CLEVELAND, Ohio — The second year of COVID-19 is always a mixed bag when it comes to corporate holiday parties.
Some venues are scheduled full with holiday meetups. Others say businesses are cold-blooded and postponing gatherings in the face of rising COVID-19 cases. And yet another factor is at play. Staff shortages have caused some restaurants to turn away party customers.
Many Cleveland venues, like the new Brewdog on the Scranton Peninsula, have popped up, and it can be difficult to get a table — or even a reservation, weeks in advance at some Cleveland stalwarts.
But it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what a company is doing, at least when it comes to asking companies to speak publicly about their vacation plans.
“There is a certain portion of the population that is overly sensitive about having fun during this time,” said Sam McNulty, owner of Market Garden and several other restaurants in the area.
In fact, cleveland.com reached out to several companies but had trouble getting responses. A local business declined to comment said it did not want its plans to provoke backlash. Some said they don’t host parties or gave vague answers about health and safety.
Mike Miller, owner of the Music Box Supper Club in the Flats, said businesses were more interested in the holidays this year than last, but recently many have called things off. He expects to hold around 10 events, down from the usual 20-30 before the pandemic.
“A lot of them have just been postponed; they pushed them back,” Miller said. “They just got nervous about the health and safety of the situation, and we totally understood.”
Businesses spoke about concerns for their staff and families, the need for larger open spaces, and some asked if Music Box staff were vaccinated, Miller said.
Miller said public perception was never cited as a reason for the cancellations.
Miller said that despite fully vaccinating its staff, Music Box is still deciding on its own holiday party.
“We will be monitoring the number of cases,” Miller said. “Yes, our staff are vaccinated, but they have spouses and friends they can bring.”
John Orlando, president and CEO of Orlando Baking, said the company will not be hosting its annual party at the facility this year due to rising cases.
“We decided to wait another year,” he said. “We really wanted to do something because we like having everyone together and talking to them.”
Orlando said staff members are still social distancing and wearing masks at company facilities.
A Westlake clinic raised similar concerns.
“While we would like nothing better than to hang out with our team members and celebrate the season, we are aware of people’s anxiety about variants and the increase in cases, so in In the spirit of health and safety, we have decided not to spend our vacation. party this year, but hopefully she’ll be back next year,” said Dr. Michael Wojtanowski of the Ohio Aesthetic and Plastic Surgery Clinic.
Meanwhile, McNulty said his restaurants were in high demand.
McNulty has approximately 14 event spaces between Market Garden Brewery, Bier Markt, Bar Cento, Speakeasy, Nano Brew Cleveland and its breweries. Most are booked in February.
Before the vaccine, people stayed home. After the vaccine, business definitely came back, McNulty said.
The only two cancellations he got were from health systems, which said they were okay with going out, but employees were extremely busy right now, McNulty said. But he has also booked a 250-person “healthcare heroes” party for early January.
McNulty said event spaces have been renovated during the closures to make them safer, including adding HVAC systems with UV light filters to kill viruses. Its staff are also fully vaccinated, he said.
McNulty said his company’s big holiday party will return after a hiatus last year.
McNulty and Miller say they let companies decide what policies to put in place during the holidays.
John Lane, co-owner of the Winking Lizard Tavern chain, said his business was getting calls about holiday parties. They just don’t do much so as not to stretch the staff too much.
“We’re just giving up on that business,” he said, though he said they had a few for long-time customers. Otherwise, he keeps the banquet halls closed.
“It’s tough right now, the staff is a real problem,” Lane said.
With mixed responses from both companies and the venues they use for corporate events, it’s hard to say when the holiday season will be back to normal.
“Corporate parties aren’t back,” Music Box’s Miller. “People are watching them, but they haven’t come back to anywhere near where they were historically. We’ll see where we are hopefully in a year.
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