NEW YORK – Many office workers are getting Scrooged out of their Christmas cheer this year, as companies hit by Sept. 11 and the slow economy drastically scale back or nix their holiday party plans.
Some 15 to 20 percent of companies across the country have canceled their holiday party altogether, according to bizbash.com President Richard Aaron. That's a big drop-off from the party-happy days of the late-1990s, when the Internet craze fueled an explosion in company "events."
"Last year, each individual techie firm threw massive blowouts — no holds barred — hundreds of people, live entertainment and Cirque du Soleil acrobats passing hors d'oeuvres," said a female reveler from San Francisco who wished to remain anonymous.
This year is different.
"I went to a holiday party that was thrown as the joint effort of three tech firms," the woman said. The celebration, hosted by Fort Point Partners Inc., an e-consulting firm, ATG, an e-business software company, and Totality, an application and infrastructure manager, was billed as a "Cuban Salsa" extravaganza.
"We were thinking: 'All right, a pier party! It may take three firms this year, but they've still got it going on,'" the woman said. But her dreams of grandeur were quickly squashed.
"All refreshments were on a folding card table, and they consisted of frozen guacamole, packaged cookies, a keg, and cheap wine, plastic jugs of rum, and bottles of coke," the woman said. "And either ice was too pricey — or they were really going with the Cuban theme."
The holiday feeling at many firms is particularly subdued in New York, which bore the brunt of the Sept. 11 attacks.
It was just last year that Razorfish, the once ultra-hot digital solutions provider, hosted a bash for 300 employees in a Wall Street club. But this year just half that number are having a more modest affair at a local bar, with one of the firm's own staffers working as the deejay.
"We have lost a lot of employees, and on Sept. 11 we lost some associates, relatives and former colleagues in the World Trade Center disaster," said Razorfish communications director David LaBar. "People have been going through a lot, so the party will be more subdued in tone."
The West Coast Razorfish offices have also scaled back. The San Francisco and Silicon Valley offices spent about one-fifth of what they spent last year, said LaBar. And the Los Angeles office is going bowling instead of having a party.
The trend isn't isolated to the Web world. Even the ultimate hostess tried to tone down the holiday revelry.
Martha Stewart "suggested" her Omnimedia employees throw their own Christmas gatherings at home, hosting small groups of co-workers and footing the bill themselves, reported the New York Post. Many employees balked, however, so Stewart ended up hosting a luncheon for 600 employees at a Manhattan restaurant instead.
And at Ingersoll-Rand, a manufacturer of commercial equipment in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., their usual month-long schedule of festivities was reduced to lunch.
"We used to have Christmas dinner every year on a Friday evening in early December with a cocktail hour, dinner, dancing — and spouses and significant others were invited," an employee at the company's headquarters said. "Closer to Christmas each department had also had a luncheon. This year we are having the luncheon only.
"At least we still get some kind of celebration," the Ingersoll worker said.