The basic problem and the hardest one t o overcome at corporate parties has to do with group dynamics - that is - no one knows exactly how to act. I have learned over time that the majority of people in medium-to-large corporations (a) do not get along or really respect each other and (b) have little or know respect for their bosses or supervisors. As a result everyone acts differently than they normally would. It's human nature I suppose that dictates this type of behavior. People act differently in from of their friends, their peers, bosses, subordinates, whoever. Then add a spouse and/or children into the mix and you have created at best an opportunity for tension, heavy drinking and stupidity.
Even heavy drinking at corporate parties is becoming a thing of the past. Employees seem to be scared enough of saying or doing anything that can be misconstrued as sexist or inappropriate when they are sober. So taking the same risk when they are inebriated is sheer madness.
I believe the most successful corporate parties I've ever been too were during my years in the Armed Forces. All of the above mentioned potentials-for-disaster were present, but basically because everyone was ordered to have a good time, pretty much every subordinate and supervisor alike went through the motions of having a good time for fear of being court martialed. Hey, whatever works.
I once worked for an aerospace firm who had two distinct types of corporate parties and both of them were bad. The first one was a corporate Christmas party: a sit down dinner where the management didn't even attend because they knew they were all dispised. So a large group of disgruntled employees sat around and ate and within minutes fell into the same routine that they followed at the water cooler: they complained about work, the boss and life in general. The second type of party was an attempt to improve on the previous year's corporate christmas party disaster: another corporate party but with the inclusion of female strippers. So now we had disgruntled female employees who were feeling discriminated against. And quite a few guys with a lot of explaining to do to their wives.
I'm not sure what the solution is when it comes to corporate parties. Obviously not all such affairs are recipes for disaster. There are many companies that foster great working relationships. And believe me, if I knew the secret for good inter-personal relationships in the office I'd be a rich man ten times over. But I'm prone to believe the success of many corporate parties begins at the top and filters down. If the staff feels loved and appreciated they will have a good time at the party.
Speaking of which, there are probably some common sense ideas to at least get your next corporate party heading in the right direction. Plan the party in advance and send out corporate party invitations with plenty of lead time. Make sure you put an RSVP on the corporate party invitation so you know how many to plan for.
It's not always true that people just show up for the food. They enjoy a good time. Maybe not dancing necessarily. But certainly some type of entertainment pays big dividends. Just make sure it's not strippers popping out of a cake.