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'Tis the Season for Holiday Festivities

‘Tis the season to gather together and enjoy festive events celebrating another year of camaraderie and accomplishments. Enjoying mugs of hot cocoa and eggnog along with freshly baked cookies.

The warmth of the holidays breaks through the cold and bluster of winter, as folks gets that sentimental feeling that always comes with this time of year.

Choosing the right venue for an annual holiday event can go a long way toward bringing forth cheerful celebration among employees and clients alike. A wide variety of settings are available for hosting holiday functions, each offering its own unique atmosphere and charm that helps set them apart as memorable spaces in which to gather.

One such location is the Blue Bell Inn and Bluestone Country Club, where Alicia Maestas is the director of sales.

"Our properties are centrally located in Montgomery County, in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, just minutes from routes 476, 276, 202 and 73,” she explains. “With ample free parking, multiple room options, and a culinary team known for amazing creativity, holiday parties are a natural fit into our hospitality venue. Party goers have the opportunity to experience an ambiance within the suburbs that had come to be expected only within the confines of Center City. The Blue Bell Inn, and our sister property, Bluestone Country Club, both have seen multi-million-dollar renovations over the past two years."

"We take a boutique approach to all of our hospitality events; meaning no need for pre-printed packages. We design our events around our client’s desired end result; literally no two events can ever be the same,” Maestas adds.

Guests can enjoy the view of the rolling hillsides at The Country House at Bluestone while lounging under the covered patio, or warm up with a beverage in hand by the firepit at either location.

During the holiday season, Blue Bell Inn covers its outdoor patio with a fully draped and lit event space that is one-of-a-kind and exclusively available for a few weeks out of the year. “Between both venues, we are able to accommodate all groups from small meetings of 8-10 guests to larger events hosting dinner and dancing for up to 320 people," notes Maestas.

She says that many groups are looking to incorporate some type of activity or entertainment into their holiday function in order to ensure that attendees will have an unforgettable experience. “Having a mentalist socialize with your guests, a caricaturist setup by the bar, or photo booth to provide something physical to take home is something that will keep people talking.”

Gone are the days of a Pollyanna gift exchange, Maestas adds, citing the rise in popularity of traditions like the “ugly sweater contest” in the workplace. “Creating a fun competitive atmosphere lightens the mood before you even walk in the door, not to mention you have the opportunity to see your coworkers in a different light. We also have found that many clients are choosing to replace the traditional favor takeaway in lieu of donations and contributions being made to local charities."

A majority of larger groups are gearing toward less formal menus, she observes, opting instead for interactive options and tasting stations as opposed to a seated meal. “Options such as our paella station with Spanish saffron rice, build-your-own burger and French fry bars with crinkle cut and curly fries, and our signature seafood bar are sure to impress.”

Guests can top off an enjoyable day with an assortment of miniature desserts or a hot chocolate and coffee bar that includes flavored creamers, crushed peppermint, marshmallows and homemade whipped cream.

Dawn N. Bundick, senior sales and marketing manager for Hard Rock Cafe Philadelphia, says that there are several reasons her property is a great choice for holiday parties and events. “Our Cafe is a unique venue in the city and we sit in a historic location, which is centrally located; we have three event spaces that can cater to small or large events and holiday parties. The icing on the proverbial cake is our seasoned sales team that can assist you with planning your event from start to finish."

Its walls are adorned with authentic music memorabilia that artists either wore or played when performing in Philadelphia, and Hard Rock’s Philadelphia Room pays homage to those Philadelphia and surrounding countryside native artists. “Our banquet menu is 100 percent customizable,” explains Bundick, “our Executive Chef and culinary team will work with you to create exciting offerings for you and your guests."

Hard Rock can craft a specialty cocktail named for the host company and even will incorporate the company color, if possible. Clients truly get into assisting with creating these specialty cocktails, which can be used for welcome drinks or served throughout the evening. Another option is to use a “casino” theme that offers guests an opportunity to later obtain prizes with their “winnings.”

For dining, Bundick says that "carving stations stay at the top of popular options for holiday parties. To follow that trend are live action stations, pasta, paella, stir-fry, and sushi, as it adds an exciting dimension to the food offerings."

According to Lawrence Treu, director of sales and marketing for the Westin Mount Laurel in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, his property is the only luxury hotel located in Southern New Jersey outside of Atlantic City.

“Whether clients are looking for an event for 400 people or an intimate party for 20, the versatile function space at The Westin can meet the expectations of every organization,” explains Treu. “The magnificent ballrooms have very recently been redesigned to provide the choice of either a modern or a traditional environment. Our seasoned staff, combined with the talents of the renowned chef, provide extraordinary service and outstanding culinary experiences.”

The Westin Mount Laurel’s holiday menus are customizable with multiple upgrade options and holiday specific offerings, he notes, adding that the hotel’s location in Mt. Laurel makes it the perfect centrally located facility for guests to get to or from anywhere in the tri-state region.

In addition, the facility is easily accessible to all major Interstate highways and provides free, ample parking on-site.

“Holiday festivities can continue at the Holiday After Party in Bar 555... until 2:00 AM,” says Treu. “At the end of the evening, party guests can take advantage of discount hotel room rates and ‘Take the Elevator Home’ to their redesigned guest rooms."

"The stunning architectural design of the hotel’s Atrium entrance immediately sets the holiday mood with a breathtaking 20-foot chandelier and fabulous holiday décor,” exclaims Treu. He adds that the property boasts full-service catering to go along with its luxury overnight accommodations, as well as customizable packages that are tailored to each client’s unique and specific vision.

