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Holiday Party Planner

Many Ways to Celebrate

Lynn Kennedy says the Log Cabin, Delaney House, and Log Rolling catering services have something for every business during the holiday season, no matter their size. 

Companies have long celebrated the hard work they’ve done over the course of the year with a holiday party. Whether hosting a small gathering or a large corporate bash, plenty of restaurants, banquet facilities, and caterers in the Western Mass. area are willing to get the job done each year. Although these parties have been popular for decades, owners and managers say trends are always changing in how people want to celebrate the year and ring in a new one.

Lynn Kennedy says one of the most common things she hears from employers booking holiday parties is that they want to do something special for the people that work for them.

“This is something people don’t want to do halfway,” said Kennedy, director of Sales and Marketing at the Log Cabin. “They want to go all in because they realize it’s the best way for them to show their employees the appreciation they deserve for a lot of hard work that they put out there.”

While end-of-the-year holiday parties have long been a tradition for companies of all sizes, employers are finding new ways to show employees their appreciation this season.

Aside from the traditional but enjoyable small group parties and restaurant reservations, companies are going above and beyond to make sure all employees are able to join in the celebration, no matter how big the organization may be.

The Log Cabin offers a wide array of options for holiday parties, including small-group holiday parties that are always a hit. Indeed, the facility is hosting a total of six this year, as opposed to the usual four or five, because of how popular they are.

“This is something people don’t want to do halfway. They want to go all in because they realize it’s the best way for them to show their employees the appreciation they deserve for a lot of hard work that they put out there.”

The Starting Gate at GreatHorse is another popular venue for small-group holiday parties, including a Breakfast with Santa, a Holiday Dinner Dance with the Clark Eno Orchestra, and the annual Holiday Luncheon with Dan Kane & Friends.

Cathy Stephens, director of Catering Sales, says these events are affordable options for small to mid-sized companies looking to enjoy a festive night.

“It is cost-effective for the smaller and even the mid-size companies to host their holiday celebration at venues that are providing live entertainment and a festive menu that satisfies just about everyone,” she said. “It also provides the opportunity to network with other local businesses.”

In addition to Center Square Grill, Bill Collins recently opened another restaurant, HighBrow, in Northampton.

There is no shortage of businesses in the Western Mass. area, and all have their own preferences as to what kind of gathering will appeal to their employees. This encourages restaurants like Center Square Grill to expand their options and accommodate unique requests.

Owner Bill Collins says he does his best to work with any request, no matter how big or small, and often does so himself to make sure everything goes smoothly.

“What makes this restaurant stand out is that the owner is on deck,” he said, adding that General Manager Kim Hulslander is also frequently involved with booking parties. “If you want to call and work with me, you’re going to get me on the phone. You’re in ownership’s hands when you’re booking an event with us, and we see it through to the end.”

The holiday season poses a strong business opportunity for restaurants and banquet facilities, but it is also a great time for caterers.

“We have people who book at the end of the prior year. Once their holiday party finishes, most people, within a week or two, are booking already for the next year.”

Nosh Restaurant and Café in Springfield may be fairly small on the inside, but its catering business is booming, and uses creative food and elegant edible centerpieces to stand out from the competition.

“I think our food is super creative, and we present it beautifully,” said owner Teri Skinner. “It’s important to be creative in how you present the food, the taste, and the flavors. It’s really what a catering company is built on.”

These caterers are seeing a lot more business around the holidays over the past few years for a number of reasons. For this year’s holiday party planning issue, BusinessWest spoke with local restaurants and caterers about these changing traditions and how they strive to stand out among local competition.

Teri Skinner, owner of Nosh, says it’s important to be creative when it comes to food presentation.

Keep Them Coming Back

When Missy Baker at Arland Tool e-mailed Skinner to set up the company’s annual party, she sent just five short words: “all set for the 24th?” Skinner responded, “yes, we’re all set.”

That’s because this is the seventh or eighth time Skinner has hosted Arland’s annual party, and she knows exactly what they like and need.

