Our city is an innovation hub, right? It’s got all of these cool, happening, unique startups and businesses loaded with progressive, smart, hip people.
So how do they do the annual holiday party? (Um, fruitcakes seem to be out …)
Trampoline dodgeball, anyone? Renting out a dive bar?
The holiday party is evolving, experts say. Millennial employees are seeking an active, upbeat kind of a happening rather than the predictable, staid, corporate celebration.
Hookit, a Sorrento Valley company that tracks sports stars’ social media popularity, threw the trampoline dodgeball holiday party.
“You’d be amazed at how hard and fast you can throw a dodgeball while jumping on a trampoline,” said company CEO Scott Tilton.
Hookit went this route because it wanted to spice up the party thing.
“It seemed like every year we were doing the same old dinner-and-drinks-type event,” Tilton said. “We wanted to do something fun and active that got everyone’s blood pumping and competitive juices flowing.”
Last year, the company had a paintball party. This year, it’s considering bubble soccer. Players don giant, inflated bubbles, which allows them to smash into opponents fearlessly.
Hookit employees come up with ideas, and they decide after Thanksgiving what kind of party to throw, Tilton said.
“We definitely feel it’s super important,” he said. “It just gets everyone outside the office, having fun doing something new together. It’s a great way to let people blow off some steam too, without it having to involve a typical party or happy hour.”
Underground Elephant, a digital marketing firm in the East Village, rented out Nunu’s, a popular dive bar in Hillcrest, for a Hipster Holiday party last year.
One year, the company brought in real snow to add seasonal ambiance. Another time, it created a forest of Christmas trees in a warehouse.
“While our parties have grown in size over the years due to our growing employee base, the creativity and innovation has been there since the beginning,” said Lauren Alexander, executive vice president of marketing. “With each event, we try to get more creative and create an even better experience for our employees.”
The company is big on parties. It recently celebrated the grand opening of its new headquarters with a Prohibition-themed party, which included handcrafted cocktails served in a speakeasy-style bunker.
Smaller parties are held during lunchtime and at company meetings, Alexander said. They have featured Turkish belly dancers with snakes and Scottish bagpipers.
“We have also hosted a lip-sync battle for our employees,” she said.
The holiday party is not as widespread as it was in years past. Last year, a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 65 percent of companies planned to throw holiday parties.
Thirty percent said they would not, which was a 13 percent increase from 2012. Why? It could be a lingering effect from the recession, when companies cut back because of financial pressures.
“Holiday parties never disappeared,” said Sam Behnam, owner and chef of Toast Catering. “But people and companies are definitely price conscious. Of course, everybody says they have a budget to work with, but everybody’s budget is also different.”
December is usually one of the busiest months for his business.
“The second weekend in December seems to be the date where everyone wants to book their holiday party,” Behnam said. “Each year I have to turn down so much business just because I don’t have enough staff to book every request I get.”
The holiday party remains rooted in popular culture. Who hasn’t heard stories of some of them getting out of hand and causing embarrassment?
The website Business News Daily reported on a survey done by The Creative Group that sought to find 20 crazy holiday party stories.
One of them: A person rode naked on a Ferris wheel.
A movie starring Jennifer Aniston called “Office Christmas Party” is scheduled for release on Dec. 9. It’s not a drama. Aniston plays a no-nonsense businesswoman about to close her brother’s branch office. He throws an epic holiday party to win over a key client and save the day. One scene from the trailer: A reindeer is drinking from a toilet. Yes, there is much booze and debauchery, apparently.
Sure, alcohol is still a part of the party, but so are more original concepts. For instance, THEY Improv is busy this time of year. It helps companies put together parties featuring improv comedy, murder mysteries or game shows.
“We get calls from companies saying they want to do something different,” said owner Todd Rice. “Different is normal for us.”
His company does events nationwide, including San Diego. He has a stable of actors and comedians to draw from.
“They do weird things to get people engaged,” he said. “The reaction we get is amazing.”
Mirum (formerly Digitaria) a marketing and advertising company with an office in San Diego, hired THEY Improv one year to put on an Old West-style murder mystery.
The company annually throws big, themed holiday parties, said Alex Benjamin, office manager. One year, they celebrated with a Roaring ’20s theme and rented out the El Cortez. Last year, as a joke, they went formal, with a black- (or white-) tie event. Workers normally dress casually at the office, so it was out of their element for many. Some wore tuxes and some wore black T-shirts, he said.
“The hardest part is to one-up the year before,” Benjamin said. “The expectations are high.”
But this is a big deal. People come to work for lots of reasons, not just a paycheck, he said. They seek human connection, increased self-worth, fulfillment.
“It’s about creating a certain culture,” Benjamin said. “When you work with people you enjoy, they want to stick around and be part of that team.”
Regardless of the concept, just be aware that holiday festivities can be dicey.
The website Business Insider noted that one U.S. company held its London Christmas party at Madame Tussauds, the famous wax museum.
One problem: Partiers vandalized a few of the pieces. Two were missing heads, and Jennifer Aniston lost a finger.