WASHINGTON – The number of office holiday parties is up this year but Maryland caterers and corporations say they are not likely to be the lavish events of the late 1990s, as businesses keep a wary eye on an economy still in recovery.
“Our company has been quite strong this year and bonuses will reflect that strength,” said Melody Jones, head of human resources for financial services provider T. Rowe Price. “But it (our holiday party) will be the same as last year.”
The Baltimore-based firm is typical of companies that are proceeding cautiously despite recent signs that the country’s economy may be improving, say both economists and party planners.
That trend is being evidenced nationwide, according to a November survey of 484 business people by Vault, a New York-based hiring consultancy. It found that roughly 62 percent of the firms it surveyed across the country plan to hold holiday parties this year, up from 55 percent last year.
Forty percent said they would spend the same as last year; 23 percent plan to spend less and 17 percent plan to spend more. The rest said they would not have a party or could not detail expense levels.
Still, Maryland caterers said they welcome the increase in volume this holiday season.
“Business has been great,” said Susan Lacz Niemann, CEO of Bethesda-based caterer Ridgewells, of this year’s holiday season. “Our business is up 15 percent over last year and we’ll be hiring more to handle the increase.”
Lacz Niemann said both individuals and corporations were hosting more parties this year, but that they are not necessarily spending more.
Absolute Party, a Severna Park party supply firm, also has seen growth this year, according to office manager Jennifer Miller.
“Thanksgiving this year was the biggest we’ve seen,” Miller said. She added that the firm, which operates in the Annapolis area as well as the Eastern Shore, feels that Christmas business this year will be much better than last.
This holiday season has also been good to High Point Farms & Blue Ridge Catering of Clarksburg, which typically does the bulk of its business in the summer when it plays host to barbeques. But it has seen an increase in catering orders for holiday parties.
“We’re doing more (business) than we normally do this time of year,” said Matthew Phelan, general manager of the Clarksburg caterer.
Companies have and continue to “work off the excesses built up during the 1990s through cost cutting such as layoffs, but they recognize the need to provide that year-end entertainment,” said John Hopkins, associate director for applied economics at Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute.
Hopkins also noted that companies do not feel the need to throw lavish parties as they once did before the recent recession set in.
“During the late 1990s, extravagant parties were needed to keep people on board,” Hopkins said. “But companies now have the leverage. They can hold back.”
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