Holiday Party Planner Sections

Companies Get Busy Booking Holiday Parties

Work and Play

PartyPlannerDPartFor companies large and small, the annual holiday party is a highly anticipated event — a chance to reward employees while celebrating the season (and another year in business). It’s also a massive opportunity for restaurants and banquet halls, which report a very healthy pace of bookings for 2015. The style of party varies from one event to the next — with lunchtime and January bookings up along with more traditional times — but all are aimed at providing good food, relaxation, and healthy profits for the area’s culinary industry.

After a year of dedicated service to their employers, a holiday party isn’t too much to ask for, is it?

Increasingly, companies are agreeing, and with the holiday-party-booking season in full swing at area restaurants and banquet halls, 2015 is shaping up to be a particularly strong year.

“We have maybe one or two days left on weekends to book events,” Abaz Cacunjanin, manager of Terrazza at Country Club of Greenfield, said of his December schedule, adding that each holiday season since opening the restaurant — this will be its third — has been better than the last for bookings. “Last year was one of the best for the restaurant industry, and we’re doing well this year.”

Erin Corriveau, catering and events manager at Lattitude in West Springfield, has become accustomed to a holiday rush — a rush that often ends in disappointment for late callers.

“I started booking holiday parties last year; some companies, at the end of their party, sealed the deal on the date for the following year,” she said. “I booked a few more in February and March, and by early August, every single Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in December was booked for holiday parties on site, and we were booking into January as well. Right now, we’re working on filling up the Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays and the few Sundays that are left.

“People call in the summer and say, ‘I know I’m early, but I want to get ahead,’” she went on. “But you’re not early, even though it’s 90 degrees out and no one is thinking about Christmas. Companies that want a particular date are upset if they can’t get it, and one actually booked with us for December 2016 instead, which is incredible. You can never be too early in thinking about your holiday party.”

Joe Stevens, owner of Hofbrauhaus in West Springfield, also knows the value of repeat business around the holidays. “A lot of people come year after year after year,” he said. “They want a certain Friday, or a certain room. They’ll change their menus on occasion, but for the most part, they come back every year, or every two years. Others come in because we’ve won them over at the restaurant.”

That said, “the holidays are always good here,” he added. “The place decorates so well. I’ve been here 21 years, and we look forward to the holiday season every year. We’re going strong with party bookings this year, like we do every year.”

For this issue’s focus on holiday party planning — which also features profiles of three restaurants in unique settings — BusinessWest visited several establishments across the Valley to talk about what is turning out to be a merry season indeed.

’Tis the Season

Terrazza is one of the newer establishments in the region, opening in 2013 after a fire destroyed the clubhouse at the country club two years earlier. Cecunjanin and his brothers, who had previously operated Bella Notte in Bernardston, brought their Italian culinary sensibilities to the new eatery and opened it to the public for both regular dining and events.

“People don’t have to be so fancy here; it’s somewhere in the middle between fine dining and a nice restaurant you can go anytime,” he said. “We serve filet mignon along with wraps, sandwiches, and burgers, so it’s appealing to many people. A lot of people said an Italian restaurant would not be able to succeed here, but I beat my own expectations and certainly everyone else’s.”

Terrazza, which hosts gatherings from under 20 people up to 180, welcomes events ranging from weddings and class reunions to corporate events and holiday parties, he went on. “Much of my business is repeat. And, personally, I don’t take them for granted. We want to make a living through good food and kind service. We’re very people-oriented.”

That serves him well during the holiday party season, which introduces many first-timers to the restaurant, a benefit for any facility that welcomes company gatherings.

Terrazza’s Abaz Cecunjanin

Terrazza’s Abaz Cecunjanin says holiday bookings were strong last year and remain healthy in 2015.

That’s also true at Hofbrauhaus, where the party trend is toward sit-down dinners, which begin with a cocktail hour and passed hors d’oeuvres, followed by a three- or four-course meal and wine, then dessert, Stevens explained. “Some of them have gift giving; there are a couple of companies I really look forward to because their gift giving is so much fun. It’s a very festive atmosphere with music.”

At other establishments, like Lattitude, the trend is toward stand-up events.

Go HERE for a listing of the region’s banquet facilities

“Last year, we had a lot of plated events. This year, we’re booking a lot of cocktail stations with fun food, and employees are not necessarily sitting down for a formal dinner,” Corriveau said. “They want food stations and passed hors d’oeuvres and signature cocktails. For one green-energy company, we created a green cocktail. The trend is fewer formal sit-downs and more cocktail stations. It’s fun.”

That said, she added, buffets have become passé unless a company has a party catered on their premesis, in which case they’re more common.

One growing trend has seen restaurants host one event for numerous companies, giving small businesses an opportunity to experience a big-party atmosphere, with copious food choices and entertainment, on an affordable budget.

“That’s a great way to go for small businesses, and that’s what we mostly have around here,” said Deborah Snow, co-owner of the Blue Heron in Sunderland (see story, page 40), which hosts such a party each holiday season, in addition to individual gatherings for large and small groups in its various rooms.

“Most businesses in the Valley don’t have huge budgets for parties; they’re Yankees, and they’re frugal, which is great,” Snow said. “But business owners still want to give something to their employees in the way of a big holiday party, and this is one way to do it. We’ve also gone to other people’s locations to cater parties; that’s a big part of our success, too.”

Corriveau said Lattitude also brings the party to companies that prefer not to leave the office, or find it difficult to agree on a time for everyone, but still want to celebrate the season.

Erin Corriveau says Lattitude’s

Erin Corriveau says Lattitude’s prime December party dates were largely booked by August.

In addition, “a lot of people can’t do evenings or weekends, so they’re booking lunches, taking the staff out to lunch. They’ll either close early or take a big chunk out of the day to celebrate with staff,” she explained. “Work-life balance is a big thing, and a nighttime event might not work for all employees; they’re taking those needs into account and making a party work for as many people as possible.”

Giving Thanks

At their heart, Corriveau said, company holiday parties are a way to express gratitude.

“A lot of employers want to celebrate with employees and thank them,” she told BusinessWest. “Typically, the holiday season is considered the year end, so they’re thanking them for a job well done and their hard work throughout the year.”

For Cecunjanin, who took a chance on a new restaurant in 2013, the concept of gratitude takes on a different meaning — a more personal one — as he heads into a busy holiday season.

“You can work as hard as you want,” he said, “but any business needs a little luck, and so far, we’ve had luck on our side.”

That’s as good a reason as any to make merry.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

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