When Planning Your Staff Holiday Party Don't Forget About Your Culture

11/16/16 7:00 AM Jason Wagenaar

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The best Christmas party Ameego ever had.

Sounds like the title of the kind of story you write on the first day back at school after Christmas holidays. Except I’m sure I would have spelled Ameego wrong.  

And when I was nine a ‘party’ still involved everyone bringing cookies from home, and maybe a mix tape with Madonna and Hall and Oates. Classic.

Fast forward thirty-some years, and we were trying to come up with a way to celebrate one hell of a year.

To thank each other for another 365 days of living and breathing the company most of us founded together nearly 10 years ago.

And, maybe most important, to stand out, to have another kind of company Christmas party—not the dinner and dancing fancy affairs of our parents’ generation, but one that would be very much Ameego: fun, meaningful and passionate about the restaurant industry.

That mandate brought us our friend Mike’s restaurant. He owns a specialty craft sandwich shop called King and Bannatyne in downtown Winnipeg – a must visit if you’re ever in town. When Pam asked if we could have his place and his food all to ourselves for our Christmas party two years ago, he said, “Heck Yeah!”

As usual the food was outstanding and a perfect fit for our identity. Casual, focused, refined. Fresh oysters on the half shell, slow roasted pulled pork sandwiches all dressed up, old fashions, wine pairings with a sommelier. Great food, great people, and a great time.

The intimacy of having a smaller restaurant to ourselves made it feel like home, except no one was at home stressed and working up a sweat to make this magical thing happen. Somewhere in the night, we even fit in a few speeches.

And you could feel how this place, this night, was completely perfect for us, because we’re in the business of helping keep restaurants in business.

Looking back, it was probably the coolest Christmas party we’ve ever had.         

What makes a Christmas party great? Creating an atmosphere that is centered around your companies identity. One that mirrors your company’s culture and core beliefs. Here’s a few key points to keep in mind.

1. Make it your own. And make it an expression of your culture.

If your people love your restaurant because of its individuality, its gritty location, its to-die-for meal-caesars, carry that vibe over to your party.

This is a chance to remind your value-minded millenials why they work at your restaurant: You’re cool.

You’ve got this wicked culture. A five-course dinner at a fancy restaurant all dressed up? That’s not you.

So don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole.

2. Make it about the team.

Much like a restaurant, Ameego has a pseudo FOH and BOH as well - the Sales and Marketing team being our FOH, and the Product Development/Support team being our BOH.

The Christmas staff party, then, is a chance to break down that wall. Forget about who is who. Engage with each other, see each as teammates rather than as the guy or girl on the other side of the fence.

At the traditional dinner/dance, unless there are activities staged, most people stick to their shiftmates.

What you want to do, is have everyone forget who is back and who is front.  

3. Make it not break the bank.

You don’t need to spend $200 a person to have a great party.

Sure, indulge in good food and drink, but you don’t need to spend that much, and focusing funds more on activities rather than plates will actually pay off more in the long run (plus staff will even remember the party).

4. Make it meaningful. And fun.

Why do we have staff Christmas parties?  

We have them because we want to thank everyone for showing up and working long, hard hours —and to get them excited about the year ahead.

Your staff want and need that recognition, that feeling that you’re taking care of them, so be sure to take time to talk about achievements, call out your stars, put together a video.

Say it again, We couldn’t have done it without you.

Do something to reflect on the year that passed, and propel them to want to do even more in the year ahead.  

Speaking of teams and meaningful and fun, it’s important, if you can, to tell your whole team live it up. Ideally, you don’t have your own staff working that night – easier said than done in the restaurant industry. But if you can shut the doors a little early on a slow night to get everyone there, it’ll make it all that more special.

So, how can you put these ideas into action to give your staff a really cool Christmas party?

Obviously only you know what your culture is like. Whatever you do focus on an atmosphere, activity, and establishment that fit your identity and you and your team will have a great time.

Happy Holidays!

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Topics: Restaurant Culture