Companies trim holiday party spending

A well-attended Committee of 100 event hosted at the University and Whist Club. Photo courtesy of Committee of 100

By Rana Fayez

Gone are the days where companies had grandiose budgets for corporate holiday events. Ever since the economic downturn took place in 2008, companies have been more cautious with event budgets.

Local catering companies have seen the change over the years. Wilmington-based Bachetti Brothers Gourmet Meats & Market, which offers catering, has been affected as well. “(Orders) went down in 2008 or 2009 obviously when the recession hit. When it came back up, people were spending money but it’s definitely not where it used to be,” said Kevin Varrasse, II. He attributed the current lack of spending to unemployment. “Ever since the car plants shut down, Delaware hasn’t been the same.”

Orville Carney of Dover-based An Affair to Remember also has noticed a change over the years in corporate events, but not a total decline. “The office party that used to be held for all is now compartmentalized within individual companies,” he said. “Sometimes we cater events for one or more departments at different times so one big job has now become three small ones.”

In addition to smaller events, free open bars at holiday parties have been replaced with cash bars or a limited number of drink tickets to curb expenses, according to Carney.

Sherm Porter, president of Newark-based Sherm Catering, said that companies are becoming more frugal with their spending, even though they might not have reduced event budgets. For example, if one company has $4,000 to spend on events, it will use that budget to get four or five events as opposed to just hosting one elaborate event.

Companies are trying to find the best value by using multiple sources for their corporate event needs, said Porter. ”Saying that they’re spending less is not a good indicator… catering is discretionary income. A lot of people will go to Costco and shop around or Whole Foods. They’ll pick around and try to cater their own event by using professionals in certain areas.”

He also added that he considers his company to be a “budget” catering company, which is why sales have been increasing recently.

On the venue rental end, the University and Whist Club has also seen a change in corporate event planning. Companies such as Emory Hill used to sponsor an open bar at their annual Surf and Turf dinner with 100 people, the event has since changed to beer and soda.

As opposed to companies holding events of their own, they are sponsoring non-profit events. “They’re definitely cutting back, but they’re also giving back,” said Clubhouse Manager, Kathy Smith. She also mentioned an increase in training and seminar events being hosted. Organizations such as Wilmington Tax Group and Rotary Club are seeing increased event attendance.

Michelle Chynoweth, marketing director at Emory Hill, says that her company’s event spending decreased a bit since the recession but she also mentioned that they were spending smarter. They donate to local non-profits, chamber of commerce and various trade organization events to benefit the business community they exist in. Philanthropic organizations Emory Hill includes in their annual event budget vary from the Mary Campbell Center, Goodwill, Easter Seals, American Diabetes Association of Delaware and March of Dimes. “Chamber Palooza is one of our biggest events, we bring our clients out and everyone benefits at the same time.”

As companies budget for the upcoming year, the memory of the economic downturn will probably push towards more itemized event budgets. Expense reports are becoming increasingly detailed in order to decrease spending deemed unnecessary.  Companies are looking at more creative ways to use their event budgets in order to invest as opposed to spend. 

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