Plan Your Way To A Perfect Party

The holidays in Greater Cincinnati are filled with tradition and special events even in the midst of prolonged record unemployment. Many companies are opting out of hosting glamorous parties and finding other ways to let customers and employees know they are appreciated.

It's also the season of giving, and food banks, shelters, schools and other not-for-profits can use donations and volunteer hours now more than ever. Office collections of canned goods, coats and children's toys can involve everyone in the company and families, too. The best bet is to go to the website of a familiar charity for details.

Now, about those parties. Since planning is key to good events, Cincy went to the experts.

"We're seeing a lot of people going back to the basics," of holiday celebrations says Marsha Burton, director of sales and marketing at Oasis Conference Center. They are choosing facilities like Oasis where decorations are already in place and a planning team can organize an event for the client.

Companies are "more focused on the core" employees, Burton says, and opt for luncheons as a way to thank employees for being part of the team. Luncheons cost less because the food and attendance is cut in half as a result of not including spouses or guests.

Diane Dawson, owner and president of Davis Catering downtown says they are seeing an uptick in events for the season. The first decision to make, she recommends, is the choice of venue. Nail down the location so you can move ahead. Secondly, Dawson says, sit down with your event or venue organizer and determine both the type of party you want to host and how you want the event to proceed. Have your budget at hand so you can make decisions.

"The critical thing in a holiday party is to keep things moving and interesting for people," Davis says. That means decisions about bar service, menus, music, and whether to serve a selection of hors d'oerves or go for a sit-down dinner. Davis operates in the Cincinnati Club where the ornate setting makes decorations optional and that means a cost savings. But, she adds, people have brought in fully decorated Christmas trees, as well. It comes down to preferences, cost and effort.

Savannah Center sales managers Mary Burns and Kathy Rolf offer these tips:

1. Create a budget to guide decisions.

2. Let the venue know what you want to do. At Savannah, the chef will customize the menu to meet tastes and the budget.

3. Be flexible. Save money by having the party on Friday or Sunday instead of the more popular, and expensive, Saturday.

Set sail

One distinctive way to thank employees and celebrate the holidays is to set sail on the Ohio River. Assuming you don't have a yacht of your own, you could rent the 110-foot triple-deck Destiny.

Mike and Dawn Krollmann are excited about their first holiday season as owners of the Destiny. With its grandly appointed and heated staterooms, it's easy to feel special as you glide under bridges and past stadiums and the Cincinnati, Covington and Newport skylines during your party onboard.

Food Options

If people are coming to chat and mingle, consider tables loaded with simple appetizers and wicked desserts. It keeps guests "moving around and mingling, which I think is nice," says Kitty Paschall of the Taft Museum of Art.

If you choose a buffet or dinner, consider menu alternatives for vegetarians or those on special diets. It's important to plan for the timing of the setup, seating and the service to keep the event moving along.

Celebrate with Care

Holiday events more often than not involve alcohol, and planning goes a long way in terms of safety.

Have plenty of options. This can include alcohol-free punch, water and soda. There are lots of reasons your guests may have for not drinking alcohol so provide alternatives.

Alcohol options vary by venue including a cash bar, open bar, up-front fee, wine on the tables or a drink ticket option. Take into account what the employees want or may expect and be upfront if the budget means there's a change from what was offered in prior years.

Place discreet cards on the tables with the numbers for taxi companies. If possible, set up designated driver or cab arrangements.

From here to there

Consider a car service if your event is a distance from the workplace or you will be moving from one location to another or shuttling guests to a residence. Executive Transportation in Covington can identify the vehicle and arrangements that work best for your group.

General Manager Jim Foster says it's a matter of convenience, comfort and safety. The company provides drivers and cars for one person or charter buses for up to 55 people. The fleet includes Cadillacs, 14-passenger vans and 30-passenger vehicles. While some events are booked a year out, Foster says the company can provide service with "as little as a day's notice" or, in a pinch, just travel time to get to the customer.

Cue It Up

Live music is always the way to go if your favorite group has an open date. Disc jockeys can be a great investment, especially if you need someone with master of ceremony skills to move things along. Rely on friends for recommendations and, if time allows, it's best to go and hear them in action.

You can save money, control the playlist and still rock the house with CDs or an MP3 player and the right sound system. Many venues have in-house systems so you can plug and play. Take care to appoint the right person or persons to determine and assemble the music list so that you have a selection of holiday tunes and whatever fits the bill in terms of background versus dancing music.

Deck the Halls

This may be the year to forego lavish trees and floral arrangements. Simple white lights can set the mood for magic. Decorating with evergreens and ribbons can be elegant yet simple. Small votive candles are warm and inviting, but check with the venue operator for any rules regarding open flames.

An entrance decorated with lights and ribbons can set the mood without much effort or expense. Arrangements of brilliant red poinsettias can be decorating highlights and then broken down at the end of the party to be carried home individually by your guests.

Many venues will already be decorated for the holiday season and that can save you money and time.

Just a Thought, Or Two

A number of holidays fall during the month of December. Consider and respect diversity. Perhaps simplifying the
celebration as an annual thank-you or a welcome to the New Year event is in order.

A number of details will define the event. Will spouses and significant others be invited? How about children? These can change the size of the party, the tone of the evening, and figure into venue and menu choices.

Why do it alone? Set up a small group of employees to help make the decisions. Provide the budget and then let them select the venue and other options. Their investment and enthusiasm can make the event more special, as well as ensure the event will be reflective of employee perferences and means of enjoyment.

