As we approach this holiday season, business owners, human resources teams, and anyone brave enough to join a party-planning committee are hard at work organizing yet another office holiday party.

Throwing a good holiday party means walking a fine line between letting people have fun and keeping things professional. It’s not an easy task—there are lots of pitfalls involving mismatched expectations, invitation oversights, and of course, alcohol.

What makes for a good holiday party is subjective, and will depend greatly on what your company culture expects and values. But there are some commonalities in what makes for a bad holiday party—avoid these 10 party planning mistakes at all costs:

Serving unlimited alcohol

Let’s start with the obvious: It’s better to err on the side of giving people too little alcohol than too much. You want your company to be known as a fun place to work, but that doesn’t mean your office parties should be ragers. Getting people too liquored up because serving a lot of alcohol is “what’s expected” is a surefire way to spark alcohol-fueled tensions, fights, mistakes, and situations that can’t be undone.

Some holiday parties these days don’t even serve alcohol, as many people understand the liabilities of excessive drinking. But if you can’t imagine a holiday party without it, consider limiting your options to beer and wine, or cutting drinks off well before the party officially ends to encourage sobering up.

Skimping on food

Food and alcohol are two sides of the same coin: Fail to serve enough food, and any alcohol you do have on hand will wreak havoc on the party. If anything, you should be taking money out of your alcohol budget to boost your food budget. From finger foods to full-course meals, show your appreciation for your staff by feeding them well. After a while, most alcohol starts to taste the same, but an excellent holiday party meal will be memorable.

Failing to hire a staff

Who are you going to ask to make drinks, serve food, and otherwise keep things moving at your party? Whether you have your party off-site at a venue where catering is taken care of, or in your office—requiring you to hire a team to come in—don’t forget to hire a staff for the night, so your team members can actually relax and enjoy themselves. Plus, pros can identify people who have had too much to drink and more easily avoid serving them, helping you avoid liability via dram shop laws.

Holding it on a weekend or late-night

Some misguided party planners think that holding your office party on a weekend or making it a late-night affair is a good idea. People use their weekends for their own plans—especially around the holidays—and asking them to spend even more time with their co-workers (even if you all get along) is a sure way to get a lot of “No” RSVPs.

To show maximum appreciation, start your party a bit early—cutting into your typical workday—to show all your employees, even the ones who may have to leave early to be with family, that you are using this party to show your appreciation.

Not allowing plus-ones

Generally, it’s understood that evening holiday parties allow people to bring a guest. That’s a good thing: People bringing their significant others to the party will help team members get to know each other and help create a stronger sense of community, leading to increased collaboration. Not allowing plus-ones in an attempt to save money is likely a net loss in the long run.

Forgetting part-time, temporary, or remote team members

Only inviting full-time, in-office employees is a sure way to alienate or other disappoint members of your team who work part-time, or remotely. Even interns should be shown appreciation in the form of an invite. For those who can’t make it, sending a gift card or other holiday gift so they don’t feel left out is a good policy.

Making it all about “partying”

One of the tenets of the holiday season is the idea of giving back to those less fortunate than ourselves. Don’t lose sight of that ideal in your rush to make sure everybody is drinking and gorging themselves. Incorporate some kind of fundraising or philanthropic angle to the event, such as bringing toys or other non-cash donations for a local charity. Make attendance for a good cause and you’ll see increased engagement.

Encourage responsible commuting

If you live in an urban center, many of your employees may already be planning on taking public transportation home. If that’s not the case, make sure you encourage responsibility—even if you have to offer to pay for people’s taxis (or rideshares) home. The emotional, fiscal, and legal fallout of something tragic happening to an employee after having too much to drink at a party isn’t worth saving a few hundred bucks, at most, in rides.

Not setting the right tone

As a business owner and leader, it’s up to you to set the tone for the evening. Take the initiative in the days leading up to the party by announcing the dress code (hopefully you’ll keep it casual), encouraging people to use their plus-ones, and emphasizing that this isn’t a work event, so no talking business.

During the party, do your best to be a gracious and fun host—since in many ways that’s what you are, and drink moderately. Set the tone for the night and you’ll see others follow your lead.

Lacking liability insurance

Although you shouldn’t take out an entirely new insurance policy (and if you think you do—again, you know you don’t have to serve alcohol, right?), it’s a good idea to review your commercial liability insurance and employment policies. If your liability insurance doesn’t cover actions at off-site events, consider your options with your insurance broker or company lawyer, from moving the party on-site to buying one-time special event insurance.

Don’t forget the biggest holiday party mistake of all: Neglecting to throw one entirely. A fun holiday party is worth the investment, and as long as you avoid some of these common mistakes, you’ll be doing your party to spread a little holiday cheer. That’s always a good thing.

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Meredith Wood
Meredith Wood is the Editor-in-Chief at Fundera, an online marketplace for small business loans that matches business owners with the best funding providers for their business. Prior to Fundera, Meredith was the CCO at Funding Gates. Meredith is a resident Finance Advisor on American Express OPEN Forum and an avid business writer. Her advice consistently appears on such sites as Yahoo!, Fox Business, Amex OPEN, AllBusiness, and many more.

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