What’s on the Menu?
By Manon L. Mirabelli
Monica Guarneri has seen a noticeable trend in party planning — specifically, parties outside the home.
And that’s good for business at Shortstop Bar & Grill in Westfield, where Guarneri is executive chef and co-owner alongside her parents, Nabil and Julie Hannoush.
In the 10 years that facility has been open, she explained, more people are choosing to host parties in public rather than private spaces such as homes and offices, a trend driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. To accommodate that demand, Shortstop offers a newly redecorated, 3,000-square-foot banquet room that can hold 25 to 100 people.
“A lot of people don’t want to worry about having people in their homes,” Guarneri said. “What attracts clients is the ease and comfort of having someone else do the work for them so they can enjoy the party.”
While the space is tastefully appointed, she added, those hosting parties may opt to decorate the room to their liking to create a custom experience. “We are the go-to spot for several business clients. We offer convenience, consistency, and a private atmosphere.”
The holiday season is traditionally a time when employers celebrate their employees’ contributions to a successful business year with festive gatherings, and Western Mass. has no shortage of distinctive venues of all sizes, from the Berkshires to the Pioneer Valley.
One of the most notable local venues is Springfield’s world-renowned Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which has the capability to host events of all sizes, intimate to large-scale.
Chelsea Johnson, manager of internal events for the Hall of Fame, said most businesses begin booking their holiday parties in the summer, and those that return regularly begin planning for the following year immediately after their parties.
“We are the go-to spot for several business clients. We offer convenience, consistency, and a private atmosphere.”
“It’s definitely a unique venue,” she said. “It’s not your standard banquet hall.”
Indeed, it is not. Party planners have a wide range of options, including Center Court, which typically accommodates 500 to 800 guests; the Theater, which holds 100 to 200 people; and the Boardroom and Hall of Honor, both more intimate spaces that can accommodate 50 to 100 guests.
Johnson said the Hall of Fame is an ideal venue for holiday parties because of its proximity to major highways, plenty of free parking, and free on-site valet service, to name just a few reasons.
“We are the premier location for events of any size or type in Western Massachusetts and New England,” she added. “We have more than 80,000 square feet of flexible function space, and each year we host hundreds of local and global corporate meetings, award dinners, private socials, and internationally televised events.”
Party planners seeking a more intimate venue a bit farther west might find the traditional elegance of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge an ideal location for a quintessential New England holiday experience.
Tim Eustis, director of Sales and Catering, said the storied eatery can accommodate 65 to 120 people and can customize space to suit every party, and companies who hold holiday events at the Red Lion can expect “a warm space, good food and drinks, and excellent service.”
“We’re very good at throwing parties,” he noted. “We have the Hitchcock Room, the main dining room, front and back dining rooms, and part of the lobby.”
One local business-client stalwart for the Red Lion Inn, Eustis said, is the Jane Iredale international cosmetics company, as well as U.S. Rep. Richard Neal’s annual gathering for staff and friends.
“Congressman Neal’s parties are one of our favorites to plan and be a part of,” Eustis said. “They have a great team.”
Back in the Springfield area, the Federal is a historic site in Agawam that has become synonymous with excellence in fine dining.
Owners Ralph Santanielo and Michael Presnal strive to integrate the white-linen elegance of a bygone era with a fresh and innovative, ‘new American’ cuisine. “We rely on strong Italian and French influences to inspire the contemporary culinary style of Chef Presnal in dishes such as his red beet risotto, burnt tangerine glazed cod, and white-chocolate panna cotta” Santaniello said.
One big advantage of hosting a holiday event at the Federal, he added, is that the space is “dressed up as a special-occasion restaurant, but is sociable and affordable enough for every occasion.”
For those who choose to have the Federal cater their events off-site, parties from 15 to 300 can be served from a menu of specialty items.
Beyond the Table
Some venues offer more than a meal experience. Not unlike the Basketball Hall of Fame, but on a smaller scale, Shortstop also offers an interactive party experience with indoor batting cages to encourage mingling and hands-on fun.
“The batting cages are a great icebreaker,” Guarnieri said. “They make it easy to make conversation and make the party more interactive.”
Shortstop provides all food and beverages in party packages and may include chef-made desserts, though guests are also welcome to bring in their own desserts.
Speaking of the Hall of Fame, that venue provides local businesses with a one-of-a-kind party facility where guests can enjoy an interactive experience shooting hoops and touring the museum.
Johnson noted that Max’s Downtown is the exclusive caterer for Hall events, ensuring that visitors will enjoy a gourmet dinner experience in addition to a fun venue.
She noted that two of the biggest local companies that utilize the spot for their holiday parties are Advanced Manufacturing in Westfield and the Sarat Ford group, which includes Enfield Ford, Ford of Northampton, and the flagship Sarat Ford Lincoln in Agawam, for a total of more than 250 guests.
Jack Sarat, president of the auto group, said 2022 was the company’s first year at the Hall of Fame, and it was a great choice enjoyed by employees and their families. “Everybody had a great time. The food was excellent, and the venue is excellent. They really did a great job. A lot of people had never been there. It was a lot of fun.”
The Sarat patriarch said the company has used quite a few banquet facilities throughout the years it has been in business, but the Hall of Fame provided one of the most memorable parties.
“Overall, we had such a great time last year. They really sold us, and there was no reason not to go back this year.”