Winnipeg employers, venues adapting to shifting holiday party demand

Winnipeg’s Tony Siwicki hangs up stockings and snowflakes in the lounge at Silver Heights Restaurant, a small notebook in hand.

“This is my Christmas party bible,” he said. “Everybody’s in here … it stays with me 24-hours a day.”

Siwicki keeps track of every reservation – from small family dinners to parties of 200 – in his little black book. It’s his restaurant’s busiest winter season since 2019, before COVID-19 and public health restrictions sent his customers home for the holidays.

“The tradition is always October we book ’em, November and December we cook ’em,” he said.

Read more: Return of holiday parties in 2021?

But this year, groups started booking for Christmas in July. Siwicki’s customers are eager to celebrate again, but Siwicki says there’s been a change this holiday season compared to years past.

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Catering orders at Silver Heights are up, he says, as people choose to celebrate at home or at the office. Today, his team packed up dozens of turkey dinners for a large order.

He’s also constantly calling large parties to confirm numbers, rearranging his floor plan on the fly.

“When they book for a table of 20, you can expect two to five people not showing up due to an illness,” he said.

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Legacy Bowes Director of HR Services Tory McNally says many employers are changing the way they celebrate the holidays to meet their employees’ preferences.

“They’re actually polling their staff to gauge their comfort level to see if people are interested in meeting in person,” she said.

McNally attributes the shift to an employee’s marketplace and the movement in the workforce brought on by COVID-19.

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“Employees expect a level of appreciation and a level of recognition that maybe wasn’t as expected before the pandemic,” she said.

Read more: The future of the workplace, 2 years into the pandemic

McNally says holiday parties and other forms of employee recognition are important to boost morale and are sometimes the first time remote employees meet their colleagues.

“I think there are a lot of people who started new jobs during the pandemic, and so have had no real close relationships with anybody in their new company,” she said.

Siwicki says he’s eager to serve customers in-person or at home, but is thrilled to have his usual holiday traffic coming through the doors. He’s also looking forward to the restaurant’s own staff Christmas party – held in March – when he and his employees can celebrate after a busy holiday season.

“It’s a time of giving, sharing, and just being human,” he said.


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