Last year, COVID put a damper on many holiday party plans as Omicron surged after Thanksgiving.
So far this year, COVID’s is less of an issue and taking a backseat to inflation as companies face steeper tabs for their holiday parties.
Still, despite higher costs, several local catering venues and restaurants say the volume of businesses planning holiday festivities is back to pre-COVID numbers.
“We’re definitely at pre-pandemic levels,” says Steve Kirschbaum, director of catering for Lessing’s Hospitality Group, which operates 16 catering venues and nine restaurants on Long Island. “Most of our big venues are just about sold out for corporate holiday parties.”
He said after almost three years of COVID, companies are ready to “get back to business,” which accounts for the strong holiday bookings.
That seems to be the case considering a survey from Elevent found 63% of business respondents said they will have a holiday party of some kind this year.
This year, “it’s less about COVID and more about celebrating the year and employees,” says Jon Conelias, CEO of Elevent, an events platform for team building and team engagement.
With that, “holiday parties are shifting to even more in-person as we return to a more normal post-COVID world,” he says.
But Conelias says firms that might still have remote employees dispersed around the country are still using virtual celebrating as an option with 22% Elevent surveyed having a hybrid holiday party to accommodate both local and remote staff.
Michael Lessing Jr., area operations manager for Lessing’s restaurants, says he’s seeing strong demand for in-person gatherings and has already exceeded pre-COVID bookings.
One of the popular spots they’re booking up is their newer venue in Bay Shore called Goldy’s Gems, which is “cocktail-lounge style,” he says.
He said last year, their restaurants had “a tremendous” amount of cancellations between December and January due to the Omicron surge.
Probably 30% to 40% of their corporate holiday restaurant bookings were canceled and while some groups rescheduled, “a lot of groups scrapped it,” Lessing says.
With inflation, he said the cost of goods (such as food and liquor) have gone up double digits since last year and they’ve had to raise prices, but have tried to do so strategically as to not outpace what the market will bear.
Due to inflation, there are some companies that have scaled back spending, so instead of a full sit-down dinner, they might do a cocktail party with an open bar package and passed around appetizers, he says. But that has been minimal.
Dede Gotthelf Moan, owner of the 90-room Southampton Inn, said she’s seen some companies /that previously might have booked a four-hour lavish dinner doing a two-hour cocktail party with lots of hors d'oeuvres and limited bar of beer, wine and soda.
Some have opted for a luncheon, generally less expensive than a dinner.
But they’re still going forward with plans, and Gotthelf Moan says the pace of inquiries has already “preceded pre-COVID levels” and corporate holiday bookings are the strongest they’ve been in two years.
In fact, one Midwestern company has inquired about booking the entire hotel for a corporate meeting/party.
“The driving cause is the joy of being together and celebrating in -person and the slight damper is the inflationary aspect of the world,” she says.
Jennifer Cona, managing partner of Melville-based Cona Elder Law, said she already knew their holiday party would “cost quite a bit more than last year” probably about 20%.
They have it at The Main Event in Farmingdale traditionally and that’s where it will be this year.
She said she’s not scaling back, noting “people like what they like and I don’t really want to change the holiday cheer.”
She said employees do a Secret Snowman gift exchange and they also do some team building games.
Cona said the party “creates camaraderie” and employees get to know each other in a different way.
Paul Severino, President of Intelligent Product Solutions, a Hauppauge-based product design firm, agrees, noting they will also go ahead with their usual plans to hold their holiday at the Bellport Country Club.
They invite around 200 people, but usually end up with between 100 and 120 including employees, some clients and strategic partners.
They had to postpone last year’s holiday party twice due to COVID and just had it this past April. And they will go ahead with this year’s holiday party in December as planned.
“It’s a perk for the employees and people that work hard for us all year,” says Severino, noting “we just budgeted more for the party” given higher pricing.
Kirschbaum says at Lessing’s catering facilities, he hasn’t seen any companies cut back. He said they’re at a minimum doing what they did before if not adding more.
“People are ready to get back to partying,” he says.
Looking to spice things up at your next corporate party? Well, when asked about office party activities, over half of corporate Americans (51%) wanted a dance party.
Source: Price4Limo (https://www.price4limo.com/office-party-etiquette.html)