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Downturn Puts Damper on Holiday Parties

Nevertheless, some companies have decided that holiday parties will go on. Sometimes, with the cost of forfeiting deposits, it makes more sense to celebrate. Others calculate that recognizing the season, even if in toned-down fashion, is important for corporate morale.

"When staff gets a company e-mail saying the party is canceled, the first thing they think is that things must be pretty bad. It confirms their fears about job security," said Larry Weaver of Larry Weaver Entertainment, who books music and other entertainment for D.C. area parties. "Your top performers may start sending out résumés."

The companies that often play host to parties are cutting back on their own. Marriott and Big Steaks Management, a restaurant management company, had agreed to hold holiday events at each others' venues for a two-year period. But then the economy started to tank.

Three weeks ago, Big Steaks decided to hold its holiday party for 450 employees and guests at one of its Ruth's Chris Steak House restaurants, thereby saving $25,000.

Marriott, meanwhile, invited its corporate employees to sign up for a morning of serving free meals at D.C. Central Kitchen, then attend lunch at one of the executive's homes in Chevy Chase -- catered by the staff of Central Kitchen. This year's party will cost two-thirds less than last year's, Marriott says.

Throughout the region, a refrain is being repeated among event planners: January will be better.

"We are extremely fortunate in Washington to have the inauguration," Jenkins said. "If we did not have that, it would be a lot more dismal for a lot of businesses."

Many companies, he and others said, are hoping January parties will help save them next year.

"I'll be able to at least break even in the first quarter because of inaugural parties," said Peter Grazzini, head of Landover-based party supply rental company Perfect Settings. "It's a huge deal, because I'm usually half a million bucks in the hole at the end of the first quarter."

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