Companies are always looking for new team-building concepts to get employees interested and excited about attending an event or meeting. One of the biggest trends of late has been culinary-focused, team-building events, with a variety of food and beverage options available.
The programs are designed to reinforce the essential elements that make up an effective team such as trust, communication, collaboration, active listening and role clarity. Whether it’s a cupcake war, wine-making session or even a battle of food trucks, culinary-inspired team-building is designed to make any employee look forward to taking part.
Best Corporate Events, LLC, is a company that offers dozens of culinary team-building activities nationwide, bringing the selected events directly to a corporation’s chosen location. They regularly work in Pennsylvania.
“Our culinary events are usually delivered to companies that are staying at a hotel with a kitchen and meeting space,” says Scott Flynn, founder and CEO. “We offer team competitions, so teammates need to work together to succeed. That’s the mark of any good team-building program.”
With a wide selection of culinary choices, Best Corporate Events can accommodate parties from 30 to up to 6,000.
“Our programs can address specific company issues … be competitive, be collaborative or simply serve as a celebration,” Flynn says. “For example, Fiesta Fun, Chili Cook-Off and Tapas and Sangria Making are competitive cook-offs. Teams will also complete challenges delivered through Apple iPads and create a presentation or song to market their delicious creation.”
Meanwhile with Food Truck Face-Off, teams will name their company, design a logo, build, decorate and market their truck and cook an original dish.
“We also offer a Foodie SmartHunt, which is a corporate scavenger hunt run on iPads,” Flynn says. “Teams will travel to an area in search of restaurants, street vendors, food trucks and local markets to sample local goodies while completing photo and video challenges using iPads along the way. There are plenty of great locations throughout Pennsylvania to run this.”
Another popular team-building choice is Chocolate Architect, where teams need to build a themed structure utilizing various candies and chocolate delicacies. Doing this in the Hershey state is always encouraged.
Philly Hops Team Building is another company that offers culinary team-building at various venues in different cities throughout the Northeast, including Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia.
“There are two different ways to hold these events, as a bonding or learning activity,” says Betty Robinson, founder. “The bonding is more popular for team-building as it’s more fun to do and you get to know people better. These challenges help to break down different barriers between people who work together, who often only know each other from talking on the internet. It lets them build trust.”
Last year the company introduced the Sushi Madness Contest, which has quickly become one of the top team-building concepts with corporations.
“It’s a fast-paced and creative hors d’oeuvre-making session where your team will learn the ancient art of Nori Maki,” Robinson says. “It’s unusual. They make a sushi roll from a buffet of different ingredients and the teams involved compete to see who can make the best one.” Judges award bragging rights for categories such as creativity, neatness, speed-rolling and more. Then teams will be tasked with penning inspirational and amusing poems about their mission that they will read aloud to the group.
Another popular program is the Prohibition Mixology team challenge, where participants answer a series of true and false questions based on things that happened in the past, all while designing their own signature martini from a collection of ingredients.
“The teams must create a story about their drink and illustrate it with an art deco poster,” Robinson says. “Every team member will be immersed in this group experience. No matter what job they take they will have the opportunity to experience each other’s strengths and skills and have their chance to shine, too.”
The company also offers a Guac and Salsa challenge, Iron Chef Tapas and a Chili Cook Off.
The Great Bake-Off
The Baker’s Table in Lancaster has its bakery cases filled with an array of tempting pastries and desserts, and its breakfast and lunch café menu features Pennsylvania Dutch favorites, as well as imaginative twists on classic sandwiches, soups and salads.
The bakery also offers the chance for groups to come to workshops and classes, including cake-decorating classes and gingerbread house decorating—both designed with team bonding in mind.
“Our culinary experiences create a fun experience for companies and organizations in a welcoming environment and are often a break from the typical corporate team-building activities,” says Heather Heigel, marketing director. “Groups typically gather around a large shared table. If the group is small enough, these events can also be held in our private cake room. And our dedicated director of corporate and social events is available to help companies plan every step of the event.”
Additionally, since the Baker’s Table is located next to the Cork Factory Hotel, it allows companies to take advantage of onsite accommodations and additional meeting spaces. It also offers an extensive menu and cocktail options for corporate events.
