The Holly-Jolly Office Party

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The holiday season has always been good for the office&emdash;the office party, that is.
If you’ve got the bucks, you can spend $7,000 to buy out the main dining room of a Granite Bay restaurant or up to $150 per person for a premier sushi chef to prepare an exotic holiday menu.

No? Then lunching out with your immediate department might be the way to go.

Whether your budget’s high, low or somewhere in between, there’s no avoiding the No. 1 rule for office parties: The good ones start with the right planning.

Book early, says Susan Watanabe who, with her sushi chef/husband, Taka Watanabe, runs Taka’s Sushi in Fair Oaks. Make sure the planning is done up front.

And one more thing, she says. R.S.V.P.  R.S.V.P.  R.S.V.P.!

The restaurant staff wants to know everything you’ll need, from vegetarian fare and other dietary requirements to wheelchair accommodation.

What you’ll eat, what time, whether your holiday party will include speeches and presentations&emdash;all must be worked out well ahead of the event.

The Head Count

Your final tab starts to take shape with the head count. Most restaurants want you to keep in touch about any ups and downs, and it’s to your advantage to stay on top of this often-moving target.

Depending on the restaurant’s policy, you’ll provide a drop-dead number five to seven days before the event. You can increase the head count (and be charged accordingly) but never reduce it after the deadline. Why? Because, based on the information already turned in, your food has been purchased, prep has begun and staff has been hired.

Sticker Shock

The cost of even a modest banquet will be more expensive than the regular menu’s price for the same food.

You’re paying for the entire package, says Molly Hawks, executive chef of Hawks in Granite Bay. We put on a special staff dedicated to just your group. You’ll have a server and a busser for every 12 people.

At Hawks, a private-dinner menu starts at $60 per head. For $1,200, you can book a room for 20 with menu choices such as Caesar salad with shaved Parmesan, seared petrale sole with grilled artichokes, and apple crisp with vanilla bean gelato.

Too restrained? For $120 a person, there’s a luxury menu of warm belon oyster with leek fondue and osetra caviar, creamy cauliflower soup with Prigord truffles and butter-poached lobster. Pair it with Château Lafite Rothschild Pauillac 2000 for $1,290&emdash;or perhaps something in the $39 range, such as a delicious Château Coufran Haut-Mdoc 2003.

At Taka’s, you can even reserve the chef: Taka will cut up an entire tuna before your eyes. The restaurant’s holiday menu with caviar, Cape Cod blue-fin toro, Santa Barbara sea urchin and Wagyu beef goes for $150 per head.   

Bringing The Party To You

If your office is a car dealership, you’ve been working in the ultimate holiday party room all year. Empty the showroom of cars and it’s ready for Liz Mishler, owner of Bella Bru Cafe & Catering.

She’s booked to take over the premises at two Lexus dealerships with formal sit-down holiday dinners, serving a couple of hundred guests at each. And at Roseville’s John L. Sullivan Chevrolet and sister dealership Roseville Toyota, hundreds of employees and guests will enjoy a festive walk-around of tray-passed hors d’oeuvres, from light to hearty.

Mishler will bring the tables and chairs, thousands of bite-size pieces of food, lots of staff andequipment to clean up. What’s most important for an office party, she says, is to make people forget they’re at the office.

You can change the ambiance of the office even if it’s where you’ve slaved at work all year, Mishler says. But make the food special. For the holidays, it should be something different than sandwiches.

This year, Mishler’s presenting lollipop lamb chops, veal prosciutto meatballs (but not too saucy, to spare your clothes), salmon and crab cakes, and show-stopping desserts like cranberry walnut tart, petit fours decorated like gift boxes, eggnog cheesecake, mini tiramisu and chocolate truffle torte.

The Caterer Speaks

To throw an affair with ease, Mishler says:

• Make sure your office is big enough to accommodate the number of guests. Can banquet tables fit? Is there room for a beverage station? Is there space for the caterer to cook? A place to wash dishes?

• You’ll need a lot of food. Based on the party’s duration, that’s up to 10 different hors d’oeuvres. If you serve just four items and your party lasts four hours, it’s too much of the same food going ’round and ’round.

• For large groups, combine both tray-passed and buffet offerings. If you have 300 guests, server-held trays can’t get to everyone in the crowd and a buffet can get clogged.    

How to save money with a caterer:
* Decorate your own office
* Buy your own beverages