Big festive bashes are being eschewed for fear of further riling
public opinion. Some events are being switched to January, when its
cheaper. Some banks are opting for carol concerts to raise money for
charity, while at others it will be prosecco rather than champagne
that is flowing, say event organizers and bankers.
"We can't be seen to be enjoying ourselves," said one senior
Before the 2008 global financial crisis, a specially erected marquee
in London's Canary Wharf offered Christmas parties with sit-down
dinner, free-flowing champagne and a band on stilts for banks such
as Lehman Brothers and HSBC <HSBA.L>.
Five years later, Lehman is no longer and parties for thousands of
employees are rare. Instead, London's financial services firms are
chipping in "modest" sums of between 20 and 50 pounds ($81.63) per
head for Christmas dos, or employees are funding their own
"There's definitely been a real shift change since 2009, when the
recession really hit. There's so much awareness among our clients
about what is decent," said Ruth Lawton-Owen, sales and marketing
director for event firms Blue Strawberry and Table Talk, which
counts major banks and investment houses among its corporate
HSBC, Europe's largest bank, declined to comment on how its staff
will celebrate this year.
Entertainment budgets are often now largely dedicated to clients and
parties must have a clear business rationale.
"Everyone talks about return on investment. The next day somebody's
boss wants to know how many clients did they talk to, who got what
business, what was their feedback. Nobody is throwing money away
anymore," Lawton-Owen said.
Events commonly now take place in January, when companies can
negotiate better deals, she added.
"Where there would be champagne and a full open bar, people are
having prosecco or a mulled wine — it's less lavish... without the
sense of unbridled opulence than there perhaps was previously."
Financial firms are also laying on much more low key dos, like carol
services, often in partnership with a charity, Lawton-Owen said.
[to top of second column]
Christmas parties are not off the menu entirely, however, and a
pickup in Britain's economy has seen some companies loosen the purse
strings to reward employees.
Simon Lockwood, creative director at The Brewery, a City of London
venue whose main clients come from the technology, media, financial
and legal industries, said there had been a significant jump in the
number of parties held this year.
These events are different than in pre-crisis days — street style
food stalls have replaced sit-down dinners — and guests see them as
a treat rather than a right, he added.
"It's not something that's taken for granted any more. People know
that they are having a party because the company is doing better,
and because of how hard they have worked.
"We don't anticipate it (Christmas party business) ever to recover
to the levels of 2006... It will never reach those levels again
because the world is a different place now."
Event planner Lawton-Owen said Russians living in London still had
an appetite, and a budget, for extravagance.
"The sector that is still being incredibly lavish is probably the
Russians that are based in London. They have been in the more
expensive, the very obviously prestigious venues (and parties) are
often quite lavishly themed. Guests might come in fancy dress but
they will also dress the staff."
($1 = 0.6125 British pounds)
(Additional reporting by Anjuli Davies,
Steve Slater and Kylie MacLellan; editing by Carmel Crimmins and
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