One company is putting on an Elizabethan feast, with live goats, geese and chickens wandering amid ample buffet tables. Another hired psychics to mix with bands and entertainers.

Office parties are back in style.

Nationwide, companies are loosening their purse strings and throwing more fancy holiday parties, both to celebrate a good year and to thank employees who stuck around through the lean times.

Most companies, though, are steering clear of any appearance of the excesses of the 1980s. Instead, they want fancy touches that pamper employees and create a feel-good finish to the year.

``I'm looking at the mirror, and I've got bags under my eyes big enough to go to Europe with because we're working so much,'' laughed Paul Hohendorf, manager of the Roostertail Catering Club, a Detroit party space specializing in corporate holiday parties.

The Roostertail, where auto executives and other Motown elite party, spent nearly $100,000 on Christmas decor this year, flying in Christmas trees from China and Africa.

At the ``Old England'' party, live geese, chickens and goats along with nearly 50 costumed carolers will roam a room decorated with bales of hay, owner Tom Schoenith said. The tab: $35,000 for 100 people.

On average, companies have been spending 20 percent more on parties than last year, he said. ``And we're more prebooked for next year than we've ever been before.''

Nearly 80 percent of 375 companies recently surveyed are hosting year-end parties for employees, up from 63 percent in 1991, according to The Bureau of National Affairs. Most of the parties will be company-wide.

Underscoring the penny-pinching of Christmases past, nearly 20 percent of the parties are being held for the first time or resumed after a hiatus, the survey found. Only 3 percent of companies expect to spend less than last year.

The big advertising agency McCann-Erickson added more fancy touches to its party for New York headquarters staff, celebrating a year when new billings rose by $300 million. The company held a buffet dinner with full bar at a waterside restaurant, with a disc jockey and jazz band.

Toni Hughes, an executive secretary at McCann, noticed the difference.

``We usually have good parties, but this year was great,'' she said. ``You could talk, you could dance. There were tables of food all over the place. The filet mignon was delicious.''

Says spokeswoman Susan Irwin: ``This year has been a good year for the agency and we wanted to offer a special thank you for employees.''

Robert Colombo, manager of New York city's posh Plaza Hotel, also finds corporate purse strings looser.

``It's not as much of a challenge this year to talk the planner into going a little top shelf,'' he said. ``I get a lot of comments that they're not concerned about the dollars because they want their people to feel appreciated.''

Office parties at the Plaza this year are featuring champagne, caviar, and beef Wellington, and cost up to $200 a person, he said. Corporate bookings are up 40 percent from last year.

Ginger Kramer, a Silicon Valley corporate caterer whose business has doubled in a year, also finds holiday parties swinging.

``The prawns are back and entertainment is back in _ magicians, jugglers, carolers,'' she said.

Inspired by a holiday season shortened by fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, companies started partying earlier. Tavern on the Green, an eatery in New York's Central Park, isn't open to the public a single night between Dec. 2 and Dec. 20, said Shelley Clark, director of marketing and public relations.

But not all companies are rolling out the prawns.

Xerox, which had a poor third quarter, used to spring for departmental lunches at a restaurant or cocktail parties. This year, employees are organizing and paying for informal at-work gatherings.

San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems, a maker of equipment linking computers, rented out a museum where 6,000 employees and guests munched international foods, listened to bands and consulted psychics. Yet spokesman Bob Michelet said the company is frugal with its holiday party spending.

``We spend a lot more on customer appreciation days,'' he said. ``Then we pull out all the stops.''