As more companies plan in-person holiday parties, restaurants prep … – Hartford Business Journal

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As the holiday season approaches, many local restaurants are seeing the return of in-person company parties after more than two years of maneuvering through the pandemic.
Hartford-area restaurateurs said they have seen an uptick in corporate holiday and event bookings this year after 2020 and 2021 led to restaurant shutdowns and remote or hybrid work for many companies. Seventy percent of Hartford Business Journal readers said their companies plan to have an in-person holiday party this year, according to a recent Flash Poll.
The New York Post reported in October that restaurant holiday bookings in New York City are up 34% compared with last year, according to data compiled by OpenTable. Numbers are still down from pre-pandemic 2019, but restaurateurs think the upswing is a good sign that things are returning to normal.
“I would say that it is not where it was pre-pandemic, especially for corporate events, but it is much better,” said Tyler Anderson, owner of Terreno restaurant inside The Goodwin hotel in Hartford and Millwright’s Restaurant in Simsbury.
Two years after closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Terreno fully reopened in early November. Anderson — who now lives in downtown Hartford and also manages a barbecue/Mexican food truck brand called TA-Que — said he’s seen the gradual return of in-person work in the city.
At The Goodwin hotel, Anderson is responsible for all the food and beverage operations, which also includes Bar Pina and corporate catering for the hotel’s banquet rooms. He said they can host groups anywhere from 10 to 800 people.
Millwright’s has a private dining room, too, that can seat up to 50 people. He said social events like baby showers and weddings are back “better than ever,” while corporate events are on the rise, but still lag 2019.
“It is much better than last year. … I think generally people are feeling better about doing large tables and reservations again,” Anderson said.
That wasn’t the case last year, said Mario Cardinale, manager of popular Hartford Italian restaurant and bar Peppercorn’s, a Main Street anchor for more than two decades.
“A lot of corporations or businesses that have end-of-year gatherings were remote and a lot of people were not going anywhere,” Cardinale said. “A lot of people were too paranoid to even want to go out.”
Cardinale said Peppercorn’s reservations have been maxed out recently as more businesses continue to return to the office, but the lunch hour can still be slow as workers only go into work certain days a week. The restaurant’s new banquet room can host up to 80 people, he said, and the difference between the last few years and this year is night and day.
“You can’t even measure how different it is,” Cardinale said. “It’s going the way that it needs to go.”
Salute Restaurant Owner Jimmy Cosgrove said Tuesdays through Thursdays have been the busy days for corporate events this year, because of hybrid work schedules. He said he’s seen insurance companies return to the city and travel more, which results in more large groups booking reservations.
“The other thing we’re noticing is that they’re spending more money,” Cosgrove said. “They’re spending a little more money than they have in years’ past, and the same thing with other customers.”
Anderson said that post-Thanksgiving is usually the start of the holiday corporate party season and runs into the following year. Because they get so busy, some companies host their year-end parties in January or February when bookings are available.
“It’s always fully-committed,” Anderson said. “Around the holidays if I don’t have a Friday and Saturday booking at Millwright’s, something’s wrong.”
Cosgrove said his Trumbull Street restaurant has been busy since the spring, and nights have been especially active.
“A lot of the corporate business is back,” Cosgrove said recently, while preparing for a group of 70 people with an evening reservation. “With holiday parties, because so many people work like three days a week, a lot of parties are all congested in those three days.”
He said Salute did a lot of catering business and to-go orders last December as opposed to hosting in-person celebrations that will be more prevalent in 2022. Salute, which also has a Rocky Hill location, is already getting large bookings for holiday lunches and dinners this December, he said. Before the pandemic, Salute could host at least a dozen holiday parties a day.
“We’re definitely seeing an upswing in people having parties here in the restaurant,” Cosgrove said. “We’ve been really busy — we’ve got as much as we can handle.”
Cosgrove said that workforce issues have affected his business, like so many other restaurants. That will present greater challenges during the busy holiday season.
“The quality of help that you have just isn’t the same that it was four years ago,” Cosgrove said. “The transient workers that you get sometimes last like two weeks.”
Competition for workers is so intense that people will leave to get paid $1 per hour more down the road, he said.
“You lose people because they go to the next place, which is willing to pay more because they need the help,” Cosgrove said. “I’ve had other restaurant owners ask me to not hire their help.”
Cardinale said Peppercorn’s doesn’t have employment issues right now, and jobs are sometimes in demand due to the unfortunate closure of other restaurants. Anderson said it’s more challenging than it’s ever been when it comes to hiring and retaining employees, but his restaurants are currently fully staffed.
“We’re fortunate in that we have a lot of people that have worked for us for a long time,” Anderson said. “We have a very solid core group of people. … Without (them), we can’t do anything.
Added Cosgrove: “The core group I have has really gotten me through the last couple years — they can get me through anything.” 
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This special edition informs and connects businesses with nonprofit organizations that are aligned with what they care about. Each nonprofit profile provides a crisp snapshot of the organization’s mission, goals, area of service, giving and volunteer opportunities and board leadership.
Hartford Business Journal provides the top coverage of news, trends, data, politics and personalities of the area’s business community. Get the news and information you need from the award-winning writers at HBJ. Don’t miss out – subscribe today.
Delivering Vital Marketplace Content and Context to Senior Decision Makers Throughout Greater Hartford and the State … All Year Long!
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