“It’s great for the customer because they know I’m going to be there, they know the quality of food, and it’s great for me because I know how much they eat and how long it takes,” Skinner said. “It’s a very precise job that we can control very well.”

These kinds of relationships are not uncommon for restaurants and caterers, and it’s often the unique experiences customers have that keeps them coming back year after year.

Collins noted that a loyal clientele books parties at Center Square Grill every year.

“For us not being a big corporate chain, I just try to go above and beyond for the customer,” he said. “It’s worth it for me to do that to try to build in the business year after year.”

Some sites, like the Log Cabin, are so popular that regulars will book their next annual event just weeks after they enjoy their party this year.

“There are a lot of companies where their business is heaviest during this season, and it doesn’t make sense for them to actually have the celebration before Christmas, so they do it as a type of new-year celebration.”

“We have people who book at the end of the prior year,” Kennedy said. “Once their holiday party finishes, most people, within a week or two, are booking already for the next year.”

This mainly includes the larger parties that rent out big rooms at the Log Cabin for 300 to 400 people, like Tighe & Bond, Florence Bank, and PeoplesBank.

Because of the desire for a smaller, more intimate setting, Kennedy says the company’s Delaney House, where several rooms can fit 15 to 50 people, is also jam-packed during the holidays. Whatever the booking party’s size, she has seen an increase in catering over the last few years, which she credits partly to a changing workforce schedule.

“A major component of that is work schedules because you have first and second and third shifts of people,” she said. “Heads of businesses are really trying to figure out a way to incorporate their entire workforce in a holiday celebration and not just limit it to a particular time.”

These multi-shift businesses include news crews, manufacturers, and even hospitals, where it is nearly impossible to get everyone in the same room at the same time. This is where Log Rolling, the catering service for Log Cabin and the Delaney House, comes in handy.

“They’ll come in and ask us, ‘can you set up a breakfast for our morning crew? Can you set up a lunch for our afternoon crew? Can you set up a dinner for our evening crew?’ so everyone is kind of being hit at a different time and everyone gets to enjoy that holiday experience,” Kennedy said.

Making Spirits Bright

Caterers aren’t the only ones bringing unique styles to holiday celebrations. At Center Square Grill, Collins says customized packages are available for parties of any size, including both food and décor.

The restaurant offers packages for private dining that start at $20 and typically go up to $45 per person, although that isn’t the limit. Lower packages might offer unlimited alcoholic beverages with an entrée choice and a salad. With the $45 packages, everyone is greeted with a glass of champagne and gets an appetizer, salad, entrée, and dessert.

Collins also said he can arrange rooms in a variety of ways, with everything from decorated tables for a sit-down dinner to cocktail tables for a more casual night out.

“What’s unique about us is that you can come here casually, or you can come here dressed up, and you’re not going to feel bad in either direction,” he said. “We want you to be comfortable coming in for a burger and a beer or filet, oysters, and a bottle of champagne.”

Perhaps one of the most important parts about a holiday party is the quality and presentation of food, Skinner said. From everything from the plate the food goes on to the way the food itself is presented itself, Nosh puts together each “edible centerpiece” with with care.

“We call them edible centerpieces because they’re so beautiful when they go out,” she elaborated. “That’s how we build things here. We want them to look gorgeous and taste great, so that’s our goal at the end of the day.”

Cathy Stephens says events at Great Horse, including the holiday dinner dance and holiday luncheon, are perfect for businesses with a smaller budget.

More recently, Nosh catered a Halloween party for Northwest Mutual and provided edible centerpieces, appetizers, and a bartender dressed up for the spooky season.

Skinner agrees that catering has become more popular over the years and thinks a lot of people just want to feel comfortable and laid-back. “I think having it at home or at an office is relaxing,” she said.

Perhaps one of the most relaxing options all these restaurants have seen is the decision to hold off on a holiday party until the beginning of the following year to avoid the craziness of booking during peak season.

Kennedy says people normally book parties at the Log Cabin through the first few weeks of January, but some even book all the way into February.

