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How to plan a company picnic that won't sack your budget

Planning a company picnic Independence Day is the acme of picnic season, but there's still plenty of summer left for you to treat your employees to some outdoor food and fun at a company cookout.

Plan your fun
Company picnics come in all shapes and sizes. As you begin planning yours, think about what you want your event to accomplish. Do you want to formally thank current and retired employees and their families? Are you hoping to give your employees a chance to get to know each other in an informal setting? Or do you want to give your employees a chance to spend some quality time with their families?

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It's also important to have a clear idea of what you want to spend on the event. Knowing what you want your picnic to accomplish and how much you can spend will make selecting a location, food service and activities much easier.

Company picnic tips

The taxman can help
When setting your budget, remember that you have a rich Uncle Sam helping to foot the bill. Most business-related meals are only 50 percent deductible, but the tax code makes a specific exception for company picnics.

"The expenses for food, beverages, and entertainment for a company-wide picnic are not subject to the 50 percent limit" and are fully deductible, according to Internal Revenue Service Publication 535, Business Expenses.

Give yourself plenty of lead time to plan and schedule the picnic. Since the picnic is a gift to all of your employees, you'll want to look for a date that will work well for as many of your employees as possible. Try to avoid scheduling your picnic on traditional picnic holidays such as Memorial Day, Labor Day or the Fourth of July. These are busy days for families, caterers and picnic facilities. You'll also want to rule out any date that falls during a particularly busy time period for your company.

Full service, food service, no service
If you're overwhelmed by the thought of putting together a party for 25, 200 or 400 people, take heart. Help is as close as your computer. Some businesses, such as The Fun Company, specialize in delivering complete events packages for businesses around the country. Golf and recreation clubs provide similar services. If roller coasters, water works and Ferris wheels are on your list of possibilities, try contacting one of the big amusement parks. Six Flags Over Georgia, for example, gives special prices and picnic packages to groups of more than 100 people.

Begin your search by gathering estimates and information from both full-service event planners and location service providers. Once you have narrowed your choices to two or three locations, take a tour. This will give you an opportunity to get a feel for both the location and the people with whom you will be working.

For more information

Here are some sites to help you plan:

Ask for written cost estimates. If your first choice service provider returns a bid that's too high, don't cast it aside. Call them back and explore alternatives. In short, negotiate. Eliminating a menu item or activity might bring the price down to your budget level.

Let the workers know
Send out preliminary information about the event to your employees as soon as the date and place are confirmed. Follow up with sign-up sheets, which should be filled out well in advance of your event. The early sign-up procedure will give you a chance to obtain and distribute tickets to your guests. If you need in-house help to run games and events, be sure to ask for volunteers when you send out the notice for the event.

Have a designated greeter and troubleshooter to welcome guests and assist with any problems or concerns that may arise during the picnic. During the week following the picnic, survey employees for feedback on the event and for suggestions for the future. Write an event summary, complete with comments, contacts and suggestions for the next picnic.

-- Updated: July 2, 2001

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