Flexible festival: Adaptability is key for 2020’s Christmas parties

With Covid-19 restrictions evolving rapidly, Christmas parties in 2020 are going to have to be flexible and adaptable like never before. Jill Hawkins reports.

There’s no denying that the Christmas season will be very different this year; company culture has adapted, working patterns have changed and the ‘to celebrate or not to celebrate’ question has been raised. And that’s before you even get to the question of government restrictions, whatever they end up being.

“Christmas will be very different this year,” says Carrie Larwood, managing director of venue finding agency Function Fixers. “The enquiries we have been getting are for smaller, more intimate low key events. Some of our clients are pushing their Christmas celebrations back to January when they hope events will be easier to organise.”

Julia Charles-Wiginton (right), managing director of Julia Charles Event Management, says her agency is working on a number of outdoor events for Christmas this year to achieve social distancing and minimise risk.

“Open air cinemas are proving to be popular, so we are working on Christmas themed drive-ins with food and beverages served to guests’ car windows, she says. “Entertainment and food is themed to the chosen Christmas movie to create a totally immersive but socially distanced experience.”

“Come the end of the year we will have been part of the biggest event of most of our lifetimes.”

Simon Gray, sales director of venue finding site Choose Your Venue, says he is seeing a split between residential booking enquiries and corporate Christmas party bookings.

“The enquiries we are seeing are mostly team led rather than for entire companies, and for small to medium businesses such as accountants, estate agents and car dealerships. A large proportion of enquiries are from NHS departments looking for some well deserved celebration.”

Flexibility and adaptability will be key according to Joanna Lunn, event sales manager of the Victory Services Club (VSC). She says, “We are offering a high level of flexibility to our clients so that we can adapt and change their event as restrictions evolve. We have started to receive enquiries from our clients but they are not requesting specifics, they are simply asking if they could hold an event with us. We are working with them and getting an understanding of the audience, what they need to achieve and what the options currently are for a bespoke event.

“For example, we are working with one client to accommodate a socially distanced dinner for the entire organisation, but with each of their departmental teams in individual event rooms to allow social distancing and separation. We have four main event spaces so each department will have their own space, and then our screens and video conferencing system will connect each room so that an element of togetherness is created.”

Lime Venue Portfolio has been working with creative event producer, Robert Dunsmore, to advise customers on how best to set the tone for festive events.

Dunsmore said: “We as an industry will have to adapt fast and deal with this. In turn, how we create will evolve to deliver parties or events with individuality and a personality that restores and reflects these new feelings, because those feelings are real and to your guests, their feelings are facts. Events change behaviour and come the end of the year we, the citizens of 2020, will have been part of the biggest event of most of our lifetimes.”

There does however seem to be a lot of confusion over what’s allowed from corporates and from venues, says Gray.

“Many of our clients are unsure about what will be allowed post October and I think that this has led to some venues opting to not offer Christmas events at all for 2020.”

Larwood has also observed that some venues are not hosting Christmas parties this year: “We usually work with all of the major London venues who create amazing themed party nights, but this year the venues cannot justify expenditure on expensive themes when it is not clear how many people would be able to attend.”

The Victory Services Club is offering Christmas events, and is putting the emphasis on food. “If we still aren’t allowed loud music or a disco, then the dinner is the main event and so it needs to be amazing,” says Lunn. “Our executive head chef is creating bespoke Christmas tasting menus with matching wines for guests to enjoy, and we will also be hosting our International Christmas Market food stalls too.

“Although this means communal food stations, they can be enjoyed following social distancing protocols with the implementation of a one way queueing system, and disposable (but recyclable) cutlery and packaging. Christmas is still a long way off and whilst we are all hoping that restrictions will have eased by then, we have to be prepared and ready to accommodate all options.”

Pop up events are also going to be popular, with indoor and outdoor elements according to Charles-Wiginton. “Think of an Alpine ski lodge or German market with food stalls, a one way system for reaching the bar and outdoor heaters. Guests will be dressed in warm ski wear to enable them to get into the spirt whilst keeping warm. We are marking out boxes on the floor to enable each guest to stay in their own safe space whilst wearing headphones and dancing to the silent disco.”

Another focus for this year will be CSR (corporate social responsibility) and giving something back. “Our clients choose the VSC because the club is a registered charity that re-invests revenue from commercial events to fund schemes, including free weekend breaks for injured members of the Armed Forces, veterans and their families,” says Lunn. “Through lockdown we have seen a surge in society being appreciative to the services and charities that help us and Christmas is the ideal season to be thankful and give something back.”

“You are still going to need stuff – unique venues, great people with energy to entertain and deliver the gratification of a genuine Christmas experience.” concludes Dunsmore. “It will be a 2020 party, for the people of 2020.”

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