A season of subdued office merriment

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Office Christmas parties can be famously lavish affairs, with employers dropping anywhere from several thousand to several hundred thousand dollars on the events.

This year, however, many companies are scaling back. For most, the sluggish economy prompted the change; some executives also say they don't feel right throwing a big bash in the wake of Sept. 11.

About 50 percent of 150 companies surveyed by the executive search firm Battalia Winston International said the economy had caused them to either trim down or cancel their holiday office-party plans.

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Most - 83 percent, down from 92 percent last year - are still holding some sort of party, but are forgoing the band and the roast beef in favor of simpler gatherings.

In Chicago, Pear Tree Catering has seen a 30 percent decrease in requests for corporate parties, and says a number of firms are opting for lower-cost buffet luncheons at the workplace instead of dinner banquets. The Castle Group, a Boston technology company, spent $200,000 last year on a casino night for employees. This year it is simply offering hors d'oeuvres at the chief executive's house.

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