Michelle Flisek, executive director of COOK, Philadelphia’s state-of-the-art, fully equipped, 16-seat kitchen-classroom, says the venue offers a different chef, theme and menu every day, and corporate parties are welcome to take part in a customized teambuilding experience.
“COOK is intimately sized so guests get the chance to interact with the chef, ask questions and enjoy a wonderful meal in a beautifully designed space,” she says. “Our events range from demonstration-based to fully interactive hands-on experiences, so it’s perfect for every skill level.”
For private events, the chef and menu are chosen based on the client’s likes and dislikes, and the client also gets to select the wines from its wine list.
Wine and Cupcakes
Normandy Farm Hotel & Conference Center located in Blue Bell offers a full meal-style team-building activity, as well as a cupcake team-building program.
“We have a wine dinner, which is a five-course meal, and we bring a sommelier in to narrate a culinary experience,” says Gary Murray, director of sales and marketing. “Sometimes they want to choose a very specific style and region that’s relevant to the rest of the retreat.”
For those companies looking to get a more hands-on experience, the venue offers a program where guests have to come and cook the meal, and it becomes a competition.
“We invite all participants into the kitchen and divide everyone into teams and each creates a different portion of the meal. Our chef will give you a hard time, but also instruct you on the best way to proceed,” Murray says. “At the end, he will judge the entries on flavor, presentation and the overall dish. Then the guests all go in and eat the meal together.”
Normandy’s executive pastry chef, Sam Nahhas, was the winner of the Pastry Chef of the Year Award in 2015, and he runs the Sweet Success Baking program, where participants compete in a cupcake decorating challenge, working together on a common theme.
“Culinary team-building is good because people who often wouldn’t go out of their way in a company to make a personal connection end up deeply engaged as they work through a common goal,” Murray says. “In their day jobs, a lot of the employees probably don’t have a lot of interaction with people outside their department. And in this environment, they banter, learn about each other’s families and work together, which can only add to the strength of a company.”
The Culinary Classroom in Reading offers a series of classes for team-building, and the Homemade Pizza Class is the most popular for corporate groups. Owner Linda Bell teaches people how to make thin, crispy dough and craft about a half dozen pies with different toppings.
“We also have some French-themed and Italian-themed classes,” Bell says. “What makes my classes a little different is that we’re home-based. In my kitchen, I have two cooking stations and a big farmhouse table and gas fireplace. It’s a very cozy feeling.”
The team-building is aimed at smaller offices, usually groups of 10 or less, and is very hands-on, allowing them to practice listening skills, dividing tasks and working in partnership.
“As a former teacher, I think my classes are very clear and well organized,” Bell says. “This is not a demo class; we choose a menu and divide up tasks throughout the group. We cook together and from time to time I will show them techniques. Then we sit down and enjoy the meal together.”
Bell says that a culinary team-building activity like this helps people see others in a different light, and personalities that don’t always meld in an office setting will find common ground, helping them to work better in the future.
“They walk away with new skills, good food and a fun time,” she says. “Having the luxury to concentrate on the task in hand and leaving the work at the office is a great way to bond people together. The playing field is even, so no matter if you’re the boss or assistant, everyone is working together to be successful and build something that’s yummy.”
Food Trucks and More
David Goldstein is a “creator of opportunities” for Recipe for Success, a national teambuilding business that has a facilitator in Philadelphia. They run everything from an ice cream making challenge and a winery team challenge to an ice sculpting competition.
“We hold these in banquet rooms or ballrooms, anywhere where there could be some sort of access to a kitchen,” he says. “We will come to them, wherever they are. We will match companies up with the best program for them based on their needs.”
One of its innovative events is its Food Truck challenge, where participants choose the type of food, decorate the truck and then prepare and serve the food they choose.
“There are a lot of team-building activities out there where some people in the group may be experts, especially the more physical ones where people in shape have a clear advantage,” Goldstein says. “With cooking team-building activities, everyone pretty much starts off on the same plane. There’s a certain comfort level in that and people enjoy that.”
All facilitators are trained chefs, and they can handle corporate groups of up to 500.