Whether you’re the in-house event planner or you’ve been delegated the task of organising your office holiday party, great summer parties are the result of careful planning as Gwen O’Toole discovers.

The best bit of advice: start early. Venues book out quickly, particularly if you’re keen on a Friday in December. Location also plays a key part as noted by Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre event manager Belinda Crofts. “A venue that is central, easily accessible for guests with public transport, parking, nearby accommodation (walking distance is ideal) and a nightlife to dance the night away post-event are attractive when weighing up options.” Restaurant Associates national sales and marketing manager Adam Smogurzewski says light is also a key component.

“Choose a location with loads of natural light and free flowing air (and water views will gain massive brownie points with your colleagues) and aim for a day time/mid-week event which gives the venue the ability to change over for evening service. You are guaranteed to drive a better deal and secure value adds or upgrades to enhance the event experience.”

When it comes to audio visual, Impact AV Australia marketing director Kath Creel says it’s all about enhancing your brand.

“Whether it is to communicate with clients or your company’s staff, AV equipment and technicians make your events stand out. AV increases communication by amplifying your message, enhancing the brand recognition, and providing enjoyment to your audiences senses. It is important to be clear about your message for the event and work with the audio visual staff to get the right message across to the audience.”

If you’re working with a restaurant or caterer make sure to take into account everyone’s dietary needs. Food is a key part of any party, so think about whether your catering will be stand-up canapés or a seated meal, and whether it’s substantial enough to be eaten with alcohol.

Jayson Heron, Director of Sales at The Star Sydney says a key to make sure you don’t miss any dietary requirements is to make sure you ask guests for their dietary requirements as part of the invitation process.

He says seating configuration will depend on the type of event.

“For a formal setting, a sit-down dinner is recommended, with delicious restaurant quality cuisine over three courses or more. Give guests options with either alternate serve or choice selections if the budget allows. Never scrimp on the wine, you should always serve a quality drop!”

Belinda Crofts says while client entertaining is more suited to sit-down offering with a more formal feel and a three-course meal, stand-up celebrations encourage socialising and the ease of mobility and “are a winning factor for team/staff gatherings seeking a varied menu of canapes and cocktail cuisine easily digestible on the go.”

For drinks, decide whether having a drinks package or paying on consumption is best. This comes down to knowing your group and taking into consideration how many might be driving home, what night of the week your party takes place, etc. If you’re concerned about spiralling costs, narrow down drink choices or organise vouchers to be given to guests so the budget isn’t blown within the first hour.

Adam Smogurzewski suggests leaving out friends and spouses and making it all about getting your team together to celebrate success.

While if it’s a supplier or client event “keep it tame, choose a casual environment where everyone can relax and ensure there is plenty of food to nibble on.”

Rob Frank from Sydney-based Verve Creative says if it’s thought about properly, it can actually be a catapult into a successful new year as it’s a perfect opportunity to recognise, reward or simply have senior management deliver a (brief) speech thanking staff.

“Designed properly, a Christmas party can really set a business up for growth for the year to come.  Subtly, it’s more than a party. Importantly, it’s a celebration of success and the launch pad for the future.

“If each and every guest feels rewarded, recognised and appreciated, they, in turn, will be your company’s greatest sales advocates. They will ‘love’ the company they work for and be enthusiastic to contribute to growth and success.”

Look at what’s already available to you. Does your venue already lend itself easily to a specific theme? Do you need a theme at all? If you have a planner, speak to them about making the most of your budget. If you’re organising solo, speak to the venue’s events team. They’ll know what works best in the space and may be able to assist with furniture or décor that could already be at the venue and available for use.

If you’re a small company, consider venues offering joint holiday parties that are packaged and ready to go. Although they aren’t particularly personalised, if your team is super-small, they can give you the atmosphere of a larger event.

If your budget allows, think about the added extras that make an event memorable; a photographer or photo booth, entertainment, takeaway goody bags and the like.

Remember, the entertainment needs general crowd appeal. Choose something everyone will enjoy such as live music or games (from casino games to carnival games or giant Jenga). Other popular choices are flair bartenders, circus performers or caricaturists. Organising transportation home can also be a bonus perk.

Leading up to your event, create an itinerary of how the entire event will play out. If you have an event planner, they’ll do this with your input. Having an itinerary will ensure everything runs smoothly.

Your itinerary should also include all relevant information and contact details for suppliers and organisers. Give a copy of this to your planner, your venue manager, suppliers, and keep one for yourself.

Confirm with the venue, before festivities begin, what the venue’s cleaning policy is and if a clean-up crew needs to be organised post-event.  Post event, it’s important to follow up with your planner to discuss what went well and what should change next year. Alternatively, get in touch with your guests for some feedback to make next year’s event even better.