Christmas parties back on as economy recovers

Jason Borthwick and Jenny McLean get in the festive mood at Ryan's Bar. Picture: Jon Savage
Jason Borthwick and Jenny McLean get in the festive mood at Ryan's Bar. Picture: Jon Savage
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Christmas parties are back with a bang across the Capital, with Edinburgh Castle among a host of venues reporting a surge in festive bookings.

Business groups said it was clear that companies were starting to loosen the purse strings to help staff celebrate the festive season after years of the Christmas work bash being scaled back or cancelled altogether thanks to the economic downturn.

The upswing comes with city-centre traders banking on a strong Christmas and New Year period at the tills. Footfall for the week ending last Sunday was up almost 21 per cent on the same seven days last year.

Ruth McKay, Edinburgh chairwoman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said the rise in Christmas parties was linked to growing optimism about the economy.

She said: “I personally had to arrange four Christmas parties that I didn’t do last year. Everybody – customers and businesses – feel this year they can relax a little bit more and let their hair down.”

Edinburgh Castle, the city’s most popular tourist attraction, has already taken 1357 Christmas lunch bookings for December, ranging from smaller groups to larger corporate functions.

Pubs and restaurants have also seen a huge boost in party bookings, with West End venues flooded with interest on the back of a concerted Christmas campaign.

Jason Borthwick, general manager of Ryan’s Bar, said Christmas work party bookings were up on the past two years, coinciding with the clearing of roadworks in the area.

He said: “We’re chock-a-block. The Fridays and Saturdays are sold out and we’ve got bookings for Wednesdays and Thursdays.

“The restaurant downstairs becomes a party venue, with a five-course meal and a disco. It’s looking like a good month.”

Such has been the interest that The Wee Pub in the Grassmarket – the country’s smallest bar with space for 20 punters – has allowed itself to be booked out exclusively for festive gatherings for the first time.

A boost in trade has also come on the back of Sunday’s Light Night, which pulled an estimated 26,000 revellers to George Street.

Essential Edinburgh chief executive Andy Neal said the remodelled Christmas festival was helping to attract after-work parties to the city 
centre.

He said: “We’re distancing ourselves now from the tram disruption, which is helpful. The Christmas offer this year is stronger than its been in recent years and the third thing is the [improving] economy.”

City economy convener Frank Ross said: “With a new look for Edinburgh’s Christmas and the city centre now clear of tram works, I am sure that all kinds of businesses are going to have a bumper festive season this year.”

Spirits not high for everyone

NOT all of Edinburgh’s largest employers are loosening the purse strings for their Christmas work parties.

Royal Bank of Scotland, which employs about 9200 people in the Capital, will give individual departments £10 a head to go towards festive lunches and after-work get-togethers as per previous years.

City council staff are not given a penny for their Christmas work celebrations, while employees at asset management firm Aegon pay up to £50 each for a deluxe company bash at Murrayfield Stadium.

Housebuilding and construction company Miller Group is holding a more lavish affair, with some staff invited to watch violinist Nicola Benedetti in concert with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra at the Usher Hall in an experience including mince pies and mulled wine.