Would an afternoon event work better and sidestep the rush of events on most holiday weekends?

An afternoon event may be smaller because spouses don't attend and shorter because employees have other obligations. It may be a cheaper but still a festive alternative with no parking hassles and no need for a special holiday outfit.

Whatever type of party results, remember the importance of the event: a time to eat, drink and be merry with the people who make the company what it is all year round. - 

Jolly Good Time

A Very Cincinnati Holiday Awaits

Throughout the Tristate there are dozens of holiday-themed events that serve as perfect party alternatives.

Cincinnati Zoo's Festival of Lights is never the same. The zoo is always adding lights and special features. Mrs. Claus will be telling stories, and you can have your photo taken with Santa. It's the 28th year for the event, named by USA Today as one of the country's 10 Best Holiday Events. Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, 3400 Vine St., Avondale. Open nightly from 5 to 9 p.m., Nov. 26-Jan. 2. $14 adults ages 13 to 61, $9 children ages 2 to 12, $9 senior citizens ages 62 and up. (513) 281-4700 or

Enjoy the Sharon Woods outdoor Christmas light display, Holiday in Lights. More than 500,000 lights strung along a mile's worth of park can be admired from the comfort of your car, making it perfect for visiting grandparents, as well as the little ones. Illuminated, moving Santa joins Godzilla, toy soldiers and the inhabitants of Holiday Castle at the show. Sharon Woods Park, 11450 Lebanon Pike, Sharonville. Nov. 19 through Jan. 1. For details, call (513) 769-0393 or visit

Holiday Fest at the Beach? The summer fun destination is transformed with carriage and pony rides, outdoor ice skating, the Cool Runnings Toboggan Slide and a holiday model train display. The Beach Waterpark, 2590 Waterpark Drive, Mason. 5 to 10 p.m. Fridays, 3 to 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Nov. 26-Jan. 15. $9, youth admission 3-9, $15, general admission 10 & up and seniors $9. (513) 398-SWIM or

Train lovers delight at the Holiday Junction inside Union Terminal with train rides for children, model train displays, toy and craft activities. Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, 1301 Western Ave., West End. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays), Nov. 20-Jan. 2. $12 adults, $11 seniors, $8 children ages 3-12. (513) 287-7000 or

Cincinnati Ballet presents The Nutcracker, the most famous and extravagant ballet adventure of the season. The annual holiday tradition features dancing snowflakes, waltzing flowers, belligerent mice, brave toy soldiers and an unlikely romance. Tchaikovsky's brilliant score comes alive with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Aronoff Center for the Arts, 650 Walnut St., downtown. Show times vary, Dec. 16-26. Ticket prices vary with seating. (513) 621-5282 or

Holiday Lights on the Hill features more than 1 million lights illuminating the sculpture park. Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum, 1763 Hamilton-Cleves Road (Ohio 128), just outside the Hamilton city limits. For details, call (513) 868-8336 or visit

Generations of families take their seats every year for A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse in the Park. Charles Dickens' familiar holiday tale is a treat with the always-endearing little Crachits and the foreboding clanking of the chains as Jacob Marley comes to call. Playhouse in the Park, Eden Park Circle, Mount Adams. Dec. 2-30. Children under 5 not admitted. For details, call (513) 421-3888 or

A Victorian Holiday Village features 90,000 lights, child-sized houses, free hot chocolate and cookies, and free photos with Santa. Visitors are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food donation for the FreeStore Foodbank. Ohio National Financial Services Headquarters, One Financial Way at the Pfeiffer Road exit off I-71, Blue Ash. 6 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 3, 9 and 10. On Saturday, Dec. 4, hours are 5 to 8:30 p.m. Free. (513) 794-6100 or

Even older kids love seeing Santa underwater, behind the SCUBA mask at the Newport Aquarium. The annual Santa's Water
is special because it's so different. Newport Aquarium, 1 Levee Way, Newport, Ky. 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, Nov. 26-Jan. 2 (including Christmas Day). $22 adults, $15 children 2-12, children 2 and under free. (859) 261-7444 or

The Krohn has a live nativity scene which is always worth a quiet walk. Then head inside the Conservatory for Home for the Holidays with brilliant poinsettias and a massive tree decorated with handmade ornaments. Krohn Conservatory, 1501 Eden Park Drive, Mount Adams. Nov. 20-Jan. 2. Free. To check for hours, call (513) 421-5707 or

An Antique Christmas at the Taft Museum of Art shares the elegance of the past. Antique Christmas decorations include miniature toys and Italian glass ornaments. Taft Museum of Art, 316 Pike St., downtown. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, Nov. 5-Jan. 9. $8, $6 for seniors and students, free to those 18 and under. (Free to all on Sundays.) (513) 241-0343 or

Attend a stunning celebration of Medieval pageantry and the nativity story at the Boar's Head and Yule Log Festival. A cast and crew of hundreds, many who return year after year, dress up in elaborate costumes, while a full chorus and orchestra blend traditional folk music with Christmas carols. Look for a colorful procession of Magi (wearing robes originally created in 1943), Beefeater soldiers on the march, yule sprites, huntsmen and shepherds. Christ Church Cathedral, 4th and Sycamore streets, downtown. 2 and 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 1, 2:30 and 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 2. Free tickets are available by calling ahead. Seating is first come, first served (traditionally, the pageant has never turned anyone away, even if there is standing room only). (513) 621-2627 or