By Ronnie Wendt | ©Grand Geneva Resort & Spa
Your holiday party plans are in full motion by now. Although they may look a bit different this year, organizations are still finding ways celebrating, albeit on a smaller scale.
“Many people are taking a wait-and-see approach,” admits Cheri Davis, event planner and owner of Cheri Denise Events of Mequon. “Other people are doing different things like providing gift boxes for employees, staff and friends, or sending out gift cards. If they do gather, it’s in a smaller, more intimate setting.”
SCALING BACK THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT?
Todd Conrad, director of group sales at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa of Lake Geneva, agrees that the pandemic has changed the size of some events, but it hasn’t tempered the holiday spirit. “While holiday parties are still of interest, we’ve seen many organizations scale back to smaller, more private, intimate dinners, luncheons and cocktail receptions,” he says. “Companies also are making their holiday parties into winter celebrations that are held in January or February.”
But in Eau Claire, the holiday party is alive and well, according to Shari Radford, director of sales at The Florian Gardens Conference Center. She says the venue has a holiday party scheduled every weekend in December, not to mention some midweek events. “So far, things are looking good.
For instance, Radford notes a large national company anticipates bringing in more than 400 people for a holiday celebration among the venue’s elaborately decorated Christmas trees and twinkling lights.
When companies throw a holiday party now, what tops their wish list is not festive lights and glittery trees, but a venue well- stocked with hand sanitizer and masks, and plenty of options for social distancing. People are not throwing caution to the wind, Conrad points out. He says groups want to put their best effort forward to keep everyone healthy, and that includes “anti-bacterial wipes, hand sanitizer and masks throughout the event.”
As such, social distancing remains a key part of every holiday party. Most planners are seating fewer people at each table round and choosing plated meals over buffets, specifies Conrad. Radford echoes his sentiments, mentioning that The Florian Gardens plans to seat the holiday party of 400 in a ballroom with a capacity of over 525. The venue is also seating six people at tables meant for eight.
Grand Geneva — featuring over 2 million lights, animated scenes, a hallway full of gingerbread houses, and special, holiday-themed seasonal menus — is a magical place during the holiday season. But what’s getting people excited this season is its more than 60,000 square feet of function space for larger groups and an outdoor igloo experience for small groups.
“We offer ample function space for large and small groups to host their holiday parties,” Conrad says. “We limit the number of people at each table to allow for social distancing. Outside accommodations are also a common request.”
The Florian Gardens has more outdoor requests, too, even during a season known for healthy snowfalls and frigid temperatures. “We have a group of 250 that plans to host its event outside in December,” Radford confirms. Still, most groups prefer the indoors, she says, with “garland and Christmas trees in every corner.”
Festive foods make most holiday party highlight reels as well. That’s still a focus, both Conrad and Radford say. The buffet is not dead, as some predicted when the pandemic began. But it has changed. “Though most guests choose plated options, groups that opt for buffets have our waitstaff do the serving,” Radford explains. “Every member of our waitstaff must wash their hands and apply hand sanitizer before entering the buffet or touching anything.”
Planners and venues are implementing safety checks and new practices to minimize risks and allow guests to celebrate the spirit of the season as it has always been intended. While the events may look slightly different this year, the same holiday cheer will prevail.