Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Office-Party Shrimp Sales Offer Dipstick on Economy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Office-Party Shrimp Sales Offer Dipstick on Economy

Article excerpt

Platters of pink-tailed shrimp are plentiful at holiday office parties this year - a sure sign that 1996 was a good year for the US economy and the corporate bottom line.

The cherry-paneled Houstonian Hotel in Houston, where corporate parties are in full swing, offers a snapshot of just how good the year has been.

"Generally people spend $35 a person just for food. This year they're spending $55," says Kleibert Estrada, the hotel's catering director. "I can't believe how confident people are." Sales of $275 shrimp platters, he notes, are up 12 percent. A surging stock market and higher corporate profits have prompted many companies to lay down a little more money this year for their annual holiday festivities. That means when holiday revelers join their officemates at banquet halls and ballrooms across the country, they're likely to dine on beef tenderloin rather than chicken l'orange and dance to live bands instead of a D.J. New York's Tavern on the Green is reporting higher bookings, and the restaurant is closed every night between Dec. 2 and 20 for corporate parties. The Houstonian Hotel says companies are shelling out about 25 percent more for Christmas festivities, and bookings are already pouring in for next year. At Ridgewell's Caterers in Bethesda, Md., corporate business is up about 20 percent this season over last. Nearly 8 in 10 companies will hold holiday parties this year - about the same as 1995, according to a recent survey by the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) in Washington. But they're bumping up spending to $28 per employee, up from $21 last year. The move comes at a time when more businesses are cutting back on year-end bonuses and paid time off for holidays. For some, a big gala is a way to try to boost morale. About 36 percent of firms that halt operations between Christmas and New Year's pay workers for those days, down from 57 percent in 1992, the BNA reports. Only 14 percent plan to give bonuses or cash gifts. Corporate spending on holiday parties ranges from as little as $5 a worker to a whopping $560, according to the BNA. At the Four Seasons hotel in Boston, for example, the biggest corporate bash this year is for 500 people and will cost almost $100,000. …

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