An Immersive Welcome Reception in Athens
To create an impactful welcome reception for 48 top sales performers and their guests – coming together for their first sales incentive trip in three years – the team at Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens had to work hard to impress. With the ambition to showcase the property’s impressive collection of ten awe-inspiring restaurants and bars, they decided to try something completely new – transforming the pool terrace into an immersive dining market by converting the existing pool cabanas into mini pop-up restaurants.
Faced with several obstacles, including activating a pool deck never before used for a private event and ensuring the adults-only pool would remain operational for daytime use, they had to manage the timeline down to the wire. Planning every detail was critical to ensure a flawless event. As Eleni Gouliamou, Conference Service Manager in Athens, put it, “At Four Seasons, we always try to do the best thing, not the easiest thing.”
“With four days of events ahead, we wanted to show off different venues to keep the schedule interesting. Plus, the sunset over the Aegean Sea offers the ultimate welcome to the Athens Riviera,” says Franck Deroche, Director of Catering in Athens. “Guests were coming from over 18 countries and were all well travelled, so expectations were high.” The Athens team quickly focused on the Arion Pool, providing an exclusive and secluded seaside terrace – ideal for this June reception.
They knew this would be the perfect setting to introduce guests to the property’s ten amazing dining options. “Most group attendees never have the opportunity to experience the variety of dining options a hotel offers,” says Eleni. “Our restaurant and bar experiences are becoming more important in event planning. There’s no longer a big divide from catering.” Every Four Seasons team strives to incorporate exceptional dining outlets into group programs, despite the logistical challenges, knowing the strength of offerings and the incredible impact.
Recognizing the significance of atmosphere in any dining concept, the experience needed to push beyond food stations. The pool terrace normally features large wooden cabanas – and the hotel’s engineers came up with the innovative idea to transform these structures, so they’d resemble food stalls in a street market. As Franck says, “We knew we had to be able to make the transition quickly, without taking the cabanas out of daytime service. The engineers developed a plan to hang panels on the sides of the existing structures to create a totally different look.” Each stall would represent one of the property’s signature restaurants.
The restaurant teams from Taverna 37, Helios and the Michelin-starred Pelagos were brought into the design process. Each mini pop-up would be executed by the restaurant’s own team and reflect the visual identity of the outlet, giving guests a real authentic experience of each offering. They then focused on how to showcase and plate their most popular dishes in a casual, stand-up format.
Guests arrived at the Arion Pool down a set of large cliffside steps where a glass-ball juggler and musician playing the steel drum performed. Entering under a welcome arch with a sign reading “#TASTEFSATHENS”, they were greeted by a beautiful view of the Aegean Sea. The immersive pop-up restaurants were the definite focal points, with the cabanas now completely transformed. In addition, a bar draped with local bougainvillea served bespoke local wines, along with signature cocktails and mocktails representing each of the restaurants. “The mood was very energizing and invigorating,” says Franck. “We wanted people to start networking and connecting right away.”
As Eleni says, “The event layout encouraged guests to float between experiences. Each chef could lead the introduction to their cuisine and connect directly with the attendees, allowing for a live-action element that was much more immersive than typical passed canapés.” The energy was palpable and conversation was lively, as guests discussed their favourite pop-up items.
Music continued through the evening with a small band and a DJ. As a surprise at sunset, the pool came to life with two synchro-swim performers from the Greek Olympic team. Later in the evening, the juggler reappeared, tossing flames high into the air to the delight of the crowd.
Guests were wowed by the welcome reception and the creative spirit that infused the rest of the four-day program. The Four Seasons team found the event inspiring too. According to Franck, “One of my favourite aspects of the event is that we did it in a sustainable way. The sides we built for the cabanas can be used again and we can leverage the mini-pop-up restaurant concept for future events. Seeing what we achieved here is inspiring us to come up with ideas for other unique activations to continue pushing the boundaries. We don’t choose the easy option, but the one with the most impact.”