Business Owner's Checklist for Throwing a Holiday Party

Small business owners on a tight budget may not be able to afford year-end bonuses for workers this season, but an office holiday party can express appreciation and fall within the budget. But experts warn that these gathering aren’t all about showing employees a good time, owners also need to set an example and protect their business while celebrating.

Charley Moore, founder of Rocket Lawyer, an online legal services center, said many small business owners skip over important details when putting together office celebrations for lack of time and resources. Some details can even get business owners in legal trouble if missed, he said, especially when alcohol is involved.

"A holiday party should be a time to build camaraderie for the business, not introduce new risks," Moore said. "By following a few rules, you can still have fun at the party rather than a lot of liability."

Business etiquette expert Patricia Rossi said planning ahead and letting employees know what is expected of them at a holiday party makes the event more enjoyable for everyone involved.

"Take that stress out of it and make it a nice occasion for everyone," Rossi said.

Here are Moore's and Rossi's tips for making your holiday party a safe, fun success this year.

No. 1: Put everything in writing. Failing to get contracts with vendors like restaurants and DJs in writing is a recipe for disaster, Moore said.

"Also be sure you understand the payment terms," he said. "Always have contracts with these vendors."

No. 2: Make the invitation clear. When sending out invites to your employees, be sure to include the dress code and whether spouses or significant are invited.

If you want to go one step further, Rossi said to consider those who may not eat meat, and let them know on the invitation that vegetarian food options will be available.

No. 3: Understand your liability. According to Moore, if you are having your party out of the office or in house, you are liable for those in attendance. There are often stipulations with third-part venues in the contract regarding alcohol, he said, so be sure to read the fine print.

"You can always talk to an insurance carrier to add a policy for a specific period of time, which shouldn't be too expensive," he said.

One way to ensure safety of those who attend is to consider transportation, as well as serving food along with alcohol.

No. 3: Don't get caught under the mistletoe. Even though you may be out of the office environment, you are still the business owner and leader, Moore said. Things can get inappropriate fast, especially when alcohol is involved.

"Review your employee handbook as you plan the party. Make sure people, and management in particular, understand how to handle instances of inappropriate behavior. This can lead to trouble down the road like a sexual harassment claim."

No. 4: Set an example.  Lead your workers by demonstrating proper party etiquette yourself, Rossi said.

"Make sure you circulate around—don't just hang out with upper management. Also be sure everyone is comfortable, from your janitors to the CEO."

No. 5: Save your receipts. Moore said many business owners can get more than just a good time out of throwing a company party. Most or all of the expenses should be tax deductible.

"As long as it's not overly-lavish, you can really plan the party and use the tax deductibility of a team-building event," he said.