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LONDON (Reuters) - Team bonding is the theme for Christmas parties in London's financial district this year as managers tone down the annual knees-up and label it as staff development.
Fearful of a public backlash if they revived the opulent festivities of the pre-crisis era, some banks and financial firms are opting for smaller, quirkier events that can be accounted for as a learning activity rather than just a staff perk.
Treasure hunts, cocktail making, go-karting and wine tasting are some of the things companies are laying on for employees.
Before the 2008 crisis, a specially erected marquee in London's Canary Wharf offered Christmas parties with sit-down dinner, free-flowing champagne and a band on stilts for banks such as Lehman Brothers and HSBC.
"Every year budgets go down," said Pascale Miller, an event executive at London-based Precipuus Events, which organizes parties for City firms such as HSBC Private Bank.
"But because it's part of team building and because it's often a learning activity, they can mark that off in the budget as something separate from pure entertainment."
Informal venues such as pubs are being chosen over ballrooms and the dress code is more sportswear than black tie.
"We're seeing a lot more requests for something a little different, like ping pong (table tennis) -- more team bonding activities," said Nick Telson, co-founder at website and events company DesignMyNight.com.
"It's about team interactivity rather than finding a really special venue," he added.
Some companies, however, haven't turned their back on holding bigger bashes.
With a performance from Diana Ross, privately-held trading company CMC Markets threw one of the season's most talked about events, which doubled as its 25th anniversary celebration.
"Everyone here has made a massive contribution to CMC's success - that is why this celebration is so important," said Chief Executive Peter Cruddas.
"Introducing Diana Ross to lead the celebrations was amazing and something I hope everyone at CMC will always remember."
Credit Suisse's London-based investment bank entertained around 200 staff in the Grade II listed Banking Hall in the City, while its private banking division headed to the Four Seasons in Canary Wharf for canapes and drinks.
Credit Suisse declined to comment.
Other industries have picked up the mantle from banks and asset managers, particularly the luxury goods sector and food companies, said Ruth Lawton-Owen, sales and marketing director for event firms Blue Strawberry and Table Talk.
"This has been our best ever year. There is definitely confidence coming back," Lawton-Owen said.
"The market is feeling comfortable to entertain again, but there is a sense of responsibility that has remained."
Additional reporting by Anjuli Davies and Freya Berry Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Vincent Baby