Yuletide Office Parties on the Wagon in 1985?

Although one liquor maker optimistically forecast that U.S. employees will be knee deep in corporate cheer this holiday season, most experts say there is less party giving and revelry in offices and factories this year.

A combination of economic uncertainty and widespread concern over excessive drinking has reduced corporate yuletide bashes, according to the Akron-based National Caterers Assn. and the Bureau of National Affairs, a Washington group that sells statistics to businesses.

A Bureau of National Affairs survey of 465 companies found that only 53% will sponsor parties this year, a drop of about 5% from last year's survey.

Those results contrast sharply with the upbeat picture painted by Richard Weiner Inc., a New York public relations firm, which queried Fortune 500 companies about their holiday party plans on behalf of Perth, Scotland-based Bell's Scotch Whisky.

Some 73% of the 200 companies responding to Weiner's survey reported they would hold holiday parties this year compared to 70% last year. However, presumably in a cost-cutting move, fewer companies said they would hold parties in restaurants, hotels or banquet halls this year.

"We disagree with with their (Weiner's) results," said Tony Rubino, president of the National Caterers Assn., which has about 800 members in California. "Of course, they are going to say party giving is up because they (the liquor industry) have been getting a bad rap recently. Every time you turn on the TV there's a commercial about drinking and driving. But the true research shows parties are definitely down, especially where employees (not clients) are concerned."

(Neither the Bureau of National Affairs nor Richard Weiner commented on results of their surveys.)

Rubino noted that manufacturing businesses in the industrial Midwest and the high-technology sector of California's Silicon Valley have curtailed party-giving the most.

Sunnyvale-based Advance Micro Devices Inc., which last year spent about $700,000 to hold a lavish, highly publicized black tie party featuring the rock group Chicago, for example, won't hold a party this year.

"We said as long as we continued to grow we would have bigger and bigger parties," said spokesman Andrew Rothman. "This year we shrunk."

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