The holiday season is a time that many people spend shopping for the perfect gifts, decorating their homes and planning trips to visit loved ones, but the stresses of planning a corporate or family holiday party can stand in the way of celebration.

Holiday parties can be tailored for intimate family gatherings or large corporate events to celebrate the end of a good business year and to hand out bonuses. Holiday parties can have a theme, feature live music, have holiday-related games to allow guests to interact with one another, or offer a buffet with various items to suit different tastes.

It may be simple for most to remember the basics, such as preparing the guest list and choosing the right venue, but for those who want to plan a more intricate party, the decisions can be overwhelming.

For most people who take on the role of the corporate or family holiday party planner, the goal of the party is typically centered around allowing guests to enjoy the holiday season, celebrate the year that has passed and prepare for the one ahead. No matter the goal of the party, the planning process can be managed easily and individuals with expertise in party planning, catering and hosting know how to plan the right holiday party.

What should be expected when planning a holiday party?

Susan Lagarde, special events manager at Dave & Buster’s: “First of all, they should be flexible and they should have a good idea of what they would like to do as far as a date or their preferred date and definitely their potential guest count so we can steer them in the right direction of availability. I say flexible because many places, such as Dave & Buster’s, does early booking promotions, too, where if they book by a certain date on a certain day and time, there are some nice discounts for and perks for those that attend. If you are doing a planning committee, try to keep the committee small, because everybody is going to have their own opinions and it starts to get a little complicated. It is usually best to have one key contact within that committee communicating with the event planner, just to keep the communication to one person. That way, things do not get lost in the different emails and the different phone calls.”

Aaron Chamberlin, owner and chef, St. Francis and Phoenix Public Market Café: “When I have a party at my house, the biggest thing is to have all preparation done ahead of time, so that when the party starts, you can be engaged in the party. That is where a lot of people go wrong: They do not do enough prep ahead of time.”

Greg Wirth, account director for catering at The Phoenician: “Some of the best advice is to pad your budget by at least 10 percent; you will thank yourself later. Undoubtedly, you will find yourself a few days from the event needing or wanting to add things here and there. The freedom to do so without concern because you allocated dollars just for that reason will alleviate a great deal of stress. Additionally, when detailing your needs, consider the ancillary costs for things such as bartenders, valet for your guests, signature drinks, audio visual/lighting, centerpieces and entertainment. Continually adding to the list of costs can slowly creep into and affect that overall bottom line.”

How can a holiday party be kept within a budget?

Lagarde: “Not every party needs to be a Friday or Saturday night in December. Individuals get busy – it is a busy time of year for them at work and outside of work — so they do not always appreciate an event on a Saturday night when they have holiday shopping to do or when they have their children. As far as the budget goes, it is OK to have a budget. They should not be intimidated by that. A skilled event planner will be able to customize something for you as long as it is realistic. Some event planners at holiday season tend to send over the more expensive packages, but if you do your due diligence and call and see what else they have to offer, there is something customizable for everyone.”

Chamberlin: “I look at what kind of food I serve. Do not buy filet and lobster if you need to keep costs down. Buy things that you can afford. Vegetables are a great way to go. You can use them in so many different ways, such as roasting and pureeing to create a dip. Sticking with heavy appetizers and going light on the main courses is also a great way to keep costs down.”

Wirth: “One of the first questions we ask our clients is, ‘What type of experience would you like your guests to have?’ So much is decided from this one response. Ask yourself this question and write out the wish list for all items to be included — entertainment, décor, lighting and menus – along with anything else that comes to mind. You can easily pare down and button up the list as you move along in the planning. Find out what your venue or hotel is already providing, which also helps in slimming down costs. Stay with the basics regarding food and ambience. Your guests will provide the rest.”

How can someone plan a last-minute holiday party?

Lagarde: “(Dave & Buster’s) is huge, so we have a lot of flexibility, but the smaller venues may run out of those key spots. People should call and see what there is rather than referring to an email that was sent. Unfortunately, holiday season does bring some higher prices, but again, there is something for everyone. At least at Dave & Buster’s, we customize a lot. There will be some other venues that are strict in their guidelines, their pricing, but they should just really be open to a lot of different things and gathering different information.”

Chamberlin: “My philosophy is I do what I can up front and when the party happens, I just let it go. Once the party gets going, there is nothing you can really do. This goes back to preparation — prep as much as you can. Be flexible and do not worry so much about the details, worry about the outcome. The outcome is that you want to have a good time with friends, enjoy good drinks and have good food. No one will remember the little Christmas trees on the table, or the bows on the chairs. Focus more on having fun, less on the details.”

Wirth: “Many hotels offer holiday packages, which may include items such as centerpieces, candles, linen and other ancillary décor. When researching venues, ask if they are currently running a promotion and see how much is already taken care of for you. In the last-minute planning, the question regarding the type of experience may end up being, ‘What can I minimally do that will give me the most bang for my buck and the best experience for my guests?’ With this approach, you eliminate a lot of the bells and whistles and focus on creating an environment where guests have fun with one another, rather than relying on a lot of décor or flashy features for enjoyment. In the end, it is the connection to one another, the laughter and memories created that resonate the most.”