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More businesses to host holiday parties, but many still unsure

Last December, ClearVision Optical held a Holiday Pajama

Last December, ClearVision Optical held a Holiday Pajama Day but opted out of its usual in-person seasonal parties due to COVID. The company plans a mix of virtual and socially distanced live events this year. Credit: Jennifer Trakhtenberg

With more people vaccinated, a rising number of companies are looking to spread holiday cheer in-person this year.

More than a quarter (26.6%) of U.S. companies are planning to hold a live holiday party, up from the 5.33% who reported they would last year, according to recent survey results from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. But with COVID still looming, another 22% are still unsure what their plans will be this year.

Locally, venues and planners are reporting more companies looking to hold in-person gatherings, but on smaller levels.

"We’re already at 75% of the bookings that we had in 2019 and are seeing an influx of inquiries still coming in," says Steve Kirschbaum, director of catering for Lessing’s Hospitality Group, which operates 16 catering venues on Long Island.

Normally phones would start ringing August/September, but activity started to pick up more October/November, he says.

"The first two weeks of December are booking up quickly," he says, noting he anticipates surpassing 2019 corporate holiday bookings.

Vaccinations required

The Mansion at Oyster Bay in Woodbury, which has a rooftop party space with an awning and outside heaters, is a popular option this year due to its outdoor component, Kirschbaum says. He said many party hosts are requiring vaccinations of attendees even though the venue doesn’t.

That may be spurring confidence among companies who this holiday season are more willing to hold an in-person gathering, experts say.

"While COVID is still a concern, many more companies are planning in-person events than last year, as vaccination rates improve and cases level off," says Andy Challenger, senior vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement and business and executive coaching firm. "With the ability for kids ages 5 to 11 to get vaccinated, that gives companies even more confidence to hold celebrations in person."

But it’s still a pandemic, which is why some firms may still be taking a wait-and-see approach, given the 22% still unsure of plans.

"Most companies simply canceled the event in 2020, likely hoping it would be a one- year issue," said Challenger. "Now that we’re entering the second pandemic holiday season, companies want to celebrate and connect their teams, but are not quite sure how to do it."

Thinking small

Cindy Mardenfeld, president of Deer Park-based Infinity Relations, a full-service marketing firm that also does event planning, is seeing an uptick in companies wanting to hold in-person events. But they’re doing so on smaller levels.

"Past years it was a huge blown-out festivity," Mardenfeld says. "Now it’s much smaller."

That could mean companies planning to bring in breakfast or lunch to staff in the office or encouraging individual departments to go out to a restaurant, she says.

Joe Scalice, general manager of View in Oakdale, a Lessing’s property, says while he might see party bookings for say 30 to 80 people in pre-COVID years, it’s now ranging between 20 to 40 people.

"They’re smaller," he says.

But Scalice is still seeing more companies opting for in-person bookings this year vs. last, noting, "they’re thrilled to be able to do this."

Waiting until January

David Heymann, the managing partner at Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone, LLP in Mineola, says given conditions improving since last year, including widespread vaccination, the firm will have an in-person holiday gathering for all vaccinated employees at The Royalton Mansion in Roslyn Heights. Last year they had a Zoom cocktail party and gave each of its 139 employees a $100 American Express gift card and held a virtual raffle for various gifts.

They will hold the holiday gathering in January rather than December. December is a busy time for most with the holidays with competing demands on time. Also, when they decided to go forward with the holiday party this past summer, they wanted to give it more time as people were still getting vaccinated. He said 96% of all employees are vaccinated.

"I think people enjoy being in-person," Heymann says.

That doesn’t mean virtual gatherings have gone to the wayside.

Seeing virtue in virtual

ClearVision Optical, a Hauppauge-based designer and distributor of eyewear, in the past they always had a big holiday party at either a catering hall or restaurant, says Senior Talent Leader Jennifer Trakhtenberg. But last year with COVID, instead did virtual activities like a virtual escape room for the whole company, a Holiday Pajama Day that both in-person and remote employees participated in wearing festive pajamas, and a gingerbread-making contest that employees could do at home, she says.

This year, with front office staff still remote, it will be similar. Among possibilities, they’re considering a virtual murder mystery experience and also looking into gifting a family holiday experience, potentially treating employees to free admission for the Jones Beach holiday lights display and a Groupon for out-of-state employees to enjoy a holiday outing near them, Trakhtenberg says.

They’re also doing outdoor experiences. For example, leading up to last Thanksgiving and this Thanksgiving, ClearVision had a pie pickup station in its parking lot, accompanied by hot soup and apple cider.

"We still want to celebrate, but want to do it in a safe way," she says.

Fast Fact:

Among top precautions for those having in-person parties: 27.27% will limit the number of attendees and 18.18% will encourage hand washing through signage or verbal reminders, according to a survey. A 68.42% majority of firms will use a caterer, event planner or other outside service for their party and 42.11% will hold the party on company premises.

Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas (https://tinyurl.com/2cjejna3)

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