“There are a lot of companies where their business is heaviest during this season, and it doesn’t make sense for them to actually have the celebration before Christmas, so they do it as a type of new-year celebration,” she said.

This happens frequently at restaurants in the area as well, and it’s the reason why Center Square keeps decorations up well into the new year so customers can still feel the holiday spirit even after the holidays are over.

In short, whether businesses are going with a new tradition or sticking with an old one, there is no shortage of options for holiday parties in Western Mass. — and banquet halls and restaurants say they’re happy to oblige.

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]

Meetings & Conventions

Meeting Expectations

Rendering of the event spaces at MGM Springfield.

As MGM Springfield continues the final countdown to its Aug. 24 opening, the company is starting to generate considerable momentum in what will undoubtedly be one of the most important aspects of its operations — hosting meetings and conventions. MGM is creating what is being called a ‘campus,’ one that should catch the attention of groups planning everything from product showcases to association conventions to weddings.

Monique Messier was a little late for her scheduled conversation with BusinessWest, but there was a good reason — one that gave her something else to talk about.

Indeed, she was wrapping up work to book the first wedding at the hotel at MGM Springfield, and those talks took a little longer than expected.

Messier, executive director of sales for MGM Springfield, didn’t share too many details about that wedding other to say that it was booked for September — only a few weeks after the facility opens its doors — and that the couple was excited to be tying the knot in the glittering, new $950 million casino complex — and more excited that they would be the first to do so.

“It’s someone who knew they wanted to be in MGM,” she explained, referring to the short time frame between the booking and the nuptials. “They waited until we could get them into the building to see it, and we did; they were sold.”

Monique Messier

With the meeting and event spaces at the MGM Springfield hotel and the MassMutual Center, Monique Messier said, the company can sell a “campus” of facilities to a host of constituencies.

Messier said this will be obviously be the first of many weddings at the facility, and that such ceremonies will comprise one element in a spectrum of gatherings that can be staged at a broad portfolio of meeting and event spaces at the casino and the MassMutual Center across the street.

“It’s a resort feel coming to downtown Springfield,” she noted, adding that this ‘feel,’ as well as the views and a wide array of facilities and amenities, should move Springfield up several notches when it comes to the radar screens of event planners and business owners and managers looking for a place to gather.

MGM Springfield had an unveiling of sorts for the meeting and event spaces earlier this month, revealing photos and details of some of the rooms. Officials there have been offering tours this spring and summer to event planners and other groups, but thus far it has mostly kept those spaces under wraps.

What’s becoming clear, though, is that what’s under those wraps is spacious, unique, and versatile, and that, collectively, the facilities provide Greater Springfield with a great opportunity to attract more events of all kinds. Already, there has been considerable interest, said Messier.

“We’re working with hundreds of groups already, and we’re in the process of trying to get as many groups as we can under contract,” she explained, adding that, while she couldn’t name clients that have signed on, there is a mix of groups and companies from within the 413 and outside it as well. “I think we’ll see quite a few new faces coming into downtown Springfield with all the different groups that have already shown interest in us here.”

In all, there will be 34,000 square feet of event and meeting spaces at the casino complex. There will also be abundant natural light and a host of indoor and outdoor options.

“We’re working with hundreds of groups already, and we’re in the process of trying to get as many groups as we can under contract. I think we’ll see quite a few new faces coming into downtown Springfield with all the different groups that have already shown interest in us here.”

Many of the individual facilities will incorporate the names of some of MGM’s sister properties in an effort to highlight the resort’s connection to other top destinations around the country.

There’s the 10,600-square-foot Aria Ballroom, a nod to the resort and casino in Las Vegas that opened in 2009; the smaller (5,600-square-foot) Bellagio Boardroom, named after another MGM property on the Vegas strip; the 1,000-square-foot Borgota Meeting Room, named after the Borgata Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City; and the 1,000-square-foot Beau Rivage Boardroom, a nod to the MGM property in Biloxi, Miss.

