The easiest way to breathe new life into a stale holiday office party is to pivot guests’ expectations by booking a new-to-them event venue. Here are five unconventional venue ideas you can book in Illinois that will thrill your guests and make them remember this year’s holiday party for years to come.
1. Office Building Lobby
Not every company has an unlimited budget to bring holiday cheer to its staff—but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck hosting your holiday party in a dull, fluorescent-lit conference room. Here’s a secret: Many corporate office buildings will rent out the building’s lobby for events, such as Builders BLDG at 222 N. LaSalle Drive (where Illinois Meetings + Events Best Of party was held in May this year).
- Rope and stanchion off your area and up the ante with a red carpet so your guests feel like they are VIPs. Ask the building’s security guards to check in guests from your list.
- This event space works great for offices that have tight or complicated employee schedules; simply book a brunch or happy-hour time slot, and everyone will show up.
- Decorate staircases to create height and draw the eyes up, and move around existing lobby furniture and plants to create a welcoming event area.
2. Neighborhood Alleyways
If your employees are an adventurous bunch willing to try the latest trends, consider hosting your holiday party in a trendy street alleyway akin to a pop-up event. Chicago Loop Alliance has created a summer series around this very concept called Activate, and it works beautifully, especially if you have some funds to use before the end of the year
- Research and secure all city permits before picking your city alley.
- An alleyway holiday pop-up event is all about urban lifestyle, so scout the perfect alley that has loads of potential to hang décor and create seating nooks; enough electrical outlets to hang lights and AV, and most importantly, be a quick, walkable distance from your office.
- Take advantage of street access and call on neighborhood food trucks to cater your event. Work with them to see if they can create a special menu for your event and see if you can pay for all catering based on your headcount up front.
- If your budget allows, consider booking a DJ or live entertainment like street performers to keep the excitement going.
- Rent heat lamps and create fire camp coves with comfortable bench seating. Give out branded, cozy blankets as holiday gifts.
3. Outdoor Farm, Community Garden or Greenhouse
Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean your holiday party has to be confined to four walls. Illinois has many incredible outdoor farm spaces, parks, community gardens, glass-enclosed greenhouses and
botanical gardens. Best of all, since winter is low season, you are sure to get great deals on these gorgeous venues. I personally love the idea of using Chicago’s Garfield Conservatory for winter events. With rooms that can trick guests into thinking they are in a warm desert or tropical oasis, it offers a great way for a corporate party to celebrate the holidays in a cheery biodome. For a family-friendly event outdoors, consider ice skating and igloo rentals over at Chicago’s Park Grill.
- Get creative with your holiday corporate party’s theme and pitch a “winter picnic party” out in nature. Illinois farms offer the perfect space to pull off a flawless outdoor winter picnic; some places to consider are Abbey Farms, Heritage Prairie Farm and The Pavilion at Orchard Ridge Farms. Think curated catered picnic baskets for employee families, a friendly networking atmosphere if your client invites customers to holiday events and even mini winter sporting competitions to get bodies warmed up.
- Ensure your guests are comfortable outside and rent heat lamps for designated “heat zones” throughout the event area. If you really want to leave an impression, rent a clear igloo instead of a tent.
- Don’t be afraid to bring the outdoors in if it gets too chilly. Illinois has many historical conservatories and greenhouses that still provide the winterscape feel without guests having to layer up.
- For a fun but low-key holiday party at night, make it an outdoor movie night by renting a large screen and projector setup under the stars. Cater with hot chocolate, Garrett Popcorn and candy to warm bellies from the inside out.
- If your company is big into giving back for the holidays, consider booking a community garden as your venue and work on a CSR (corporate social responsibility) project as a team building exercise with the garden’s team.
4. Distillery, Brewery or Vineyard
Is your office more of a boozy kind of crowd? Consider booking your holiday party at a local distillery, brewery or even a vineyard. Illinois has tons of renowned spirits makers perfect for a speakeasy-themed holiday party. Chicago planners have several local breweries and distilleries that offer group tours like ch Distillery, Koval and Half Acre to name a few. Luckily, there are many across the state to choose from.
- Tack on a tour of the brewery or distillery as part of the holiday fun and work with the in-house mixologist or bartender to create a one-of-a-kind cocktail drink for your event. Koval Distillery offers great cocktail classes perfect for mid-sized groups.
- If gluten-allergies are a concern, be sure to provide gluten-free ciders as part of your holiday party drink menu.
- Many breweries and distilleries have on-site venue spaces with furniture and seating already provided. But be sure to plan a site visit to make sure you have enough space for your party to look full but not overcrowded in the event space.
- Talk to your venue manager to see if you can get samples of their products as party favors for your guests to take home.
- You’d be surprised to learn that Illinois has vineyards, but we do! Lynfred Winery even has a casino party package for last-minute event planners looking to book something different this holiday season.
5. Yoga Studio or Rock Climbing Facility
If sitting down and laying low doesn’t fit your office culture, amp things up with an adrenaline boost by hosting a holiday party where employees get to feel good about themselves and burn some calories before holiday binge begins. Wellness events are gaining popularity, and they are great way to show your team you care about them and their health. Right now, yoga and rock climbing are topping teambuilding fitness trends—why not host your party at one of their studios and get your office ready to tackle the holidays? First Ascent is a great rock climbing facility offering activities for all skill levels. Remember, it’s all about having fun with your coworkers, so be sure to tell your guests to dress comfortably and be ready for anything.
- There’s no better team bonding experience then a group yoga class to bring about some zen before the year wraps up. Plan a group yoga class in a studio with enough space to host a post-session holiday party with a “Wellness for the Holidays” theme.
- Your high-energy employees will require a well-thought-out menu that’s low in simple carbs and sugars and high in protein and greens. Hire a caterer with experience cooking health-conscious menus. * If you want a no-booze holiday party, Seedlip is a great alcohol-free spirit that bartenders can use to create fantastic guilt-free mocktails. This is also a great solution to offering a morning holiday party without a liquor license.
- Hire bussing transportation from your office to the event venue and ensure team bonding occurs throughout the entire event. You’ll also avoid no-shows if you make transportation easier.
About the planner: Selvis Morales, CMP, has been an event planner and experiential strategist serving corporate and nonprofit clients for over a decade, having planned everything from association business meetings to VIP receptions to trade shows domestically and internationally.
Learn more about her company, Devil’s in the Details LLC