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Economic Woes Aren't Necessarily Crashing The Holiday Party

With economic recovery all but stalled this year, many companies are cutting costs. But 68 percent surveyed by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray, and Christmas say they're having holiday parties for their staff. And most will stick to the party budget from last year.

The Cleveland Indians have incorporated their annual employee's function into their "Indian Snow Days" event. Sarah Lehrke, the Indian's vice-president of human resources, says she expects more than 250 to attend a buffet lunch in the Terrace Club.

"Prior to that, we have done a brunch and then we would actually close the office and send everybody home for the rest of the day as a surprise," says Lehrke. "We did that for a couple years, and previous to that, we would actually do holiday parties in the evening in the Terrace Club."

Lehrke says the buffet lunch is 5 to 10 percent less expensive than previous holiday events. Not that the Indians are alone in keeping an eye on the company purse strings.

"Companies are still a little shy of extravagance," says Charles Klass, executive vice-president of Executive Caterers in Cleveland. He says many big clients are coming back after a three-to four year hiatus, though many are waiting until the last minute to book a catered party. And they're scaling back on the number of guests, the amount of food, and entertainment.

Klass has a few theories on this cautiously festive approach.

"I think that the companies that were in layoff mode didn't feel it was appropriate to be out partying at the head office, while cutting back at some of the plants and factories," he says. "The companies are also realizing that the people that they have kept are carrying a pretty heavy workload. Everybody's been asked to do more. It's a nice way to say "thank you" for what's been a difficult year for a lot of people. A difficult two years, actually."

Mansfield-based Gormann Rupp has scaled back in recent years. But the pump-maker is renting a convention center for this year's Christmas luncheon for their 500 workers. Construction-supply company Baker Sand of Burbank has axed its holiday party altogether, and is instead giving its ten employees $500 gift cards for a local supermarket.

Meanwhile, the Days Inn and Suites of Richfield and the Lupus Foundation are co-hosting a holiday party for businesses that can't afford their own yuletide shindig. Judy Picone, the Days Inn and Suites' director of sales and catering, says so far they've about eight companies signed on. She adds the cost is less burdensome for small businesses.

"Everybody's budget is tight, so we decided that we're going to give everyone a little bit of a break this year. We're providing the food, and the DJ."

But at least one company is bucking the trend by not scaling back. The Great Lakes Brewing Company actually added twenty new positions this year, and will be spending more on their holiday party than in 2010. Michelle Belviso, the HR manager for the Cleveland-based brewer, says they've increased their party budget this year by about 20 percent.

"To allow for a DJ, some additional food options, and some additional dollars for raffle prize baskets."

However, due to increased holiday production, Great Lakes Brewing staff will have to wait until mid-January before they actually get to enjoy their holiday party.