There will also be the renovated former National Guard Armory (most recently used as the South End Community Center) that will offer a unique, 4,800-square-foot room that will enable the groups that book it to stretch their imaginations and create an environment to suit their specific needs.

“This is a gorgeous, open area,” she told BusinessWest. “Groups can have high-end functions there; we can seat about 200 people banquet-style.”

Overall, the collection of spaces, coupled with the many attractions at MGM Springfield — from the casino floor itself to the Regal Cinemas complex, 10-lane bowling alley and arcade, TopGolf Swing Suite, and a variety of restaurants — will undoubtedly catch the eye of groups staging conventions, companies looking for team-building options, and a host of other constituencies.

For this issue and its focus on meetings and conventions, BusinessWest takes an inside look (not really, but it’s close) at the array of spaces at MGM Springfield and how they are expected to change the landscape when it comes to the all-important conventions business.

Space Exploration

Messier told BusinessWest that she and her sales staff will be selling the collective space at MGM Springfield and the MassMutual Center as a “campus,” because that’s truly what it is — one that boasts everything from a sports arena capable of seating nearly 10,000 people and huge convention spaces, to the hotel, its 252 rooms, 16 suites, and assorted ballrooms, boardrooms, and restaurants; from an open-air plaza inspired, Messier said, by the classic New England town common, named Armory Square, to the bowling alley and movie theaters.

Most groups won’t need all that, but it’s there if they need it, she went on, adding that just beyond this campus are more hotels and restaurants, performance venues including Symphony Hall and CityStage, and attractions ranging from Six Flags to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Put it all together and it’s a fairly easy package to sell, she went on, adding that a number of groups and events have already been scheduled.

“We did a tour yesterday for an association that’s looking at us for April, along with another that’s looking at us for 2022,” she said. “We have business that runs the gamut, from short-term, coming in in September, to a year out, to five years out.”

And there has already been a wide range of different types of events scheduled, she on, listing everything from that first wedding to this fall’s annual Bright Nights Ball, to take place in the Aria Ballroom, to a host of meetings and conventions.

In designing the spaces, MGM wanted to capture the flavor of Las Vegas and other gaming and convention hot spots, not just with the names on the venues, but with their luxurious look and feel and also the way they promote collaboration, interaction, and productivity, said Messier, adding quickly that there are considerable amounts of local flavor and personal touches.

The hotel was designed in a way that recognizes Springfield’s industrial roots, she noted, while eclectic artwork evokes this region’s creative iconography, visually referencing Dr. Seuss, Emily Dickinson, and Merriam-Webster Dictionary, among others.

The spaces will also be adaptable, she said, adding that while the Aria ballroom can hold up to 540 and the Ballagio up to 360, they can be configured to seat smaller gatherings.

‘Adaptable’ is also a word that can be used to describe the former Armory.

All of the meeting spaces are on the second floor of the hotel, and running the full length of those spaces is a terrace that looks out on Armory Square, with the Armory itself in the middle of the plaza, she explained, adding that these views are still another selling point when it comes to this campus.

“When you walk through our space, the whole terrace is open, and natural light floods in,” she said. “It’s an amazing view of the whole property.”

Messier said the collection of facilities within the campus she described will be especially appealing to business groups and individual companies.

Indeed, the various spaces can be utilized for everything from product showcases to annual retreats and sales meetings; from those increasingly popular team-building exercises to gatherings to entertain and recognize clients, vendors, and employees.

Bottom Line

Summing up what’s she’s seeing and hearing on the phone — from potential clients, her sales staff, and that couple getting married at MGM in a few months — Messier said the City of Homes and the region surrounding it are gaining the attention of a wide range of constituencies.

“I feel like there is revitalized interest in coming to Springfield,” she said. “With all the great attractions we already have in the area, for clients to be able to book here, bring their clients here, bring their salespeople here, bring their company outings here … it’s a classic win/win for people.”

As she mentioned earlier, it’s quite an attractive package, and one that’s already starting to sell itself.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]