With the recession jitters on everyone's mind, many Orange County residents may be doing their New Year's Eve celebrating closer to home.
Some hotel and restaurant operators interviewed Thursday said reservations for New Year's Eve dinners and parties are down from last year. And limousine companies, disc jockeys and other service providers who are usually in high demand this time of year say their business is also suffering.
"Many people are more careful about where they spend their money and what they pay for entertainment this season," said George Kookootsedes, general manager of John Dominis, an upscale Hawaiian-motif restaurant in Newport Beach. Just 80% of the restaurant's 350 seats are booked for Dec. 31, he said, while at the same time last year it was sold out.
Mindful of customers' concerns about the economy, some local restaurants and hotels say they are holding down prices for their New Year's Eve galas.
Alfredo's Ristorante, an Italian eatery at the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel, is offering a six-course dinner for $70 per person, the same price as last year. But only half the available 180 seats are booked, said Angela Adrian, the restaurant's assistant manager.
"We're hoping for a sudden pickup of last-minute bookings," Adrian said.
Serge Denis, general manager of Le Meridien Hotel in Newport Beach, said dinner and lodging reservations have been slow, though they picked up after the hotel recently began advertising its New Year's Eve specials.
"My people tell me that last year we had an easier time filling up the reservations," Denis said. "People want to make sure they get the best value for their dollar. That's why they're shopping around."
At the Radisson Plaza Hotel in Irvine, two of its three New Year's Eve events were sold out by this date last year. As of Thursday just one event, a $45-per-person ballroom dinner-dance, was sold out. More lavish events in the Radisson's main ballroom, costing $70 per person, and in the main dining room, costing $95 apiece, were only half booked by Thursday.
"People are a little bit more price conscious this year," said Mike Minissian, director of food and beverage at the Radisson. Liquor sales, usually brisk during the holiday season, are also down, he said.
Another reason for the reduced bookings, hotel and restaurant officials say, is that fewer corporations are sponsoring New Year's Eve parties.
Hoping for a last-minute surge to fill their reservation book, some hotels and restaurants are offering incentives. Some restaurants, for example, are giving away bottles of wine and champagne and adding more courses to their meals.
Besides restaurants and hotels, other businesses that usually count on solid bookings for New Year's Eve are having a disappointing season. Disc jockeys say that corporate cutbacks have resulted in fewer bookings for New Year's office parties this year.
"We were fully booked for corporate events during the Christmas season before the Middle East crisis," said Kenney Paul, owner of All-Star Productions, a disc jockey service in Huntington Beach. "But because many businesses felt that they had large layoffs and that a big holiday celebration is wrong, they canceled out."
But some businesses that offer less expensive New Year's Eve entertainment are thriving. At the Coach House, a San Juan Capistrano nightclub, staffers say tickets for its New Year's Eve bash have been sold out since early December. For $35, customers will enjoy a dinner and concert featuring rock singer Chis Isaak.
New Year's Eve is also a night when many limousine operators are busy transporting affluent party-goers around town. But New Year's Eve bookings are down about 30% from last year, said Robert Driml, owner of Glitter Limousine Service in Huntington Beach.
Because business has been way down this holiday season, some limousine services have started cutting their prices, said Kenneth Nieman, president of Mission Bay Leasing in San Diego.
One bright spot may be the car rental service. Steve Warneke, head of Avis Rent A Car's district headquarters in Santa Ana, said people are renting Cadillacs and other luxury cars for New Year's Eve as an alternative to more expensive chauffeured limousine service.
"We're fully booked for the season," he said, adding that holiday reservations are up 30% over last year.