NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Whether your company had a good year or a bad one, the holiday season is here, and your employees are probably looking forward to a little mistletoe and end-of-year joy. Unfortunately, if your budget is tight, a big holiday celebration is out of the question -- but that doesn't mean you have to act like Mr. Scrooge. Take a look at some expert suggestions for celebrating the holidays in style without breaking the bank.
1. Use the space you're given -- think atriums, foyers, etc.
If your office has a foyer or an atrium, it might just be the perfect spot for your celebration, says Morag Barrett, CEO of SkyeTeam, an international HR and leadership development firm.
"I once went to a party in a large office building with a stunning foyer and atrium. The staff came down from their offices and met there, bringing festive decorations, helium balloons and music," Barrett says. "The company provided appetizers and refreshments."
In an atrium, a festive atmosphere is created very quickly and without the need to go offsite to a restaurant or hotel conference room, Barrett explains.
One of the best ways to make the office "feel special" is to bring in festive tables and decor for the party, says Jennifer Friedman, chief marketing officer of small business solutions at CT Corp. and its subsidiary BizFilings.
"Make the office feel special by bringing in high-top tables and linens, encouraging everyone to mingle while eating instead of retreating back to their cubes," Friedman says.
2. It doesn't have to be at night -- lunch or brunch will work just fine.
"Lunch is certainly an option instead of a lengthy -- and likely more expensive -- dinner," Barrett says.
A holiday brunch allows for everyone to come in after rush-hour traffic, with festivities wrapping up by early afternoon -- at which point people can go home early, she says.
"It's a win-win for everyone. You get a lower-cost holiday party, plenty of festive spirit and an afternoon away from work to spend with family or finish your holiday shopping," she says.
Also, lunches typically encourage greater employee participation, says Robert Hosking, executive director at staffing firm OfficeTeam.
"It may be easier for some employees to make it out to lunch, versus an after-work affair where people might already have lots of holiday obligations," Hosking says, adding that breakfasts can also be a fun way to start the day.
No matter whether you opt for lunch, brunch or dinner, Friedman says that the food will always be less expensive than heavier dinner items, and the alcohol "won't be missed, particularly if your staff plans to return to work afterward."
3. Go potluck -- with food and presents.
"Some of the most festive parties can be white elephant gift exchanges where people try to outdo each other with silly gifts," Hosking says. "Events like this can take place anywhere. It's more about setting a positive tone, identifying fun activities and taking the opportunity to enjoy each other's company than anything else."
If you're unsure how things may work with a potluck, Friedman advises having a public sign-up sheet for dishes so your party doesn't end up with a dozen trays of cinnamon rolls.
"Create a signup for employees to bring in their favorite appetizer, entree or dessert recipe and supplement by providing alcohol," she says. "The dishes will provoke conversation over who made which dish and from where the recipes originate while saving on a catering budget."
If you're concerned about your employees going over the top, set a budget of $10 to $15 for presents and food and make participation "optional," says Scott Ragusa, president of contract staffing at recruitment firm WinterWyman.
"Gathering together is what the holidays are all about, and having everyone bring in a food item and inexpensive gift is a low-cost way to accomplish that," he says. "Making it optional takes the pressure off employees who don't want to participate, but those who do will undoubtedly have a lot of fun interacting with their colleagues."
4. Give back as a group -- charity work can be great for bonding.
Whether it's picking up donations for Toys for Tots, serving lunch at a homeless shelter or wrapping gifts at the mall, find a volunteer activity your entire company can work at together during company time, Ragusa says.
"Giving back while working together toward a common goal is great for employee morale and promotes teamwork and cross-divisional relationships," he explains.
Team events such as this show that parties don't have to be pricey to be fun, Hosking says.
"Organize an event where the team can give back to the community by donating their time to a local food bank or collecting toys. That, followed by a festive lunch or dinner, can do a lot to promote team-building," he says.
Employees really do appreciate the opportunity to give back in their communities, and it's very fitting with the season, Hosking says.
5. A little competition never hurt anyone -- especially when it's holiday-themed.
Leading up to your office celebration, challenge your employees to decorate their work spaces or wear the ugliest sweater they can find, Ragusa says. The day of your party, award the winners with bragging rights and nominal prizes such as a restaurant or Amazon gift certificate.
"Fun contests are a great way to promote camaraderie and healthy competition," Ragusa says.
Management can also use this opportunity to give out their own "prizes" or end-of-year awards to show appreciation for jobs well done.
"It's important to keep in mind that the office holiday gathering is more than just a party -- it's an opportunity for people to be thanked and recognized for their work throughout the year," Hosking says. "As a manager, one of the most important things you can do at a year-end gathering is take the time to call out successes and show your appreciation."