The decorations—or lack thereof—don’t tell the entire story. Behind the scenes, many companies and organizations are already planning for the holidays, and have been, in some cases, since the last glass of champagne was toasted in 2014.
As the economy continues to improve, those party plans, typically imagined in wide-open ballrooms and banquet halls with prix fixe menus, are more frequently involving restaurants—offering a personal, intimate feel that diners seek out in their daily lives.
Hotels are finding creative ways to meet those demands. Mike Chouri, the general manager of the Sheraton Tysons Hotel in Virginia, says the hotel’s Brix and Ale Restaurant underwent a renovation in 2012 to keep pace.
The classic comfort food–themed restaurant now has two entrances and can be split to accommodate parties and hotel guests, as well as walk-in diners.
“It’s great ambiance,” Chouri says, “because all of a sudden, you’re not only taking up half of the restaurant, but you’re looking over to the bar area where the [other] attendees are and thinking ‘OK, I’m here with my own group but I’m seeing the public close by in the lounge area.’ It’s kind of fun.”
The room can satisfy a sit-down dinner of 110 guests comfortably, and 150 for a cocktail reception. “It’s not unusual [for a guest to request a restaurant space]. It was unusual in the past, but I would say, for the last three, four, five years, there’s been a trend that people would prefer to have an event in a restaurant,” he adds. “There’s an atmosphere of fine dining in the restaurant, and you’re sitting in an atmosphere where there’s other people dining at the same time.”
Krista Perregaux, the catering sales manager at The Westin Reston Heights—also in Virginia—says the hotel will rent out its entire Vinifera Win Bar Bistro concept if a patron wants. But the three-space setup typically offers enough flexibility.
The dining room can accommodate a party of 28, while the Blue Ridge Room seats 40, and the lounge area is geared more toward receptions. “I am seeing that people are definitely looking for something that’s less structured,” she says. Perregaux explains that there are three emerging tiers blurring what used to be a common mid-point between extravagant and budget-friendly bookers. For instance, she sees some guests who want to bring in furniture, disc jockeys, or even portable casinos, and others who want to arrange a simple luncheon, or a small get-together. One common thread, however, is that people appreciate the flexibility and personal touches a restaurant setting can offer.
“At Vinifera, you pick your package price and we send you a menu and you kind of have free rein to choose the number of items based on your package, but it’s not necessarily limited,” she says. “It’s that feeling of being in a restaurant—that atmosphere. It takes a little bit of pressure off the planner, and still allows everybody to eat what they want, which is always a nice thing.”