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Deck the Halls for Office Parties

December 22, 1986|MIKE WYMA

The company that co-produces television's "Golden Girls" rented a Beverly Hills mansion and lavished six kinds of ethnic cuisine on its employees, while at the cost-conscious Wall Street Journal bureau in Los Angeles the food was potluck.

Workers for a high-flying computer software company received Sony Watchman television sets as party favors. At a financial services office, data processors ate a simple buffet and returned to their jobs.

In one form or another, the office Christmas party is alive and flourishing this holiday season. Caterers report plenty of bookings from companies that have done well in 1986 and want to show employees a good time.

In Orange County, the holidays may bring lavish office parties--if you're working for a company that's had a good year.

Irvine-based AST Research, for example, threw a fancy dinner-dance bash earlier this month at the Anaheim Marriott Hotel. The menu included cold salmon in dill sauce, prime rib, beer and wine, and cappuccino ice cream bombe.

"Overall, it (cost) about $65,000" to entertain 1,100 employees, spouses and guests, said Karen Samaha of the company's human resources department.

"It's always been AST's philosophy that our employees work so hard during the year that Christmastime is when we want to do something nice for them."

Employees who wanted to spend the night at the hotel were offered a discount, she said, and "every employee, whether they go to the party or not, gets a nice gift from the company, which (this year) was a bottle of wine."

Even in good times, though, some Orange County companies prefer to keep their celebrations low-key. "We're busy every day of the year. It's nice to get a chance to sit back and get to know each other again," said Bob Fujioka, chairman of DWI Corp., an industrial design and engineering firm in Mission Viejo.

Some of the largest companies leave the planning of holiday parties to their employees, so bountiful or tough times haven't really affected their celebrations.

"We've traditionally left it up to individual departments to plan and orchestrate their own parties," said Rick Maslin, spokesman for Fluor Corp. ". . . It's all individual. The company does not provide any monetary support."

Instead, Fluor helps an employee volunteer group collect donations of small gifts and food to distribute to the needy, Maslin said. The company in recent years has also sponsored lunchtime caroling concerts to entertain employees at its Irvine headquarters.

At the Irvine Co., where party plans are also left to individual departments, recent cutbacks have affected the celebrations, said Jerry Collins, director of corporate communications. "We have down-scaled slightly."

Many of this year's Christmas parties have been held at private homes or have taken the form of luncheons at restaurants, Collins said. The company, with about 1,100 employees, has spent about $20 to $25 per person on the parties.

In Los Angeles, a spokesman for the junk-bond division of Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc., a New York investment banking house that has received subpoenas in connection with the government's insider-trading investigation, said Drexel's Los Angeles office had a "festive" Christmas party at "some hotel." (A subpoena is a request for information and does not imply wrongdoing.)

Meanwhile, clerical workers for a large downtown law firm put on skits lampooning their attorney-bosses, who were not allowed to attend. An engineering firm made its event a family affair, providing two clowns and a Mrs. Santa's candy kitchen for children.

Judy Merrill of Ashton-Tate, a Torrance-based computer software maker enjoying record earnings, said the company had two Christmas parties. "One was our decorating party, which was on a Friday at work. Everyone went all out. We decorated this place to the hilt," she said. "Then Ed Esber, our chairman, and Luther Nussbaum, our new president, dressed up like Santas and gave out Watchman TVs. That was nice."

The second party was a dinner-dance at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel attended by about 900 people. Merrill declined to say how much Ashton Tate spent on the event.

The accounting firm Price Waterhouse and Co. also enjoyed a big year. Terri Pearson, a litigation support manager who helps plan the Los Angeles office's Christmas party, said the company spent about $90 per person.

Black-Tie Optional

"We had a theme of black and white, and it was black-tie optional because we went for a little more elegance than usual," she said. "It was in the Grand Ballroom of the Beverly Wilshire. Eight hundred people came."

Pearson said a jazz band played while cocktails were served, and the rock group the Heaters provided the main entertainment.

"Not everyone in accounting is old and stuffy," she said. "About 60% of our staff is one to four years out of college."

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