Holiday party plans fizzle with Wall Street turmoil

Tue Sep 30, 2008 1:05pm EDT
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By Alexandria Sage

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - As the profit party ends on Wall Street, the American impulse to celebrate could lose its fizzle like day-old champagne.

Company parties will still go on this holiday season, say caterers, event planners and others, but many businesses are caught between the need to scale back costs and a desire to reward employees who have been on a rough ride recently.

"Parties need to reflect the mood of the times. It's not going to be a time for big to-dos," said John Challenger, CEO of employment consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which will release a survey on the extent of this season's holiday parties later this fall.

It may be hard to find the festive spirit this year. The Bush administration wants a $700 billion bailout to stem a meltdown in the U.S. financial industry, global markets are in turmoil and one major U.S. bank or investment firm after another has failed or sought a hasty buyout in recent weeks.

When it comes to year-end holidays, that could hit both the lavish galas hosted by once-proud financial firms and the more modest office parties across corporate America.

Party planners have seen few outright cancellations, but attest to widespread caution by corporations that were willing to shell out tens, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for parties in recent years.

Sensing the mood, New York's The World Bar said this week it was slashing its private party prices by a third to $50 a head. The bar, atop the Trump World Tower, still serves a $5 cocktail called the "Economic Punch" that made its debut in 2002.

At Gotham Hall, a premiere New York venue, some 5 percent to 10 percent of the clients are scaling back their party plans, whether shortening party hours or cutting back on flowers, said Managing Director B. Allan Kurtz.   Continued...