Wichita companies spending more on holiday parties

12/18/2012 2:59 AM

12/18/2012 3:00 AM

That cup of Christmas cheer is yet another sign that the local economy is slowly recovering.

Companies locally are spending more on holiday parties than last year, say local caterers and others who serve holiday revelers.

It’s a sign that companies are feeling a little more comfortable about the future and are more interested in trying to keep their employees happy.

Betzen Trenching, which drills holes for electrical lines for utilities and other customers, had its holiday party last week.

It hasn’t always been easy to find the money for a party, but it is important to have one, said company owner Russell Betzen.

“Two years ago I had to kick in quite a bit of money, but I never considered not doing it,” Betzen said. “They have given their all during the year, and it’s just nice to sit back and relax, meet their better half and enjoy each others’ company.”

The company party was held at Eberly Farms in west Wichita, which has seen an overall increase of 15 to 20 percent over last year, said Judy Eberly. The company has seen good increases in all three lines of business: parties held at Eberly Farm, parties catered at the company’s location and, especially, its pre-ordered turkeys and hams.

“It’s definitely a reward and recognition for those who have stuck with them so we try to be extra careful in showing that whoever is paying the bill wants to convey that,” she said.

The up trend corresponds with a recent national survey by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which shows that more than 83 percent of the firms surveyed are planning year-end holiday parties this year, up from 68 percent in 2011.

While employment hasn’t risen that quickly since 2009, corporate profits rebounded strongly and continue to set new records. As companies have continued to ask existing employees to do more, this is a traditional way of thanking workers for their hard work.

However, the survey results show employers haven’t quite recovered to pre-recession levels of 2007 when about 90 percent of companies surveyed held holiday functions.

Bob Scott of Prairie Pines near Maize, said revenue from corporate holiday parties at their dinner theater are up about 20 percent from last year.

It helps that they have expanded the theater and added a liquor license, he said.

But it’s also a sense that companies are doing better.

“There’s more optimism that companies are doing well,” Scott said.

And Joe Schlimm, owner of the Bar’s Open, which supplies bartenders for functions, said he has seen more company functions moving from private houses to locations such as the Mid-America All-Indian Center. That tells him that there are both more people to serve and more money to pay for it.

But, he said, his business never really fell off during the recession.

“People will spend money on certain things,” he said, “and parties and alcohol is one of them.”

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