Scaled-down holidays hard on party industry

December 13, 2008 12:13:52 AM PST
December is the month of holiday parties but in this time of recession, companies are holding back -- throwing smaller parties or none at all.

At the Hunt Littlefield Floral Design Studio in San Francisco, it is busy, but not as busy as it typically is during a holiday season.

There are fewer orders -- and arrangements that have been ordered are much simpler.

"Maybe the year before they did something big and dramatic, an elevated centerpiece and now they're doing a low table centerpiece," florist Neil Hunt said.

People who are throwing holiday parties either have a smaller budget this year or do not want to give off the appearance of being extravagant while people are being laid off left and right -- a noble gesture perhaps, but one that clearly does not help a company's bottom line.

"They say, 'oh, you know I don't want to look like I'm doing that much,' but that affects quite a few jobs," Hunt said. "If you look at the average corporate party there's probably hundreds of people that are doing several days of work out of that."

Hunt Littlefield has only been in business for four years. They have seen tremendous growth month after month but for December it looks like business could be down by as much as 20 percent.

Betty Zlatchin Catering, meanwhile, will likely see a 10 to 15 percent drop this month.

The company's part time workers are hurting big time.

"The only thing that's keeping me busy is the fact I work nights and days, but people who work just days are working shorter days, shorter shifts, less shifts," chef Paul Despotakis said.

This catering company serves high-end food, and while workers are still preparing plenty of fancy dishes this season, they are also preparing much simpler items.

It is up to owner Betty Zlatchin to put together menus that are festive yet affordable. She will suggest fewer dishes and items that can be served with a smaller staff.

"As an owner I've got to figure out how can I sell more and keep our customer base, reach out to other people and make them feel like, 'yes, it's still okay to give a party,'" Zlatchin said.

It is a challenge that people in the party industry have been forced to confront -- turning this season of giving into a season of uncertainty.


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