Sumo, seaside and The Street

For many firms, the Christmas party is simply a chance to thank staff for their work. But some break away from the traditional end-of-year celebrations.

This summer, London firm Theodore Goddard hosted a summer beach party in its offices. “It was great fun,” says Justine Ashby, head of marketing. “We found no one is around for the Christmas party so we had a summer party.”

From the reception to the dining room, the firm was set up in beach style. A surf simulator, crazy golf, limbo dancing, palm trees and a sandpit transformed the building and, dressed in beach gear, guests tucked into the seaside flavours of candy floss and fish and chips.

“It was all organised in-house and it was a fantastic event,” says Ashby.

Other firms add a sense of mystery. Each year, the Wilde Sapte marketing team keeps its Christmas party a secret from staff until the night of the event. “We don't reveal it until we get there,” says Sarah Hills. “It gets everybody talking and interested to come.”

Last year, the firm themed its event on aviation and staff received a passport in advance. When they arrived at the venue, guests had their passports stamped at each activity, which included a flight simulator. The aim of these parties, says Hills, is to create an interactive event in which everyone can participate. Past successes include a casino night and a Wild West theme.

Olswang swung to the beat last Christmas with a Seventies party at Covent Garden's Rock Garden. Guests arrived in period outfits and were greeted by a present-laden Santa Claus (a partner) and a secretary in a reindeer suit, while a fortune teller, karaoke singing, and the firm's in-house rock band added to the festivities. “It was a brilliant success,” says partner Graeme Levy. “We have a number of things up our sleeve for this year, which we hope will be equally as exciting.”

Davies Arnold Cooper features its in-house band The Limitations at its events. “It keeps coming back due to popular demand,” says marketing director Helen Matthews. “They've already been booked for the party for next year.” And one advantage of getting the firm's staff involved in the entertainment is that it helps guests relax.

Nabarro Nathanson's northern offices have traditionally organised the Christmas events in local hotels. Recently, like Theodore Goddard, they have favoured summer events in less formal settings. Events are organised by each department and this summer the Sheffield property department arranged a barbecue and hired inflatable sumo suits for no-nonsense wrestling bouts.

“It made for a more relaxed atmosphere. No one had to feel they had to dress up,” says Nabarros partner Susan McKenna. “If you had worn the wrong outfit, you could always wear the sumo suit.”

The trend of many regional firms is towards a less conventional, more informal setting. For the past four years, Manchester firm Addleshaw Sons & Latham has hosted an informal party at a local Chinese restaurant. But this year Granada TV studios and the set of Coronation Street have been chosen. “As we get bigger, we find fewer places are able to accommodate us with ease and comfort,” says managing partner Paul Lee. The firm also holds a summer party where guests can invite husbands and wives – Christmas is a staff-only affair.

The issue of whether to include outsiders is a question most firms face. While they want to include as many people as possible, firms find that their size prevents them from being able to invite outsiders. Another argument is that by including members other than staff, guests become overly concerned with their partners and cannot relax.

But not everyone goes along with this. “We like to meet our staff's other halves,” comments Louise Delahunty, a partner at Peters & Peters, which has an annual Christmas party at a local West End restaurant. And for small firms it is possible to retain a degree of intimacy and let people participate when larger firms would struggle to make everyone feel included.

Inevitably, this Christmas most firms will plan the same tried and tested formal party formula at the same old hotels and restaurants. But a few may be inspired to tread a different route and make this year's event a bit brighter.