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Companies Include Kids In Holiday Fests

Most of the time, holiday office parties are pretty staid affairs with dinner, dancing and cocktails at a local hotel. And they’re clearly adult affairs.

That’s starting to change a bit as more companies are including children in their holiday-time festivities. Think of it as a Christmas-time extension of family-friendly personnel policies.

“We like to include the entire family,” said Jon Gibson, principal with BCS Systems, a computer integration company in Houston. “We have a lot of really great employees who work late and make a lot of sacrifices.”

BCS Systems scheduled its traditional turkey and dressing buffet luncheon for the Friday before Christmas so school should already be out for most of the children, Gibson said.

Doreen Kaplan, president of the Acute Catering Co. in Houston said requests to include children started to trickle in a couple of years ago.

During the past few years, attendance at holiday parties has been lower than party planners expected, Kaplan said. They did some brainstorming and wondered if people weren’t coming to parties because they didn’t want to be away from their children.

As fun as they sometimes are, holiday parties can be a burden - especially during a time of the year when you want to spend more time with your family.

Kaplan said she caters four to five events a night during December and sometimes, she said, she sees the same people at three of them.

Since adding children, many clients report a higher - and happier - turnout, Kaplan said.

Including children is a dynamite idea, said Houston etiquette expert Annie Cater.

But the tone of the party has to change, said Cater, whose company is At Table with Annie Cater. There can’t be any booze and activities have to be child-oriented, she said.

Most companies follow those unwritten rules.

For example, to make the children feel special, companies prepare special treats for them.

Kids always like pizza. So an oil company that will host a party at a local museum will include a pizza station, Kaplan said.

At the BSC Systems’ party, there’ll be plenty of chocolate confections.

There’s another great reason to include the kids: the financial benefit.

Since many companies don’t want to mix liquor with children, Kaplan said, that cuts the bill dramatically - more than enough to pay for the cost of the kids’ meals.

Susan Kalich of MidCon Gas Services Corp. said she’s been getting nothing but kudos for planning a holiday party last year that included children.

One of the company’s marketing divisions hosted the holiday party at the Houston zoo, which featured gingerbread house construction.

The caterer built the basic foundation of the sugary homes and then each family decorated their own with frosting, gumdrops and other kinds of candies, said Kalich, administrative coordinator at the natural gas marketing company.

Some employees who don’t have children took their grandchildren or nieces and nephews, she said. Kalich said she and her husband had a wonderful time decorating their house.

“You tend to loosen up,” she said. “You don’t feel silly.”

Kalich said having children at the party makes it more fun.

“You don’t have a chance to get stuffy,” she said.

And it’s more cheerful, she added. People can talk about other things besides work.

Kalich figures the turnout was greater because of the family atmosphere.

Most people live in the suburbs and need an incentive to drive back on the weekend, she said. It’s easier to spend the time when it’s a family activity.

The marketing department had its family get-together last month instead of at Christmas time. Families decorated pumpkins at the zoo.