Posted on Monday 19 November 2018 by Ulster Business

Christmas1

A time for giving, the festive party is an event that puts the spotlight firmly on employer gratitude. Here Emma Deighan scours some of the top NI venues to see how they are catering to the corporate Christmas

Arguably the most anticipated social event in the work diary, the Christmas ‘do’ has evolved over the years.

And many of Northern Ireland’s top hosts agree and have widened their offering in response.

Event managers and venue owners say everything from the format of the Christmas party to its timing have changed to accommodate the demands of employees today.

How, when and where we celebrate are top priorities.

Take the evening do, for example. For many, that age-old three-course setup doesn’t cut the convenience factor, prompting my employers end the work day early to take advantage of lunch dates. It’s a favourable move that delivers on two fronts – it offers time-poor workers the relief of a shorter day but doesn’t infringe on family obligations.

Owner of Bishop’s Gate Hotel in Derry and former president of the Northern Ireland Hotel’s Federation, Ciaran O’Neill agrees.

“Christmas has changed over the last number of years for our industry with more businesses looking for lunches, as opposed to the traditional party nights of old,” he said. “We do still have ‘big nights’, but these tend to occur on Fridays and Saturdays.”

Ciaran says he has also noted an increase in smaller party sizes over the years.

“We are seeing less private large events and more small groups dining with us. Employees are arranging ‘get togethers’ with colleagues or teams that they work directly with.”

Bishop’s Gate, which has become Derry’s hospitality jewel attracting the AA Hotel of the Year (Northern Ireland) 2018-19 accolade, among many other awards, pairs an historic setting with parties for Christmas.

The Bullitt Hotel in Belfast is setting the scene for the experience-savvy hipster workforce – and this Christmas Bullitt’s ‘experiences’ reflect the discernment of its guests.

General manager at Bullitt, Michael Sullivan has seen a spike in ‘experience’ events, upgrading the turkey feast to a cooler, more casual event.

“We have had a number of enquiries for informal gatherings in our Good Room event space, with a festive lunch to follow. The Good Room is the perfect space to blur the lines between work and play for intimate company get togethers ahead of a more traditional Christmas do,” he said.

“We’ve also had enquiries for private gin and whiskey tastings and can also organise a number of unique events and team-building activities for groups, from candle-making to chunky knitting workshops for a truly memorable Christmas party.”

This December Bullitt has a range of packages to suit private and shared functions – from sit-down meals in its restaurant Taylor and Clay to VIP packages in its Baltic Bar or secluded enclaves above in Babel – its rooftop bar.

And its ‘Tipsy Tea’ is geared towards the day-time revellers. Prices range from £23.50 to £44.50 a head.

“Bullitt has brought something new and exciting to the traditional Christmas party market, with a range of novel spaces set within cool, contemporary surroundings. We like to think that we’re helping to shake up the scene somewhat by offering something a little different,” Michael said.

If you want to push the boat out with your corporate squad, Titanic Belfast is ready for boarding. Its play on Belfast’s shipbuilding heritage and the fateful Titanic is always a crowd pleaser.

Laura Cowan, head of sales at Titanic Belfast said: “We host bespoke private Christmas party nights, which are tailored to our clients’ needs across all of the Titanic venues – Titanic Belfast (including our newest event space Hickson’s Point), SS Nomadic and the Titanic Exhibition Centre.

“These can range from private dining, iconic tailored experiences, drinks receptions and gala dinners. We also host our traditional Christmas party nights – featuring a Christmas cocktail reception on arrival followed by a delicious four course banquet and live entertainment.”

For sheer luxury, the more refined office workers take to the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast to sample the Merchant’s opulent offering.

And Clare Mullin, meetings and events manager there, said the hotel’s renowned afternoon teas are bucking the turkey dinner trend but are every bit as fanciful.

“Over the years we have seen an increased demand for Christmas parties and festive events that offer something a little different, memorable or exciting. People increasingly seem to be looking for something out of the ordinary.

“We have seen a trend for corporate bookings where companies are looking for alternatives to a traditional evening dinner. For example, our Festive Afternoon Tea is very popular – especially the Champagne variety. Festive drinks in our famous Cocktail Bar continue to be a popular option for the corporate market too, with bespoke offerings such as our Redbreast whiskey flight extremely popular. >
Client lunches in The Cloth Ear and Berts Jazz Bar are also growing in popularity.”

Casual begins in its neighbouring Cloth Ear from £28.50 a person, retro at Berts Jazz Bar will cost you £32.50 for lunch or £35 for dinner.

For private functions The Roof Garden Alpine Lodge at the Merchant can cater to 70 and for the more luxurious three-courses will be served in the Rita Duffy Suite for £59 a person.

The newly revamped and extended Ten Square is another setup that combines afternoon tea with tradition.

Swapping caffeine for mulled wine and pastries for mince pies, Ten Square’s Loft, located on its top floor and flaunting some pretty impressive city centre views, plays the backdrop to this year’s festive afternoon teas at £29 a head, from 2pm to 4pm.

It also offers more familiar packages in its Linen Hall suite where tradition mingles with 80s DJs to live bands.

And for those who really want to go that extra mile, Belfast’s newest Hastings sibling is ready and waiting.

The Grand Central Hotel on Bedford Street boasts unrivalled views from sky-high Observatory, where afternoon tea takes on a Christmas theme or tradition can be celebrated at its Seahorse Restaurant and ground floor Grand Cafe.

Allyson McKimm, events director of Hastings Hotels said expectations for hospitality environments to up their game get higher every year.

She said Hastings Hotels had “reached new heights this year to keep the format fresh and exciting with new entertainment and new twists on the menus and lots of exciting extras including the traditional and limited edition Christmas ducks.”

Allyson said a growing trend for lunch events inspired Europa’s ‘Christmas Caberet Lunches’ with Motown entertainment. The live tribute act theme travels across its entire portfolio.

“Once again, our guests have asked us if they could continue the celebrations after Christmas once the party season is over, and to meet this demand, we have launched a whole range of tribute shows between Christmas and the New Year at all venues including ever popular All American Buffet with Elvis at the Europa, Jersey Guys, ABBA and our favourite George Michael and Robbie Williams Tribute Show at the Ballygally, Stormont and Everglades Hotels.”

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