities are endless.

Know Your Budget

The top executives may be visualizing surf and turf but they've given you a budget for hot dogs. Need help? First, clarify what needs to be included within the budget. Is the presented budget just for the food and beverages or is it to include rentals, flowers, entertainment, and transportation? Sometimes, the budget is not as bad as it seems and other times a reality check is in order. In such cases, it often helps to break the budget down by working backwards.

Start with the venue cost and transportation to the venue (if you are handling), followed by equipment needed at the venue (Does the venue include tables and chairs or do you have to bring them in?). Is entertainment a must? Will you need china and linen? Flowers for the tables? Now, what's ultimately left for food, beverage, labor, service charge and sales tax? Sometimes, this can be a negative figure because the executives were not aware of other necessities that have a way of adding up.

Don't be afraid to share your budget with your caterer. A professional caterer can more easily make suggestions on menu, service style, and cost cutting alternatives when you are both on the same page.

Even though you're working within a budget, don't be afraid to express your "wildest dreams" to your caterer. It's often those ideas that become the springboard for creative brainstorming that helps your caterer make your event memorable.

Demographics of Party

Who will be at your event? While there will always be exceptions to any generalization, the reality is that different groups have different tastes and it is important to be cognizant of those when planning your event. For example, an event that includes families must incorporate menu items for the children (they most likely will not reach for the Asparagus Wrapped in Prosciutto or the Crostini with Sonoma Goat Cheese). On an event where a significant number of guests share the same culture, it could be important to incorporate a few appropriate flavors or dishes.

Likewise, if a large number of guests are of a religious background that does not allow certain menu items, it's best to leave those out. Like it or not, there will always be "meat and potatoes" guests vs. "sushi and paté" guests. You can never please everyone with every item but it does help to have a feel for who will be attending.

Goal of the Event

Keep in mind the goal of your event. Is it...
  • To motivate and inspire your team?
  • To reward them?
  • To boost morale?
  • To make an announcement?
  • To thank your customers or employees?
  • To launch a product?

No matter what your objective, everything you do for the event, from the collateral and the giveaways to the food and décor, will convey the message. A surprise hot dog-and-hamburger barbecue or a fajita buffet during the work day might be a great way to boost morale or show appreciation. However, this sends a completely different message if it is the fare provided to your team or best customers for having reached a phenomenal goal. When creating an event, focus on and follow through with the feeling that you want your guests to experience during the event and they will take it away with them.


To theme or not to theme...that is the question. The simple answer is: Yes, when it makes sense and when budget allows for you to do it right. To "do it right", the theme should be brought into virtually every aspect of the event – the invitation, color scheme, food, linen, décor and props, entertainment, and giveaways.

For example, to host a "Star Trek" or "Star Wars" party for a sales meeting and only have the theme incorporated into the invitation with just a few space theme decorations on the guest tables is really a let down for guests. Contrast that with:
  • An invitation from the company's "Star Fleet Commander"
  • Guests greeted by a Klingon or Wookiee while the Star Trek or Star Wars theme is played in the background
  • Virtual Reality games available during the breaks or team building portion of the event
  • A barbecue buffet with items like Meteor Melon Salad, Pluto Pasta Salad, Chew Bacca Chili, etc. at a buffet decorated in silver mylar and theme props
  • Room décor that includes Star Trek or Star Wars full size cutouts
  • Table décor from simple mylar balloon bouquets to creative centerpieces that incorporate both the company logo and theme
  • A giveaway "UFO" radio with the company logo
  • An "Energy Station" where guests help themselves to a variety of colorful Jelly Bellys when they depart

All of this creates a fun, interactive environment where the guests will remember the message loud and clear.

Alcoholic Beverages: Yes or No?

Whether or not alcoholic beverages are suitable for your event really depends on your corporate culture and policy as well as the type of event that it will be. Additionally, many risk management departments do not allow alcohol on the company premises but will allow it if the party is held elsewhere. If the company is supplying alcohol at any location, it is a good idea to encourage designated drivers and responsible drinking as well as arrange for cab service for those who may be under the influence.

While it is common to see hosted open bars for customer events, some companies opt for "reasonable libations" for their employee events by only hosting a portion of the bar service. This can be done by giving each employee two alcoholic beverage tickets for the evening followed by unlimited non-alcoholic beverages after that.

VIP Pre-Party

There are times when budget does not allow for an elegant event for the entire company but management does want to particularly recognize its top customers or performers at a company wide event. This is where the VIP Pre-Party comes in. VIP's are invited to arrive an hour or so earlier than the rest of the guests and are treated to a more opulent setting and menu, perhaps in a separate tent or room. Here, elegant hors d'oeuvres are passed and a hosted bar is provided as a treat to the VIP's. Guests later join the rest of the party feeling appreciated for their hard work and loyalty.

The WOW Factor

They say that the first impression and the last are what guests will take with them. Maybe your budget doesn't allow for WOW all the way through your event but if you want your guests to continue talking about your party until the next one, start and end with a bang.

Create a grand entrance with a custom marquee relevant to your corporate motto or have your company logo bouncing off the walls with rays of light. Have the guests greeted by a fun character serving them a signature drink or a special gift.

At the end of your event, have a pyrotechnic display or, on a smaller scale, have a series of confetti blasts. Serve an "over the top" dessert at the tables or provide a fun, action dessert station following the meal. Have your caterer roll out an espresso bar where the barista brews specialty coffee drinks for guests to enjoy on their drive home.

Taking a moment to design a "WOW" factor at your event is sure to leave a lasting impression and make you a phenomenal party planner!