"Some of the latest twists of holiday events include the use of non-traditional colors, pops of vibrant colors and oversized props,” says Treu. “Organizations are partnering with non-profits to share - in many creative ways - the joys of the holiday season, too.”

As for those planning the launch of a new product around the holidays, he says they may want to theme their event around the launch itself.

"Signature cocktails, heavy hors d’oeuvres and unique food stations have become popular as opposed to full buffets or plated meals,” Treu explains. “This allows guest to mingle and to mix freely with all of the invited guests rather than be locked in to a stationary location."

Julia Spieler, the catering sales manager for The Event Center at SugarHouse Casino and Hugo’s Frog Bar & Chop House in Philadelphia, says, “During the holiday season, SugarHouse offers a variety of event space options, as well as a dedicated catering team from world-renowned Gibsons Restaurant Group (GRG). Guests can savor delectable meals while trying their luck at one of the many slots, table games and poker tables."

"With a 10,000-square foot Event Center, a 28-table poker room and free parking,” she adds, “SugarHouse is equipped with a variety of amenities to please everyone attending."

The Event Center features a private boardroom for smaller meetings, while private lounge areas are an option for seminars, classroom-like sessions and smaller groups. SugarHouse is home to a variety of event spaces, and each can be customized to meet the group’s needs and specifications. The function space also offers scenic views and includes an outdoor balcony and pre-function area. Groups of 100 or more receive courtesy coat check, as well.

"SugarHouse’s Event Center makes for the perfect venue when it comes to holiday parties and functions,” says Spieler. “The spacious ballroom is column-less, allowing it to hold large celebrations or be configured for small, intimate gatherings... The floor-to-ceiling windows offer panoramic views of the Delaware River and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, making for a memorable holiday occasion on the riverfront."

Hugo’s Frog Bar & Chop House is the casino’s high-end steak house that is run by GRG. In addition to Gibsons USDA-certified steaks and chops, Hugo’s Frog Bar & Chop House menu offers fresh seafood that includes lobster tails, king crab legs, oysters and a variety of fish.

"The Event Center features a customizable catering menu by Gibsons Restaurant Group... Accessible for all ages, guests can enter The Event Center directly from the SugarHouse free parking garage and enjoy a dedicated coat check... A 24/7 casino, SugarHouse also has valet parking," she explains.

SugarHouse celebrates the holiday season with one of Philadelphia’s oldest traditions - the annual New Year’s Day Mummers Parade. SugarHouse’s commitment to the Mummers began in 2012, serving as the parade’s title sponsor; and SugarHouse has renewed its commitment to the Mummers, ensuring that the parade will continue each year through at least 2020.

"The casino will offer its annual Mummers Brunch and a free shuttle to the parade,” says Spieler. “As the longest-running New Year’s Day tradition in the country, the Mummers Parade is a great way to celebrate the start of a new year."

When it comes to tasty treats, Spieler says that guests can indulge in sugary confections with SugarHouse’s dessert-action stations. Among the options are donut, flambé and s’mores stations, offering something to satisfy just about every guests’ cravings and sweet tooth.

"SugarHouse’s built-in after party makes the casino a unique venue for any holiday celebration,” she adds. “We feature gaming and entertainment options not traditionally found elsewhere. Endless gaming opportunities bring a special element to any holiday party, and groups can be accommodated according to size."

"Likewise,” she continues, “the casino’s events team can work with planners to determine what space configurations are available to customize their holiday events. SugarHouse recommends booking early because prime holiday dates fill in quickly with concerts, parties and receptions."

For Sam Cravero, CEO of The Fuge in Warminster, Pennsylvania, uniqueness is a key component in his property’s attraction as a destination for holiday parties along with a wide range of other events. "The Fuge is unique and different from many other venues. We are told by clients that come in on a regular basis that they enjoy choosing something different when hosting their events."

"The Fuge is a historic facility wrapped in modern technology. It’s trendy, but still traditional. We feel we have something for everyone here,” continues Cravero. “With The Fuge’s built in AV systems, we can have the room glow any color and these colors can change throughout the event. We have multiple 40-foot movie screens, which clients can utilize for their logo, photo montage, or even a Power Point video. Of course, the world’s largest centrifuge is housed in the main event space, making us an incomparable venue! The Fuge has a ‘wow’ factor that I feel no other venue can match."

He also observes that attendees don’t want to be stuck in their seats for the entire party. “As people are changing with the times, we have seen Christmas parties changed to holiday parties with blue and silver themes... Some companies even call it an ‘End of the Year Party.’ Many companies have tried to take the pressure off of their employees to attend yet one more event during the holidays, and instead have opted to move their holiday party into January for a more relaxed feel."

For meal functions, Cravero says there has been a trend moving toward stations instead of sit-down dinners and that people don’t want to be confined to their seats as part of a formal dinner. Stations allow people to interact with each other while waiting for their food, as well as minimizing the amount of time people must sit at their table eating, allowing for more overall party time.

After all, coming together for fun and festivities is the reason for these seasonal events. More time to party means more time to spend having a happy holiday in the new old-fashioned way among clients and coworkers.

As merriment fills the air and the holiday season draws near, planners will find that a range of options are available that will help get their attendees into the spirit of the season. From elegant spaces to fun and festive settings, planners will have plenty of options when offering tidings of comfort and joy for attendees at events during the


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