Life hacks to planning the perfect year-end function

Appreciating staff is a key component of staff retention. Year-end events remain one of the best ways to celebrate staff, boost morale and reflect on the past year. Liesl Venter finds out how to host an awesome end-of-year event.

A successful year-end bash should touch all of the senses, says Kevin Pelser, team leader of FCM Events.

This can be achieved by creating a warm and inviting atmosphere, visually appealing décor, good music and a memorable dining experience.  Pelser advises against a simple bring and braai at the office when it comes to the end-of-year celebrations. It is all about making an impression, he says.

“It just won’t quite have the same long-standing impact as using a professional to add those finishing touches – like props, décor, DJ, lamb on a spit, etc. And essentially you need it to be memorable, not just a tick-the-box event because you have to have one. A year-end event can be a powerful aid in motivating your staff to tackle the New Year with renewed spirit and a sense of belonging so it should be organised with thought and care,” Pelser says.

Admittedly, though, budgets have been challenging over the past few years. “There needs to be a delicate balance between over-spending and under-spending on your year-end event,” he says. “By opting out of a year-end function, you are sending a message to your employees and cultivating a culture of no-reward. Public displays of appreciation help to keep them motivated. Unless you host smaller functions throughout the year to recognise and reward your employees, they may feel slighted that the company couldn’t spare any budget to thank and reward them for their efforts through the year. Negativity has a habit of spreading quickly, so you [as the company] don’t want it to taint your future staff-management relationship and impact productivity.”


On the other hand, over-spending on a big and flashy end-of-year function when you couldn’t afford to give bonuses or increases could also send the wrong message and be distasteful and insensitive. Consequently, Pelser suggests using the correct events management company to help establish the fine line between throwing a successful, yet understated, year-end function that will engage your employees and thank your clients, within budget. “This is possibly the best life hack to hosting a successful corporate year-end event,” he says. “Getting good value and a bit of creativity is what a specialist events organiser can assist with.”

An events management company also brings buying power and partnerships that they have in place to negotiate the best rates on your behalf, adds Pelser.

When is the best time to start planning your year-end function? Pelser suggests you start the process at least six months in advance. “Admittedly, that is not always possible, but longer lead times are more beneficial and at least two months should be set aside for planning.”

Having your budget finalised is a good place to start, Pelser adds. “This allows one to plan the theme around the objectives and budget. An idea is to think about the positive things that have happened in your company during the year and focus your theme around that.”

The selection of venue is possibly another important factor in holding a successful event, he says. “You need to take into account the type of function, the number of people, the entertainment, parking and type of food served, just to name a few things.”

And a good invitation is just as essential. “It should be informative and evoke excitement to attend the year-end function. Remember, this event is a thank you for the hard work during the year and maybe an evening of accolades as well. Your invitation should include this information. Keep this simple using emails and online facilities.”

Another sure way to deliver a remarkable event is food. “Firstly, one must take all employees’ dietary requirements into consideration. Sending out a questionnaire when you send out your invitation, where you ask each person’s dietary requirements, works well and allows you to keep track of replies,” Pelser says.


Top organising tips

First of all, set a budget and a firm limit on the bar tab – e.g. only local wines and beers and ciders instead of spirits, says Pelser. “And pay in advance as suppliers will often give a cash-upfront discount.”

Be flexible, says Avukile Mabombo, group marketing manager of Protea Hotels by Marriott and African Pride Hotels. “The ability to move an event by a day or two can make a huge difference on cost. It is not just flexibility about the date, but flexibility about your requirements in general. If you have fixed ideas about what you want, there is not much room for negotiation or for looking for alternatives,” he says.

Mabombo also advises structuring food options to maximise what is spent. “You can always find some cheaper menu option and you can look at lighter food options that may cost less and also be healthier.”

A buffet, for example, will save on the cost of waiters, but make sure you choose suitably priced buffet items, says Mabombo. “So, too, with alcohol. Offer only beer and wine, for example, and don’t include cocktails and spirits,” he adds.

Joseph Sono of The Blue Train says setting a realistic budget is key. “The budget has to be realistic for the event that you want to host. Choose a venue that is easily accessible and suited to that budget.”

Yvonne Burger, groups and events office manager at Lagoon Beach Hotel, adds that much can be achieved by using what nature has provided. “Instead of paying for expensive flowers you can opt to use fynbos or ivy. Sea sand and shells make for a striking centrepiece at a fraction of the cost.”

She says much can be said for a do-it-yourself appraoch when it comes to certain elements of the event. “Menus, table numbers and name cards for instance using recylced materials can very easily be made,” says Burger.

For Mabombo, cost-saving does not necessarily mean downscaling by choosing to avoid luxury venues and other items. “If the business discusses budget and what it hopes to achieve at its event with the conference organiser, packages can be tailored to meet those needs.”

It is all about collaboration, says event organiser Catherine Larkin. “Work with suppliers and service providers to see what you can do together. Explore how you can use the event to make a difference and make sure you get ideas and input from your staff.”

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