Executives are set to host holiday parties for staff this year as much as they did before the pandemic, buoying B.C.’s hospitality sector after two challenging years.
Many companies skipped in-person get-togethers in 2020 and 2021, while others held scaled-back events last year during a brief window of time when the province had relaxed COVID-19 restrictions.
Executives who wait too long to book space may find few options to secure private rooms at restaurants.
“Holiday gatherings give us an opportunity to reflect upon the past year’s performance, and for management, peers and colleagues to recognize each other’s efforts face to face,” Enwave Corp. CEO Brent Charleton told BIV.
“You can’t discount the value of personal interactions.”
Charleton booked a private holiday dinner party last year for around 30 employees at a Joey Restaurants location in Burnaby. About one-third of his workforce chose not to attend, with many of those workers not wanting to risk the chance of contracting COVID-19, he said. This year, Charleton has planned a grazing event and a dinner at the same restaurant.
He expects about 90 per cent of his 45 employees to attend, and all are allowed to bring a guest.
He was wise to book space long in advance.
Patio managing director Megan Halkett told BIV that she could not find adequate restaurant space to host a holiday gathering for her advertising agency’s staff.
She plans to instead host a 50-person party at her home.
(Image: Enwave CEO Brent Charleton (centre) stands between his company's chief science officer John Zhang (left) and plant general manager Caldo du Monde as they inspect some dehydrated strawberries made with their drying technology | Chung Chow)
Pre-pandemic, Halkett’s holiday parties welcomed up to 75 people, including staff and clients.
The pandemic prompted her to downsize operations and relinquish her office’s lease. The result is that all staff work remotely, including some who live outside the province.
“If they live too far away to attend the party, we’ll send them a nice gift basket,” she said.
Companies needing larger space than restaurants are booking convention space, said Graeme Benn, the general manager at the Parq Vancouver complex’s Douglas Hotel and JW Marriott Hotel.
His complex has 60,000 square feet of contiguous meeting space that can be broken into various configurations for smaller gatherings.
“We’ve got a party coming up for 750 people,” Benn said. “The other day, every single inch of our meeting space was occupied, and we had seven different groups operating across the floor.”
He said many clients are large B.C.-based companies.
Deloitte, for example, has booked space at the Parq Vancouver for what B.C. regional managing partner Jodi Evans told BIV will be a large evening party with food, music and dancing.
"People can bring guests," she said. "We did a poll with our people and they chose this option. These types of events have always been important and are more important than ever for team building, culture and engagement."
Business at the Parq Vancouver waned during the pandemic.
Corporate and private event bookings were rare in 2020, because the B.C. government’s pandemic-era restrictions essentially banned them. No one in B.C. had received even a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine until Dec. 22 of that year.
Widespread public vaccinations and loosened government restrictions in 2021 meant that limited corporate gatherings were possible, although hospitality staff had to check customers’ COVID-19 vaccine cards to ensure that they had been vaccinated.
The rise of the more highly transmissible Omicron variant then complicated matters when it was first detected in B.C. on Nov. 30, 2021.
Omicron cases soared, prompting health officials to institute new restrictions on Dec. 20, 2021. That limited event sizes, banned diners in restaurants from moving between tables and otherwise limited interactions.
B.C. had about 15,000 restaurants pre-pandemic, and that number fell to a low of around 12,900 restaurants last fall, BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association CEO Ian Tostenson told BIV. He estimated that the number has since rebounded to around 14,000.
In the central part of the downtown Vancouver peninsula, the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA) counted 27 new eateries and 13 that permanently closed doors between November 2021 and August.
That left a net total of 14 new restaurants in the area – much more than the net total of one new non-food retailer in the area during that time period, according to the DVBIA’s Downtown Storefront Report.
“Business is good, particularly for private parties,” Glowbal Restaurant Group owner Emad Yacoub recently told BIV. “We are seeing a massive increase from 2019. It’s about 25 per cent, or 30 per cent over 2019.” •