NEWPORT NEWS -- Neither Desert Shield, nor possible recession nor lagging retail sales will keep Hampton Roads businesses from holding Christmas parties for their employees this year.

But many companies are cutting back on expenses or asking employees to share in the cost, said managers at area hotels who book corporate Christmas bashes.

And they said that companies worried about the potential liability of an employee driving home while intoxicated are cutting back on alcohol at parties and making employees pay for drinks, instead of providing free alcoholic beverages for party goers.

All the companies contacted by the Daily Press in a survey said they planned to hold their holiday parties as usual this year, regardless of economic uncertainty.

"We're going to have a big Christmas party this year, just like we always do," said Tonya Weaver, public relations coordinator at Canon Virginia Inc., which will hold its party at Hampton Coliseum Dec. 21 for 1,100 employees and about 700 guests.

"We're not going to cut back anything; we're not even cutting back on our Christmas cards," said Medford Ramey Jr., spokesman for Riverside Regional Medical Center.

But hotel sales managers said many clients began cutting their Christmas party costs last year and are continuing that trend this year.

"Things were bigger" several years ago, said Robert Boulter, director of sales for the Newport News Omni Hotel. "Some of the larger players in the area used to throw great big parties, and they just don't do that anymore. Big and extravagant is not something that we see. It used to be a big reward, the Christmas party, but with companies cutting back that's one of the first areas" to go.

But there still will be parties. In fact, Boulter said the 18-month-old Omni in Oyster Point Park is booked with parties every Thursday through Sunday until Dec. 23.

"We're still getting inquiries" from companies, said Boulter. "Almost 100 percent want to do something for the holidays, even if it's smaller."

Desert Shield, the military mobilization that has sent more than 30,000 military men and women from Hampton Roads to Saudi Arabia, has affected one group of traditional Christmas party goers: "We used to see more military groups," Boulter said.

Many companies that once hired live bands now hire cheaper disc jockeys and recorded music, according to D.C. Auman, owner of Virginia Beach-based Southern Orchestras Corp., a 35-year-old booking agency.

"The norm was to have a live band, the exception was to have a DJ; now it's pretty much gone the other way," said Jonathan Bogatay, regional sales manager of the Holiday Inn Hampton-Coliseum Hotel and Conference Center.