With the start of the holiday season weeks away, many small business owners are planning holiday parties for employees and clients despite the still wobbly economy. But the celebrations are expected to be low-key, frugal and, some say, much more fun.

Even owners whose businesses are doing better say they’re sticking to simpler events this year.

“We could afford to have a catered event, something fancy, but it's not in our DNA” given the events of the past year, said Ginny Pitcher, president of Kel&Partners, a marketing and public relations firm based in Boston.

“In the past we always have had a holiday celebration and we’ve always either gone out to a restaurant with workers and spouses or we hosted a party at our house and have it catered,” Pitcher said. “Last year, we decided it just wasn’t the right thing to do to have a catered affair, so we decided to have a potluck. We found it was the best holiday party we’ve had to date.

“People were there till the wee hours of morning, talking and getting to know each other better.”

Pitcher said the company has been affected by the recession, although “we’ve managed the last 18 months very well.”

Now, she said, “we’re seeing things turning a corner and we’re very confident about the next 18 months,” but that doesn’t mean it's back to the days of a big party.

At Olana, a Manhattan restaurant, managing partner Patrick Resk, said small businesses that last year were cancelling parties are booking for this December.

Small businesses “want to have their employees celebrate a very tough year and the economy is coming back and it seems like it's no longer a bad perception to have something for the employees,” Resk said.

Two years ago Olana was able to book parties at $130 to $150 a head, but now businesses are only willing to pay $100, and many, looking to save more, are asking for off-peak times that cost $75 a head.

At the same time, some owners don’t want employees to think they’re skimping. Resk said these owners are splurging on things like super-premium vodkas.

“It’s Grey Goose as opposed to Absolut,” he said.