Unless you're in some huge and wealthy mega-corps with an annual corporate Christmas ball, now is the time of year that office and HR managers across London start thinking they really should book something for the office Christmas do. For any small workplace keen to do something alternative, participative, unusual, affordable and more fun that your average turkey lunch (e.g.: Londonist Christmas do in 2007), we've got some ideas for you.
All these suggestions are gleaned from things we've done, people we know and stuff we've spotted. They should all be bookable for December weekdays (subject to availability), be priced at less than £50 per head and suit groups of up to 20 or 30 people.
Lego Robot Wars Delightful Drink, Shop, Do at King's Cross offers several 'Dos' that are eminently suitable for a work party. We've done Lego Robot Wars (£5 per person) — split into teams, raid the Lego stash and design the best robot — it must have two limbs, a name and a special skill. Or perhaps you'd prefer learning how to make balloon animals (£22 pp)? Or become Origami masters (£16 pp)? DSD has a private room, cafe and bar so you could make a day and night of it.
80s dancing For the flamboyant and extrovert team, Reflex Dance Studios offers an 80s Christmas dance party experience with dressing up, dinner and cocktails, and a dance class, where your team create a routine to the tune of their choice with a proper choreographer. Yes, they have a light up dance floor and yes, a photoshoot is included in the package. For groups of over 15 people it's £39 a head. Each party is tailored to the group so email them to get planning.
Cooking The team that cooks together, er, eats together. Co-create a Brazilian, Indian, Mexican, Sri Lankan, Trinidadian or Ethiopian festive feast in a 2.5 hour session cooking with Mama — that is, someone who really knows what they're doing. A glass of wine's included in your package cost as are all ingredients and instruction. When the cooking's done, dine together and congratulate yourselves on dodging the turkey dinner this year. And have some more wine.
Sing-a-long-a Find out who's got a fine voice, who likes wearing leiderhosen and who knows all the words, with a group booking for one of The Prince Charles Cinema's singalonga (and dress up) films. In December choose from White Christmas, Grease and The Sound of Music. Tickets £15 each.
Farming At the last count, London had 15+ city farms, all of them offering a refreshing taste of the countryside and up-close access to cute animals. Get your guys outside and pay your nearest farm a visit. Book a farm tour or arrange a half day of volunteering (there will be a cost for this — most city farms are charities). Work up an appetite gardening, mucking out the horses or petting goats then repair to a pub to toast your good deeds and debrief on who's best at muck raking. Here's a good list of city farms in and on the outskirts of London.
Volunteering See you team mates in a different light and make a difference to an organisation in need with a Christmas Party Volunteering experience. Timebank will source the opportunity to suit your group, make all the arrangements and help you get the most out of volunteering. They'll even help you find somewhere to celebrate afterwards. Price starts from £250+VAT for groups of 10 and that money goes back into funding Timebank's work in local communities.
Skittles The only place you can play Old English Skittles is at the Freemason's Arms in Hampstead. Up to 20 people can hire out its traditional skittles alley, get coached by an expert then let the games begin! Beer is optional, but highly recommended. Book here.
Video Games If you share a love of video games with your colleagues, see who can talk the talk and walk the virtual walk at new gamers' bar Meltdown on Caledonian Road. We popped in soon after opening and gave it the thumbs up. Drop by for 'open play' or get serious and enter one of the weekly tournaments. Fighting Games Night might be a good one for any staff team with unresolved issues.
Foosball If you don't work in a fully fitted creative media office, replete with table football then a) you won't be sick of it and b) you might not be practised at the skill, making for amusing team games. Cafe and Bar Kick are obvious potential venues, the Big Chill House at King's Cross also has a small foosball room upstairs. Check out other places to play here.
Ping pong "Everybody loves ping pong!" declared one of our team the other day. While not scientifically proven, it's something everyone can have a go at and there are table tennis tables bloody everywhere. Join a public Pongathon, or organise a private one for your group. Bounce in Holborn has private ping pong rooms or try Ping, Earls Court for a dinner, games & disco combo.
Christmas Lights Meet Westminster Guide, Jo Moncrieff, in a cosy pub then tour the Christmas lights with a few hidden passageways, posh shops, food and drink stories and other nuggets, then end up in a pub. Jolly festive and you'll learn something. Contact Jo here.
The History of Coffee Houses Christmas parties don't have to be all about booze. Dr Matthew Green's Coffee House Tour is learned, historical, theatrical and caffeinated. If you're the sort of office team that have a fancy coffee machine, you should try this. We wrote about it last year. Enquire about a corporate booking here. And he's even got a new app out, so you can get a feel for the tour without leaving your desk.
Loos of London Recently championed as a good date idea, we suspect a walk round London's loos would work pretty well for a work crowd, especially if it involves toilet trivia, drink stops, wee breaks and a chance to win the best lavatorial anecdote award. Book a Loo Tour here.
The Seven Noses of Soho Think you know Soho? Even if you work there we bet you've never spotted them all, seen half the oddities or heard half the stories Pete Berthoud can share with you. When it comes to noses, things can get competitive and legend has it there's infinite wealth at stake. Contact Pete here.
Dennis Severs' House Did you listen to our podcast from this place? Dennis Severs' House is intriguing all year round, but at Christmas, it really shines with a festive makeover. Book a group visit and tour the atmospheric house in silence — if you can afford it, the "exclusive tour" includes mulled wine, mince pies and the chance to chat with the curatorial team. Have a look at the Christmas page on the website.
The Drowned Man This isn't one for team building but it will certainly give you plenty to talk about in the pub afterwards. Punch Drunk transport you to Temple Studios and lure you into the darkly glamorous world of The Drowned Man. Read our review for more. Highly recommended for groups who've never been to a Punch Drunk show before. Be curious, lose your friends, catch up in the bar. Tickets are £47.50 in December for up to three hours in this dream world.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong Pleasance Islington's Christmas show is a spin off from The Play That Goes Wrong, which was a huge funny hit in the summer at both Trafalgar Studios and then at the Edinburgh Festival. This festive farce version offers an alternative to panto as the inept and accident prone Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society attempt to stage Peter Pan. Tickets are £12-£16 and it's on from 10 December. There's a very reasonable Christmas menu at Shillibeer's next door.
Comedy Clubs The big comedy clubs get a bit much at Christmas. Like one big stag do with added tinsel and overpriced everything. If your lot are keen on comedy, but not so keen on heckling and braying, try friendlier places like Old Rope at the Phoenix Cavendish Square on Mondays, Up The Creek in Greenwich, Crack Comedy clubs or Angel Comedy at the Camden Head, Islington (ideal for a small group on a budget as it's free entry).
Got more ideas? Please share them in the comments and we'll update the article.