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AT THE OFFICE: Firms scaling back holiday parties

DETROIT -- This year's office holiday party could feel low-profile, low-budget or both. Potlucks, smaller gatherings in private homes or lower-cost catered parties at the office instead of a restaurant or hotel will be more common. "It's the type...

DETROIT -- This year's office holiday party could feel low-profile, low-budget or both.

Potlucks, smaller gatherings in private homes or lower-cost catered parties at the office instead of a restaurant or hotel will be more common.

"It's the type of environment where even the companies that have the money to do them are not doing them," said Matt Prentice, CEO of the Trowbridge Restaurant Group in Bingham Farms. Mich.

Prentice said bookings for large catered events at hotels were way down, but small event bookings remain strong.

Fewer companies nationwide are planning holiday parties this year -- 62 percent compared with 77 percent in 2008, according to a survey by Chicago-based Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

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Even Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced recently that she was canceling parties for legislators and media, but would host parties for staff and friends.

But even the remaining events would be scaled back significantly despite the privately funded nature of the events, said Liz Boyd, Granholm's spokeswoman.

"The bottom line is the cost. The cost and at a time when we know people across the state are struggling," Boyd said.

Some firms are scaling back, but not doing without holiday cheer entirely. At Taubman Centers Inc. in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., workers are invited out for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres after work. And while it is cut back, the event continues.

"We believe this type of an event is important as it allows people to socialize across departments," said Taubman spokeswoman Karen Mac Donald said.

At Farbman Group, a real estate firm in Detroit, employees are going bowling this year instead of a sit-down dinner, said Andy Gutman, chief financial officer. The choice was made by a committee of employees, who were looking for a fun and lighthearted way to celebrate the season.

Detroit's automakers are going a second straight year without holiday media parties, which had been lavish in the past. Company-wide parties for employees were not typically done.

Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans said individual departments may go out to lunch together, but those sorts of things are not funded by the company.

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Chrysler also is not hosting a media holiday party, spokeswoman Shawn Morgan confirmed. She added that the company would "continue to adhere to the conditions of its loan from the U.S. Treasury." Expenses such as holiday parties must be approved by top executives.

Mercedes continues its media parties in Detroit and New York. It hosts more than 100 journalists at the two events, said spokesman Stephen Martinique. "It's one of those really nice things that people enjoy every year," he said.

The brighter news on the horizon is that Chrysler, Ford and General Motors have booked some events with Prentice, of the Trowbridge Restaurant Group, for the Detroit Auto Show in January.

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