People ready for festive fun as local restaurants report jump in holiday party reservations

As the winter holidays approach, the head of Kitchener’s Charcoal Group of Restaurants says he’s booked more parties this season than he did before the pandemic — a positive sign for an industry beleaguered by lockdowns and a struggle to rehire staff as the province has reopened. 

“There’s this real positive sense of getting out, celebrating,” said Jody Palubiski in a phone interview while he sat at Wildcraft restaurant in Waterloo. 

Many of the group reservations are from companies looking for something extra for those attending, like mimosas on the table — something that translates into revenue for the restaurant and a sense of celebration for teams that may have spent limited time together during the pandemic. 

“I think it’s a pent-up idea of, we haven’t been able to do this for two years so when we get out, let’s do this really well and make sure we’re taking care of our team,” he said. 

Jill Sadler is seeing similar trends at S&V Uptown, which she attributes to stabilizing COVID-19 numbers when compared to last year’s lockdowns. 

“It looks like people are most certainly getting more comfortable with things like dining indoors as well as getting together in larger groups,” she said. “In the last couple of weeks it’s kind of gotten a little bit nuts.”

Jill Sadler, third from left, is seen with her staff at S&V Uptown in Waterloo. Sadler says holiday booking requests in the past few weeks have ‘kind of gotten a little bit nuts.’ (Sparkside Photography)

But, she said, people still need to remember they have to follow public health rules when celebrating at a restaurant.

“We want to keep our staff safe and the other diners safe,” she said. “It’s been a long road to get to this point where we’re at full capacity inside, so we just want to make sure that we’re following the rules and that we’re doing our part so that everybody feels safe and that we can continue.”

Other options to celebrate

At Bingemans in Kitchener, there will be some larger parties booked but many companies are celebrating in a way that’s distanced — be it a night out at the Gift of Lights drive-thru holiday light display for their employees or sending catered Christmas dinners to an employee’s home, Mark Bingeman said.  

He says he knew there wouldn’t be many big parties this holiday. But he said he hopes to see them in the months to come. 

He said he’s grateful the province and public health have released reopening plans that map out what capacity levels look like depending on COVID-19 case counts. 

Should people attend holiday parties?

Just because people can attend holiday parties, some may wonder if they should.

The Region of Waterloo’s associate medical officer of health said it can be hard to plan events that are happening later this month or in December, because COVID-19 case rates could change quickly.

Dr. Julie Emili said at a briefing earlier this month that anyone hosting a party, at restaurants or their homes, should try to reduce risk by encouraging guests to wear masks, following or reviewing cleaning protocols and considering whether guests can physically distance themselves.

People who are hosting a party can ask for their guests’ vaccination status, says Julie Blais Comeau of EtiquetteJulie.com. (Shutterstock / Prostock-studio)

“If physical distancing is harder, as long as you’re within the capacity limits set by the government, then you have to think about: how do you strengthen the other measures, right?” Emili said.

During a regional media briefing on Nov. 12, medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said families and groups may want to consider having a gathering at a restaurant because of the stricter rules that are in place to dine indoors.

“[People] should take into account what setting offers them the best opportunity to protect themselves and their loved ones through multiple layers of protection,” Wang said.

It’s OK to ask guests for proof of vaccination

On top of the public health guidance, people may be wondering whether to talk to friends, family and colleagues about things like masking and proof of vaccination.

Julie Blais Comeau is chief etiquette officer at EtiquetteJulie.com and says questions about COVID-19, vaccinations and holiday parties have been filling her inbox in recent weeks.

She says people hosting an event can absolutely ask guests if they’re vaccinated. She recommends calling people on the phone to have the conversation.

“You’re going to say something like, you know, I’m delighted that this year we can celebrate. We can have a holiday cheer together,” she said, adding then people can move into talking about the vaccine.

Julie Blais Comeau is chief etiquette officer at EtiquetteJulie.com. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

“You’re positioning it from the perspective of health and safety that you, as a responsible host, want to make sure that everybody can remain healthy. And then you’re going to say, we’ve decided that we’re going to ask people for their vaccination status.”

Guests, too, may feel it’s rude to say no to an invitation, but if people don’t feel comfortable with the idea of gathering, Blais Comeau says, “It’s perfectly OK to decline.”

Listen | Julie Blais Comeau on asking for proof of vaccination, whether guests should be given rapid tests and how to make small talk after 20 months of isolation.

The Morning Edition – K-W7:36Parties, COVID-19, vaccinations and you: Advice from an etiquette expert on how to navigate the holidays

The lifting of COVID-19 restrictions may mean people are getting more invitations to do things in-person, including holiday parties. That may be raising questions like, can guests be asked to do a rapid test before they enter a home? Or can you ask people if they’re vaccinated and if so how do you check? Etiquette expert Julie Blais Comeau answers those questions. 7:36