Party Down!

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Don’t look now, but it’s holiday office party season.

The best holiday office parties succeed in two goals: people have a good time; and office relationships are strengthened.

A standard gathering can achieve both of these aims, but with a little creativity, planners can throw parties that make it effortless for guests to enjoy themselves and connect with their co-workers. Here are four office holiday party ideas with built-in fun and camaraderie.

1. Volunteer Together

A lot of people would like to add meaning to their holidays through volunteer work but struggle to find the time. A service-oriented holiday office party provides them with a chance.

“[Volunteering] puts things in perspective,” says Peggy Kirkpatrick, director of the Central Missouri Food Bank. “People are blessed if they have a job right now, and this is a great way to help those who don’t.”

“It’s a great way to give during the holidays, especially when so many people are in need,” adds Mike DeSantis, a Food Bank spokesperson. “You still have your party, but you shift the focus a little, and feel good about helping other people.”

At the Central Missouri Food Bank, office groups of up to 70 can volunteer together to sort and repackage food for distribution and then gather in one of the conference rooms for food, drinks and socializing.

Music and decorations would be welcomed, and the party could be scheduled during the day or evening. For more information, call Bobbie Kincade at 573-474-1020.

Another opportunity for smaller groups of up to eight is a volunteer stint with The Salvation Army at one of the two thrift stores in Columbia. Maj. Kendall Mathews says volunteers could help with receiving and sorting donations and with helping customers. He adds that taking people out of their comfort zone to help others would help knit co-workers together.

“It would build camaraderie, in terms of working together and serving together,” he says.

To find out more about volunteering with The Salvation Army, call Mathews at 573-356-3595.

Offices can find more local service opportunities with an interactive search on the Voluntary Action Coalition’s Web site, www.vacmo.org.

2. Create Together

It’s amazing what co-workers can learn about each other from seeing each other express their artistic sides.

That’s what makes parties at The Mud Room so much fun for office groups, says owner Erin Kespohl. The Mud Room is a contemporary ceramics studio where people create decorative and functional artwork. The studio offers a wide selection of “bisque” pieces — ceramic pieces that have been fired just once — from $2 magnets to $45 platters (most pieces are between $8 and $15). People choose their piece, their colors and their tools, such as stencils, stamps and sponges, and have fun getting creative. Once decorated, the ceramics are glazed and fired again.

Artwork at parties is a great conversation builder, Kespohl says.

“It gives you something to talk about other than work,” she explains. “You work with these people, and that’s what you have in common. But if you see someone working on a spoon holder for their kitchen, you might start talking about the colors of their kitchen or what they like to cook. It really is interesting to hear the conversations and what people learn about each other just based on what they’ve chosen to paint.”

And thanks to some nifty tools and techniques, people don’t have to be budding Van Goghs to enjoy themselves.

“Even if you don’t have a lot of artistic talent, you can still have a great time,” Kespohl says.

Parties can be on site at The Mud Room, or The Mud Room will come to parties for no extra charge (10-person minimum). Groups of six or more get a discounted rate. For more information, visit The Mud Room’s Web site at www.mudroomstudio.com.

3. Take Chances Together

Casino parties are all the rage right now, and EntPro Entertainment owner Greg Hill says he understands why they are so popular.

“It’s an interactive situation,” he says. “When you book a comedian, you sit in the same chair all night. With a casino, you have the opportunity to move around, sit at different tables, meet with other people …

“It’s a blast,” he says.

These parties do not involve real gambling. When people arrive, they receive a bag full of chips worth about $2,000, and use that to make their bets.

“Because it’s not their money, people are able to play like they’ve always wanted to play,” Hill says.

An EntPro casino party comes with all the tables and accessories needed to play black jack, craps, roulette and Texas Hold ’Em, plus dealers and pit bosses. And the tables are real tables, not cheap, fold-up rentals. EntPro can also bring out a background music system, and more atmosphere can be added with different themes, such as a Wild, Wild West theme, a 1960s/ Rat Pack Vegas theme or a 1920s gangster theme. Most common for holiday parties, though, is a simple cocktail dinner.

Often, casino parties will include non-cash prizes people can “purchase” with their “winnings,” or at least prizes for the Top 3 winners.

“Prizes are always fun to win,” Hill says. “This is a good adult time.”

For more information on casino parties and EntPro’s other offerings, visit the Web site at www.entproentertainment.com.

4. Get Out Together

Numerous holiday events take place in Columbia. Offices can take advantage of the festivities with a group outing. One idea would be to meet at a local restaurant for dinner then take in a holiday show. The University’s Concert Series has scheduled such offerings as St. Louis Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”; Big Bad Voodoo Daddy Big Band Swing Party; Wynonna, A Classic Christmas; and more. Check out December’s Best Bets on Page 35 for more event ideas.

Another option for adding excitement is to throw a traditional party but in an unexpected setting, such as Orr Street Studios, which just won the Phoenix Award in the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau’s first Image Awards; the Walters-Boone County Historical Museum, where guests could take in the history museum and art gallery; the city’s rustic Reichmann Indoor Pavilion at Stephens Lake Park; or a facility in the Mizzou Sports Park, the two most popular choices being the Clinton Club at Mizzou Arena and the Lemone Lounge in the Memorial Stadium Press Box. Settings such as these would provide conversation starters, as well as give the evening a special feel.

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