12/21/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

License to Party

What is going on in the event world? How many cancellations can we hear about without thinking that the economy is really going to tank? Its one thing for GM or AIG to cancel their events, but take a moment to Google canceled holiday parties nyc and read..."Companies axe holiday parties and blame the economy". Marc Jacobs, ABC News, 'battered' Morgan Stanley, Hearst, News Corp, Viacom, UBS, to name just a few, all canceling their holiday party plans.
The food service industry supports a very broad range of employees, creating jobs for thousands of workers. No bail out for the hospitality industry -- so maybe we can look at what a party can mean or accomplish from a different perspective.

Here's a lesson from the next generation:

A young man of privilege is approaching his Bar Mitzvah. Once a rite of passage with all the proper trappings (from music to games to gifts; with food and beverage in appropriate themes with a touch of excess) the celebration now merits second and third thought. What looks right -- what feels good? If today 'I am a man,' then what are my obligations?

In companies citywide, holiday parties are on the chopping block. Cancellations begin to snowball. "Its not the money, it just doesn't look right," a comment echoed in boardrooms across the city.

And once the word is out that holiday parties are out, it becomes expected, if not fashionable, to cancel.

Our Bar Mitzvah boy on the other hand, wants to give while he gets and has planned an ambitious philanthropic activity -- apropos a young man coming of age with maturity and means. The plan is to organize a pre-Thanksgiving dinner in Brooklyn for 500 needy New Yorkers. It will be local families with children. Last week, he was in the kitchen office with the purchasing agent ordering the food, which will be prepared in our professional kitchen.

Roasted Sliced Turkey Breast

Giblet Gravy and Stuffing, Fresh Cranberry Sauce

Mashed Potatoes, Candied Yams

Peas and Carrots

Tossed Salad and Collard Greens

Sliced Bread and Soft Rolls

Pumpkin Pies, Apple Crisp, Whipped Cream

Coffee, Tea, Hot Apple Cider

Company after company cancels their holiday party, walking away from deposits of five or six figures. But like the Bar Mitzvah boy, some companies have realized that parties are not about glitz and glamour. It is about employees, who make companies great, whose morale is more important than ever. So the holiday party is being discretely moved in the office or homes. Comfort food with holiday flourishes replaces high-end selections. A taste of home, simple menus that remind us of simple times.

The most important ingredient is being together with co-workers as a community. Things happen around food -- people talk, listen, share and can imagine surviving whatever lies ahead.

Traditional Roasted Turkey with Fresh Popped Cranberry Sauce and Rough Country Mustard

Mixed Greens Salad with 100-Mile Vinaigrette

Whole Wheat Pasta with Wild Mushrooms, Oven Dried Tomato and Shredded Manchego Cheese

Quinoa Salad with Dried Cherries and Chopped Fennel

Apple, Pear and Pumpkin Pies with Freshly Whipped Cream, Holiday Cookies, and Mini Cupcakes

Our Bar Mitzvah boy and his classmates will load the truck and travel to Brooklyn, where they will decorate and set up the dining room, then heat and serve the meal. Some of the kids have a band and will perform for the guests. Volunteers will provide other forms of entertainment. At the end of the evening, the kids will clean up before leaving for home. As they get on the bus, they will take home images of families and lives they might not have seen before.

For the Brooklyn Community, it will be a night that nourishes body and spirit. Two divergent communities come together -- around food -- to celebrate a holiday and a rite of passage, while fulfilling the obligation to care for each other.
What can we learn from this young man? Food and eating together builds community. The true challenge is not to ignore the notion of a holiday event but rather to think can we transform the holiday gathering into something meaningful.
One company took the party budget and split it in half. They planned a modest employee event and with the balance, will subsidize the catering for a not-for-profit organization they support.

A large not-for-profit will temper the tone of their fundraiser with re-usable centerpieces (that will be planted in a community garden), and will serve a two course meal instead of three courses.
Creative options abound.

* Reduce your menu and donate half to a food pantry. Better even, take a group of co-workers and serve the meal yourselves.

*Keep it simple with basic beverages and simple food offerings.

*At your party, ask everyone to bring cans of foods that can be donated.

*If you have a kitchen at the office (or go rent a kitchen), cook or bake together - make cookies and donate them to a shelter.

*Build an event around helping others. Do it as a group and build esprit des corps for employees. They will feel proud.

Remember that eating together is a powerful tool. Turn the concern that it doesn't look right around 180 degrees. It might be the best money you spend.