Thousands of people are gearing up to welcome 2006 in style. But those few hours of celebration mean weeks and months of work for those who toil behind the scenes to make sure everything goes well.

Mistakes are not an option on a night such as tomorrow's for Max Grenard, the executive head chef at the InterContinental Hotel.

"We cannot allow anything to happen," he said in his endearing French accent.

Roman Schwaiger, the operations manager of Le Meridien Phoenicia, has the same attitude. "This is a special occasion, one that people would be looking forward to, and one needs to make sure that they are able to celebrate in the way they expected," he said.

In different parts of the island, preparations are well underway to have everything ready for organised parties. Lights and sound systems are installed, stages set up and supplies stocked up.

Carl Peralta, one of the organisers of the Stolichnaya NYE 2006, which will be held at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, in Valletta, said the team has been preparing for the party for the past four months. The fact that they managed to secure the use of the MCC is seen by the organisers as a feather in their cap - the venue had been their first choice, said Mr Peralta.

About 200 people - including DJs, police officers, security staff, medics, technicians, chefs, waiters, barmen and cleaners - will be on duty there on New Year's Eve. The organisers themselves have been working practically around the clock for a week to ensure a hitch-free night.

Keith Marshall, one of the organisers of the Waterfront NYE, being held at Pinto Vaults, said a lot of the work was taking place right now, including the setting up of trusses which will hold screens to convey information to the partygoers and the setting up of three DJ stands. He said just under 1,000 people were expected to attend the event and the organisers had to make certain there was food and drink for everyone.

As they sit down to enjoy the food, few of those going out to dinner may pause to reflect on the amount of work that went into preparing it.

Jason de Giorgio, the food and beverages manager at the Corinthia San Gorg, said the preparations started way back in January, with a post-mortem of the previous events. The "file" is opened again in August when the programme is finalised and sent to the printer's, while advertising starts in October.

Organisation at Le Meridien Phoenicia gets underway in the middle of summer, Mr Schwaiger said. The chefs are presented with the menus in August, when changes could be made. A tasting of the food is carried out in October, when the experts also agree on the food presentation.

Presentation is deemed very important. Mr Grenard said photos of each course will be available in the kitchen so that the food is presented in the same way in each and every plate. The ingredients have been arriving over the past two days and a test will be carried out today... both seven-course gala dinner and buffet meal must be spot-on.

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